Wednesday, Dec 02

Remodelling Upstream Oil and Gas Activities Post-COVID

Fall in crude prices and reduced demand from end-user markets during the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the oil and gas industry, forcing companies to postpone investments and stall existing projects until the situation improves.

The pandemic has resulted in a historic plunge in oil and gas prices, way below projections of many oil-based entities and budgets of national governments. Consequences, therefore, emerge for revenues, debt financing, development and production. 

The oil and gas industry has also experienced its third price collapse in 12 years. After the first two shocks, the industry rebounded, and business continued as usual. Today, with prices touching 30-year lows, and accelerating societal pressure, executives sense that change is inevitable. Hence, the COVID-19 crisis is accelerating what was already shaping up to be one of the industry’s most transformative moments.

On its current course and speed, the industry could now be entering an era defined by intense competition, technology-led rapid supply response, flat to declining demand, investor scepticism, and increasing public and government pressure regarding impact on climate and the environment.

However, under most scenarios, oil and gas will remain a multi-trillion-dollar market for decades. Considering its role in supplying affordable energy, it is too important to fail. The fundamental question thus remains; how can value be created in the next normal?

To change the current model, the industry will need to dig deep and tap its proud history of bold structural moves, innovation, and safe and profitable operations in the toughest conditions. The successful ones will be those that use this crisis to confidently reposition their portfolios and transform their operating models. Companies that don’t will restructure or inevitably shrivel.

Upstream Oil and Gas Operations

Upstream Oil and Gas operations or production refers to companies who identify, extract, or produce raw materials. These companies also identify deposits, drill wells, and recover raw materials from underground.

Upstream Oil and Gas companies are often called exploration and production companies. This sector also includes related services such as rig operations, feasibility studies, machinery rental, and extraction of chemical supply. The Upstream part of the industry is able to locate and estimate reserves before any of the actual drilling activity starts.

Examples of large companies that focus on upstream operations include the China National Offshore Oil Corporation and Schlumberger (SLB). There are also many large upstream operators that are major diversified oil and gas firms like Exxon-Mobil (XOM).

Impact of Covid-19 on upstream operations

All companies are rightly acting to protect employees’ health and safety, and to preserve cash in particular, by cutting or deferring discretionary capital as well as operating expenditures and, in many cases, distributions to shareholders.

The upstream sector is witnessing a reduction in production, drilling suspension, and stalling of projects in the short-term. These actions will, however, not be enough for financially stretched players and is likely to create an opportunity for a profound reset in many segments of the industry.

A broad restructuring of several upstream basins will likely occur, reinforced by the opportunity created by balance-sheet weaknesses, particularly in high-cost mature basins like the US onshore. In the long-term, upstream companies are expected to restructure their business and focus on cleaner options such as gas, light oil, and renewables.

This could see the US onshore industry for instance, which currently has more than 100 sizable companies, consolidate very significantly, with only large at-scale companies and smaller, truly nimble, and innovative players surviving.

Broad-based consolidation could be led by “basin masters” expected to cut down unit costs by exploiting synergies. It is estimated that economies of skill and scale, coupled with new ways of working could further reduce costs by up to $10/bbl. in the shale patch alone improving its supply resilience.


Some companies whose business models or asset bases are already distinctive can thrive in the next normal. But for most companies, a change in strategy is imperative. By mixing and matching the following practices, depending on their circumstances, companies can reduce costs, enhance development opportunities, and reduce the carbon intensity of assets in each strategic group. Implementing the following practices could improve the development of brownfield assets, considerably extending their useful life.

Learn from others

It is instructive to seek inspiration from other industries that experienced sector-wide change, and how the leaders within these industries emerged as value creators. The common thread in how these leaders achieved success includes large reallocation of capital informed by a deep understanding of market trends and future value pools, the value of focused scale, and a willingness to fundamentally challenge and transform existing operating models and basis for competition.

Rationalize activity

Inertia is a powerful force which causes activities to go on and on with no systemic contemplation of their value. This results in a waste of time and money, diverting resources from areas where they could be put to better use.

The better approach, being adopted by some operators now is to use simple time-based programs with clear deadlines to dictate the work. Two factors required for successful rationalization are Zero-based planning and High-quality data.

Zero-based planning involves scrutinizing every planned activity in the field and prioritizing them methodically, based on added-value potential whiles High-quality data encompasses establishing live-streaming data capabilities to evaluate asset conditions. This allows for more targeted and efficient interventions.

Make bold M&A moves

The fallout from the pandemic could potentially trigger another age of Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) in the oil and gas industry. Mergers can bring economies of scale and scope, as well as more efficiently allocate spend across a larger, consolidated portfolio of shale assets, as opposed to the patchwork more common in the oil patch today.

The need for companies to rebalance their portfolios, create scale efficiencies and improve capital access should encourage companies to pursue M&A. For optimized results, these companies will need to focus their investment strategy squarely on scale and synergies.

In these disruptive and volatile times, the industry should focus on acquisitions that will add synergies, can be captured immediately and create sustained value. Any deals that do close in the face of these torrid times are almost certainly going to be led by strategic buyers, especially for upstream assets.

Winners will emerge with advantaged portfolios that will be resilient to longer-term trends. They should settle for nothing less than the absolutely best positioned assets in upstream, refining, marketing, and petrochemicals.

 Centralize activities

As operators buy and sell assets, they may end up with an ineffectual kind of decentralization as time goes on, with different processes and overlapping services which can get expensive.

Evaluating and deciding where activities should be executed (offshore/onshore) and what activities can be shared centrally can enhance operational efficiency. There are good examples of companies that have moved toward centralizing onshore support for the offshore workforce. The best are characterized by real-time collaboration with frontline workers, who are able to communicate what is going on and identify emerging issues.

Upstream Oil and Gas companies can establish the right capabilities in the onshore central team to improve technical capabilities. This can involve rotating equipment maintenance skills and make sure to include subject-matter experts (SMEs) in technical areas.

Also, Digital enablement should be considered by providing effective and real-time collaboration between offshore and onshore teams, with the onshore team providing technical expertise and support.

Consider Multi-Skilled Employees

Functional organization models comprising of various isolated teams have contributed to offshore inefficiencies therefore increasing the maintenance workload even of routine activities and decreasing the attention given to more critical tasks.

Multi-skilled employees can ensure operations are conducted with a reduced number of employees which can be vital with the advent of the pandemic. For example, production technicians can be trained to perform first-line maintenance tasks whiles managers are trained to oversee a broader range of activities. 

Transition to Agile

Onshore structures are usually organized traditionally, with a number of disconnected teams and numerous layers of hierarchy. There is often not enough focus on integrating to create value or accountability for end-to-end-delivery. This results in longer-than-necessary lead times, lower quality of output, and limited sharing of best practices.

Installing “agile” teams, that is, groups that can quickly reconfigure strategy, structure, processes, people, and technology can increase organizational efficiency and decrease reaction time. The core principle of agility is to transform traditional teams into cross-functional squads, each with a specific business focus and a value-creating mission.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed upstream gas and oil operations fundamentals and the rules of the next normal are still being discovered.  It is uncertain when the current quagmire impacting oil and gas operators will pass or if prices will rebound to the pre-crisis levels in the medium term.

What is assured, however, is that only innovative operators with superior operating models, resilient portfolios and innovations will come out this crisis ready to handle the instability and to sustain future growth. The time for visionary thinking and bold action is now.



Indeed the global landscape is ailing with the sinister assault of a virus which seems to relish in incapacitating not just biological organisms but also crippling the very infrastructural foundation of nations, no matter how relatively inert it may be. With such intense frictions adversely disabling the very engine of economies from restarting, focus by most countries is more attuned with health enablement. Oiling clogged sectors and gassing up the ignition will take more than putting pen to paper. The energy to drive and propel the efforts of powering backing the bustling and fluid element reminiscent of our oil and gas industry is going to require a multi-dimensional approach to traverse the impact of the pandemic. The global oil and gas industry is experiencing one of the most grueling times as the COVID-19 pandemic endures almost indefinitely with no finish line in sight. True to form, the challenges within the sector is not only premised on a decline in global demand for energy commodities but to a larger and more significant extent concerns are more gripping when it comes to the future of the extractive industry.

Extractives held hostage by pandemic

Goldman Sachs in a research note published on 30th March, said global oil demand has fallen 25% in the wake of the Coronavirus. They added that “not only is this the largest economic shock of our lifetimes, but carbon-based industries, like oil, sit in the cross-hairs as they have historically served as the cornerstone of social interactions and globalization– the prevention of which are the main defense against the virus”. The reflex reaction will be developed countries should have much better prospects of getting past the phase and recovering more swiftly, but they are in a pretty dark spot, casting a rather long shadow on developing countries. In a World Bank report, the continent of Africa will face its first recession for the region in 25 years as growth declines from 2.4 % in 2019 to between -2.1% and -5.1% for 2020, with oil and gas industry.

The pandemic has hit the buzzer of cancellation and halted some major projects in the oil industry as oil companies are moving to slow the pace of production. Expansion of storage capacity is ongoing as attempts are being made to market crude oil with the best sales and purchase agreement. In spite of their exclusion from lockdown imposition, operations within the sector will become increasingly difficult due to workforce shortages influenced by employees being infected by the coronavirus. Deloitte has revised its 2020 GDP growth estimates for Ghana from just under 7% to less than 3% in light of the Covid-19 crisis, as the country’s economy faces disruptions from a variety of directions. The country is also expected to face significant losses in tax revenue.

The biggest hit is expected to come in the form of revenue shortfalls. Deloitte reports that the country has already faced a “fiscal impact” of more than 9.5 billion Cedi, due in part to revenue shortfalls, which includes nearly GHC600m that has been deployed specifically towards fighting Covid-19. The Deloitte report categorically states that, “the economy could suffer from significant decline in Government revenue and expenditure resulting in potential job losses.

This could, in turn, erode the economic gains achieved in recent years and significantly slow down Ghana’s economic development.

Plummeting oil receipts in Africa

Figures in books may indeed give telling tales of the actual situation on the African soil, but statistics only tell half of the story as the visceral emotion and comprehensive impact accompanying the pandemic in Africa’s oil and gas industry is one for a nightmarish thriller. 

In a report, Africa’s biggest exporter, Nigeria sought $7bn in emergency fund as it forecasts recession. The country’s projection of 2.1m barrels a day of oil production has been reduced to 1.7m barrels. Nigeria relies heavily on crude receipts for more than half of government revenue and virtually all of its foreign exchange. Both Fitch and S&P have, however, downgraded Nigeria’s credit ratings in recent weeks on the oil slump, with Fitch adding ten Nigerian banks that were at severe risk because of their exposure to the oil sector. Sadly, “the oil price drop has forced government to remove the petrol subsidy, which had fixed fuel at N145 a little and absorbed billions of dollars in spending”.

Deloitte predicts that Ghana’s reliance on the oil and petroleum sector also factors in to the Covid-19 impact, in light of shortfalls across the board in petroleum receipts. If this scenario persists unmitigated, it would have adverse consequences for Ghana’s economy going forth.

One would never have expected countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Angola, Algeria, Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Libya whose budgets are greatly dependent on oil revenues to ever come so close to a significant decline in income.  For instance, Nigeria’s 2020 budget was based on an oil price of USD57 per barrel and Angola USD 55 per barrel.  Both countries derive approximately 90 percent of their export earnings from the sale of oil and as a consequent are susceptible to a collapse in oil price and send government to the review desk, renegotiate investments and finance projects.  When push comes to shove and negative oil prices become a tendency, it will send oil exporting countries on a cliff-edge.

Impact on oil producing countries

In sub-Saharan Africa, the impact will be felt even stronger because the pandemic is being combined with a notable crash in oil prices, putting pressure on state budgets and testing the resilience of the continent's strongest energy companies.

The immediate effect of Covid-19 for the sector has been on the demand for crude oil, and on its prices. Most analysts and operators now agree that 2020 could see a negative demand growth for oil globally as industries shut down and countries around the world go on lock down. The effect on prices has been nothing short of devastating: they have reached their lowest levels since 1991.

According to Africa oil and power, oil and gas producing countries are expected to brace themselves as a much stronger blow of recession is about to hit them especially with the snowballing glide of the pandemic which has caused an incredible drop in energy demand for oil.

Africa’s largest producing oil country Nigeria, has paid the greatest price as the countries that import the majority of Africa’s commodity, including China, the US and Europe are having their economies being cut down to size. Demands have plummeted by 30 million barrels per day during the pandemic, as over 4 billion people were forced to stay home, with Nigeria and Angola seeing a 7% growth fall in export.

For Africa, this means an immediate pressure on state budgets and macro-economic stability. Apart from South Africa, the continent's biggest economies rely heavily on oil revenue to fuel state budget and public spending and ensure macro-economic stability. All sub-Saharan Africa's producers had budgeted. Owing to the outbreak of coronavirus in China, which is the main driver of oil, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) outlook for the increase in oil demand this year has been considerably reduced. It said,

“evidently, the timing of the outbreak exacerbated the impact on transportation fuel demand in China, as it coincided with the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays, as millions of Chinese return home to celebrate with family members and friends, or travel abroad”.

Oil prices on the hangman’s noose

This pandemic is really undertaking a segregation posture with the ‘black gold’, by sequestering the haves and have-not (oil and gas) into a place of paucity particularly in Africa as its annual growth is predicted to drop to 1.8% from a previous estimate of 3.2%. Simultaneously, the continent’s oil-reliant economies could actually incur up to $65bn of income according to the International Institute for Environment and Development. Exports have been affected due to the falling prices introduced by the pandemic; the Institute said Nigeria and Angola reported about 70% of their April-loading cargoes of crude oil remained unsold in March, collectively losing revenues for close to 70% of their national budget. As a result of low oil demand, “the supply glut from exporting countries will increase the revenue margins for terminal and large crude oil vessel owners in Q2 2020,” according to the oil and gas research team at Acuity Knowledge Partners.

Credendo reports that, Oil accounted for about 20% of export revenues in Ghana in 2018. As the price of the Brent barrel tumbled down in the midst of the COVID, the lowest level since 2002 and nearly half of the projected oil price for 2020, export revenues from oil are expected to significantly decrease. A large decrease of Ghana’s current account receipts is therefore in the cards. Indeed, despite the 15% rise in the average gold price in the past months vis-à-vis 2019 (accounting for roughly 23% of export revenues in 2018), it is not expected to reverse the negative trend in export revenues. Hence, Ghana is likely to experience a wide current account deficit in 2020, significantly higher than the previous forecast of around -4% of GDP. On top of that, FDI and portfolio inflows, the two main sources of financing of the current account deficit, are likely to drop because of the large outflow of capital from emerging markets.

Brookings is of the view that while oil accounts for 90% of Nigeria’s exports, the decline in the demand for oil and oil prices will affect the volume and also value of net profit. The steep decline in oil prices advanced further by the pandemic has forced the government to cut planned expenditure. Amongst their policy recovery methods, the official exchange rate has been adjusted from 306 to 360 Naira. A large score of experts are actually predicting a fall in the prices of these once sought after commodities as the pandemic shows no indication of falling out on the human stock market.

For all it’s worth, the world must be a hundred years too early to collectively cope with the pandemic. The chairman of the African Energy Chamber NJ Ayuk said,

“we are seeing force majeure in Cameroon, in Senegal. Exxon Mobil is delaying gas project in Mozambique. In Uganda, some companies are delaying exploration. Frankly most projects are going to get delayed”.

Mr. Ayuk deepens the wounds on the industry by saying,

“2020 is going to be a tough year for everybody and everyone needs to buckle for the ride… You have twin issues of the price war and the coronavirus– you can’t make this up. Hollywood couldn’t have written this script. 2020 is done! So you have to look at 2021 and form the policy that will drive you forward”.

That notwithstanding, measures are being taken to address the crisis and ratify the depressing oil glut which has no outlet, but “you have to be in a strong position to go forward and really deal with a future that works for the industry”.

World Bank has also advised reforms for developing countries as the plunge in oil prices continues, in the form of energy-subsidy reforms. It is of the view that these reforms “can help free spending for urgent pandemic-related purposes, discourage wasteful energy consumption and reallocate spending to programs that better target the poor”. It will not be a lost cause after all, because all the murky ‘black gold’ needs are a few financial rub and some good ‘yes’ to regain its appealing sparkle on global trade.

The future of Oil and Gas companies

The future of Oil and Gas companies

– Five ideas can help organizations adapt as technological and political trends reshape the industry.

Today’s oil and gas organizations were developed in a time of resource scarcity. To get at those hard-to-find, difficult-to-develop resources, companies built large, complex organizations with strong centralized functions. This model allowed them to tackle terrific technical challenges, manage great political and operational risks, and deploy scarce talent across the world as needed.

While these reasons were all valid during a decade of high growth, this organizational journey also led to substantial complexity for large players—adding cost, stifling innovation, and slowing down decision making.

Three game-changing trends are reshaping the industry

This organizational model is no longer sustainable with oil prices below $50 a barrel. More important, though, it is no longer necessary. The world is now entering a time of great change, with major societal, technological, and political trends reshaping the environment in which oil and gas companies operate.

There are three potentially game-changing disruptions that will lead oil and gas companies to rethink their operating models fundamentally:

A world of resource abundance is leading to sustained lower oil prices and a focus on cost, efficiency, and speed. Talent is no longer scarce, exploration capability is less of a differentiator, megaprojects are not the only way to grow, and market opportunities may only be economical for the earliest movers in a basin.

Meanwhile, conventional, deep-water, unconventional, and renewable assets each require a distinct operating model that cannot be delivered optimally from a single corporate centre.

Profound technological advances are disrupting old ways of working and enabling step changes in productivity. Jobs, including knowledge work, are being replaced by automation on a large scale, and those that remain require increased human-machine interaction.

Data generation continues to grow exponentially, as every physical piece of equipment wants to connect to the cloud. This explosion of data—combined with advanced analytics and machine learning to harness it—creates opportunities to fundamentally re-imagine how and where work gets done.

Demographic shifts mean that employees are demanding changes in the working environment and expressing concerns about the role of oil and gas companies in society. Millennials will constitute a majority of the global workforce by the early 2020s and have already started their climb into management and even executive roles.

“Digital natives” in the driver’s seat will bring their own expectations of technology, collaboration, pace, and accountability. Oil and gas companies may need more profound changes to meet demands for meaningful work and social responsibility to attract the next generation of top engineering and leadership talent.

Five big ideas for the oil and gas organization of the future

In response to these disruptions, there are five big ideas for how organizations can adapt:

Organizational agility: The relentless pace of change puts a premium on the ability to adapt quickly to changing conditions—in other words, to be agile. Agility combines two distinct concepts: dynamic capabilities, such as the ability to rapidly form cross-functional teams and reprioritize tasks to adapt quickly, and a stable backbone of core value-adding processes and cultural norms that provide resilience, reliability, and relentless efficiency.

While many companies tend to think they must make a trade-off between dynamism and stability, research shows that agile organizations master both at the same time. This is not a simple transition, however.

The agile oil and gas organization will look and feel very different from today. While other industries are further along the agility curve, many oil and gas companies already have pockets of agility. At the same time, agility is not meant to be chaos. For the dynamic elements to succeed, they must be linked to a stable backbone.

This will include a small number of simple but mandatory processes that are universally followed, a common culture to allow faster collaboration and instant access to reliable data and the full company’s knowledge base. Aggressively standardizing and simplifying processes can allow companies to react quickly to unforeseen events while improving safety and productivity. Perhaps the biggest change required in the backbone is to repackage and structure work to enable small teams to form, take a defined task, and execute it quickly.

Digital organization: Organizations have been digitizing for decades, but the digital revolution is still only just beginning. Within a few years, the Internet of Things will consist of more than a trillion sensors that generate and share data.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are no longer science fiction, and human-machine interaction is becoming ever more frequent. These innovations are about to change the way oil and gas companies work in three substantial ways:

A step change in safety and productivity will result from digitizing both technical and nontechnical work in a way that automates 60 to 90 percent of routine manual activity while identifying true best practices. This means better safety both because fewer people will be at risk and because automation is reducing the risk of human error. It also means great improvements in workforce productivity.

New job classes and capability profiles will rise, and many of these (such as data scientists, statisticians, and machine learning specialists) simply don’t exist in oil and gas companies today. Within ten years, oil and gas companies could employ more PhD-level data scientists than geologists, either in-house or through partnerships with increasingly sophisticated vendors. Meanwhile, existing roles will be redefined. For instance, the automation of repetitive technical decisions will free up engineers to focus on more difficult analyses.

There will be new ways of managing people and performance. Many human-resources functions are already investing in advanced analytics to mine large data sets about their workforce—training history, productivity, calendar and email, surveys, social media profiles, and so on—to identify the drivers of employee performance, recruitment, retention, and employee engagement.

The millennial-managed organization: Millennials are no longer a small group of new university graduates; in many oil and gas companies, they occupy managerial roles and are starting to climb into the executive ranks. As they rise through the organization, millennials will bring their own ideas about collaboration, accountability, and the use of technology.

The decentralized company: Over the past 15 years, the corporate centres of most oil and gas companies grew significantly, as a way to manage risk, leverage scale, and share scarce technical talent. However, many of the forces underpinning the drive to centralize have now eroded. The collapse in crude prices has made large overhead costs unaffordable, and slow decision making has become a threat to long-term viability.

In parallel, the rise of lower-risk asset types, such as light tight oil, has changed the thinking about the role of the corporate centre. In particular, success in unconventional and late-life operations requires local coordination and integrated decision making at the front line—not layers of review from corporate.

As a result, it is expected that some oil and gas companies will reverse the 15- year trend by decentralizing business and technical work, creating a corporate core that is radically smaller than today’s. However, this will not be consistently felt across assets. Managing risk—technical, commercial, and operational—is still a compelling reason to centralize and is particularly evident for high-complexity plays such as deep-water, frontier, and liquefied-natural-gas (LNG) assets.

Two dominant models will arise: lower-risk assets employing a very lean corporate centre with highly autonomous asset teams, and higher-risk, more-capital-intensive assets employing a much stronger centre with deep functional capabilities and a strong emphasis on risk management. Consequently, firms with a broad portfolio will feel the tension as they try to accommodate fast-paced, risk-taking operating models alongside slower, more risk-averse ones.

We expect to see continued experimentation with models that recognize the differences, including separate business units or holding company structures. To succeed, this requires truly differentiated governance and performance metrics. In extreme cases, there’ll be total separations or spin-offs as the best way to manage the complexity— much as there’s been long-term separation of downstream from upstream.

A redefinition of what’s core: Companies are thinking again about what activities they need to control in-house versus those they manage via partnerships and supply chain relationships. It is believed the future oil and gas company will more closely resemble today’s industrial manufacturers, with a move away from tactical contractual arrangements and toward long-term strategic partnerships with a network of tier-one and tier-two suppliers.

Similarly, in a world of plentiful resources, access is no longer a key strategic differentiator, and large oil companies may increasingly rely on specialized explorers rather than in-house exploration teams for reserve replacement. These developments are driven in part by cost and market pressure, as costs have risen to unsustainable levels and operators must find cheaper ways of working.

Moreover, the current market is pushing oil-field-services-and-equipment (OFSE) players to aggressively market integrated service packages, resulting in new partnerships formed out of mutual necessity. Last, breakthrough digital technologies are being deployed in core upstream operations, disrupting the business model and creating entry points along the value chain for original equipment manufacturers and OFSEs. As a result, oil and gas companies must take a much closer look at their relative value drivers to determine where to play.