Efficiency is key to surviving the Covid-19 crisis

18 June 2020
Oil field service companies must adapt and innovate to survive in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic

Download the latest briefing paper in the MEED Mashreq Energy Partnership

By 7 June 2020, more than 6.6 million people worldwide had tested positive for Covid-19 and over 393,000 people were confirmed to have died from the virus.  

Early advisories issued by experts stated that in order to stop public health systems from becoming overloaded, it was critical to stop the spread of the virus by minimising social interaction and restricting travel. 

The immediate effects of these measures resulted in paralysed global supply chains and brought entire industries to a standstill. The resultant slowdown in economic activity saw a sharp fall in demand for oil.   

The collapse of talks between oil producers on 6 March to curtail oil production in order to support prices saw global benchmark Brent crude fall below $22 a barrel on 30 March, down from about $70 a barrel on 3 January. 

The Opec+ alliance on 12 April formally finalised an agreement to cut production by 9.7 million barrels a day (b/d) from 1 May. With the output cut deal coming into effect, Brent crude somewhat stabilised around $30 a barrel in early May.  

Opec and Russia have agreed to extend their production cuts through the month of July, as demand for crude oil recuperates. But the pace of recovery has been slow so far. 

The initial consequences of the “shock” for the oil industry were devastating. The fall in demand and accumulating supplies impacted oil and gas players around the world, including oil field service (OFS) companies.  

Oil field services 

An analysis by Rystad Energy has warned that more than 1 million OFS jobs could be lost worldwide in 2020 as a result of the slowdown in investment in upstream oil and gas projects, out of a global workforce of 5 million. Rystad estimates that contractors will scale their workforce down by at least 21 per cent.  

Unlike the downturn of 2015 and 2016, when the total OFS workforce was reduced by nearly 30 per cent from its 2014 levels as a result of another supply war, the industry now must face the additional effect of a significant decline in demand, caused largely by the Covid-19 outbreak. 

Surviving the crisis is now the primary objective for many OFS companies and cutting operational costs is a priority. In this environment, it is imperative that companies maximise their digital processes, which can optimise operational efficiency.  

Industry leaders such as Schlumberger, Halliburton and Baker Hughes are ahead of the curve, having already invested in technology-driven business models and in research and development of solutions that boost hydrocarbons production.  

OFS companies have introduced technological innovations to derive the most from unconventional oil and gas reserves. However, with oil demand slumping, the higher cost of unconventional hydrocarbons means that these initiatives will need to move to another level if the unconventional sector is to remain competitive. 

While the impact of coronavirus is profound, however, it is temporary. Once the world is through the current crisis, demand will recover and focus will return to the longer-term structural issues. But only the most efficient companies are likely to be around to benefit. 

Download your copy of Broadening Horizons, our latest briefing paper produced by MEED in partnership with Dubai-based Mashreq Bank, to learn about how oil field service companies must adapt and innovate to survive in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Download here

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