The energy revolution, accelerated by the pandemic, is changing the DNA of the oil and gas industry at its core.
In a recent interview Glynn Williams, CEO of Silixa — a company that provides fiber optic-powered data solutions for the oil and gas sector (as well as several others) — reveals something of the emerging recognition that the oil and gas industry can make a strong contribution to the renewables sector:
“Many people and entire states depend on the prosperity and well-being of independent oil and gas companies (IOCs) and their suppliers, but they are still being cast unfairly as the villains of climate change and the renewables revolution. In reality, they have been fully engaged in the huge undertaking of transitioning their businesses and practices toward the renewables sector. So, far from being its enemies, they are increasingly its facilitators.”
What is your view on the current state of the oil and gas market in the wake of a pandemic and what are the prospects for the future?
We are currently seeing a big bounce-back in activity despite continued disruption being foreseen for the remainder of the year. Moreover, in the medium term the fundamentals look strong with pre-pandemic demand levels returning at the end of 2022. There has been significant underinvestment during the COVID period and that will, I feel, lead to a return of increased spending in 2022.
For us, oil and gas will remain an attractive segment in which to operate as our customers in the OPEC Middle East, the big water offshore and the U.S. shale sectors will all make improved levels of investment, which will then lead to further opportunities for Silixa.
Other opportunities will arise out of operators’ need to meet their ESG requirements. A feature we have seen this year has been reducing scope-one emissions.
We have recently launched an intervention system with the time in the well acquiring data significantly reduced to a matter of hours versus conventional techniques. So, our scope-one emissions are reduced because we don’t require generating plants at surface operations for days but only hours at a time. If we are dealing with issues of fugitive emissions through well integrity problems, they can be quickly resolved by identifying the source of the leak, enabling the customer to do their mediation quickly.
What we are also seeing is an acceleration of digitalization allowing, for example, supervision of well-side operations without the need to fly specialists around the world. The advance of digital technology and solutions established during the pandemic will be a strong platform for growth for some of the faster-moving service providers.
How much does public image reflect the actual direction of travel of IOCs and their suppliers?
Although oil & gas companies and their suppliers are branding themselves as green through mission statements, logos and corporate color choices, rebranding can be pointless where it doesn’t express and underline real commitment.
However, oil & gas company branding increasingly reflects fundamental changes in philosophy and business practices. For example, BP has repositioned with solid renewable energy targets and a defined roadmap to decarbonization. Another example is Total, which has undergone a complete rebranding becoming TotalEnergies, highlighting the company as a broad energy supplier rather than just oil and gas.
In many ways IOCs have embraced the energy transition, and companies like ExxonMobil have identified multiple carbon capture usage (CCU) projects. Some may have been slow in adopting energy transition, but are now accelerating the dialogue, making very strong commitments to carbon capture and storage hubs.
This year we have noticed a greater sense of purpose among the major IOCs, reflecting a response to shareholder pressures and what’s happening in the wider world.
Decarbonization, renewables and transferable skills
Investment that was going into exploration work previously is now going into renewables markets, largely by acquiring licenses and the transition from off-shore gas to off-shore wind, but mainly in operating in new areas. Some large companies have been paying premiums to access renewables markets, I hope it works out for them.
How to access the subsurface is very well known in the oil & gas industries: how to drill wells, how to make sure they are secure, how to monitor them. All of that is very transferable into CO2 capture and storage. The offshore wind energy sector will be able to exploit the practices of the technologies and competencies of the subsea providers.
However, it will be challenging for those in the offshore supply sector who are offering generic products because there will be fewer wells completed and progressively less intervention over time. So some of the generic providers will struggle if they don’t have anything that stands out and is considered best-in-class.
As for Silixa, we are well-positioned. Roughly half of our sales are now being generated outside of oil & gas. We are finding that our oil & gas solutions are now being rapidly adopted for use in mining, carbon capture & storage and geothermal sectors with little investment or actuation on our part. So I am very optimistic about what is playing out in new areas.
How does Silixa fit into the new energy normal?
It has been a broadly-based business for some while. Some identify with us as an oil & gas services business, but we have a lot of relationships outside that with a very broad offering. We are fortunate in having a multi-disciplinary team that already speaks the language of the emerging sectors.
We have five business units, three of them facing oil & gas and two of which are facing respectively mining and the broader area of environmental infrastructure. Within those, we have an alternative energy group, and an earth science group addressing the emerging pressures on the world, such as climate change and increasing populations.
Our knowledge of the subsurface domain will be key to the safe and economic storage of CO2 and success of complex geothermal systems. This understanding of the subsurface domain and application of the technology over many years has resulted in all parts of our business well populated with experienced geophysicists and geotechnical staff.
A case in point relating to our carbon storage and geothermal knowledge and transferable technologies is in the company’s optically distributed fiber optic sensing. This is unique in that the technology can make measurements of what we call the far-field, which enables it to track the movements of fluids within the system and in the near-field. This enables us to understand when the system is in optimum conditions.
Can you give any specific examples of transference in this area?
Transferable technology, like people’s transferable skills, can be applied quickly and appropriately. One of the successes that gives us confidence looking forward is the success we have already enjoyed in transferring some of our oil and gas flow metering solutions to the mining sector where we can help our customers understand flow and movement within large networks and help achieve their ESG objectives avoiding water and energy use.
As a result of considerable early success, we are making a significant investment in building an international team as we believe our proven technologies will assist in overcoming ESG and technical challenges in the provision of base metals such as copper and nickel, which are vital in the energy transition picture. So, there are many elements to our technology that are very special, particularly our ability to quickly apply proven techniques to the challenges of energy transition that are now so urgently needed to combat global warming.
By Robert Rapier