How can Oil & Gas companies look at digital technologies to ensure the safety of their employees and the efficiency of their activities?

Geoffrey Cann

In the heat of the moment, the normal human response to a novel threat is to look back and to rely on proven tools and tactics readily at hand. And this is how many western societies and businesses have decided to respond to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Since COVID-19 is being transmitted through respiratory droplets and has been proven to linger on multiple surfaces, most OECD economies decided to adopt social distancing.

Multiple cities have enacted strict actions to contain the spread of the virus, implementing quarantine measures and shutting down most businesses, and many companies have put in place a series of social distancing measures, such as a work from home strategy.

While this strategy has the potential to work for those employees who are principally in commercial roles, including finance, procurement, trading, HR, legal, administration, IT and other similar service jobs; it might be more difficult for those working in the oil and gas sector. The constant need for human supervision of assets and equipment, remote locations of new builds and many others make it challenging for the industry to easily meet social distancing targets.

Hand to hand virus combat actions available for oil and gas businesses, such as spacing out employees or offering gloves and masks, might be a temporary solution but are a costly add-on and a drag on productivity on the existing business. In the long run, and without vaccination readily concocted, the degradation of business performance will become permanent.

There’s a critical need for tactics that fundamentally challenge the underlying business models and structures for the oil and gas business, and digital tools have the potential to prevent the spread of the pandemic in the workplace while keeping business moving.

  • Digital weaponry - the oil and gas industry has access to a number of digital weapons for helping deal with the pandemic. The spare capacity made available because of COVID-19 is a great opportunity for the industry to reconfigure their business around these digital innovations.
  • Collaboration tools – While video conferencing tools like Zoom and Hangouts are going to get a big lift from all the home-based, Other collaboration tools — joint document editing (Google Docs), shared work tasks (Trello), team communications (Slack) — might start to be deployed more enthusiastically in the supply chain, involving contractors and suppliers.
  • Wearables –  The appeal of this technology lies in its capacity to ensure personal safety by alerting employees quickly to the potential exposure of COVID-19.
  • Visual Analytics – Operators could deploy cameras equipped with visual analytics to keep eyes on assets from the comfort of their home. Used in this way, cameras could also reduce carbon and imply lower costs.
  • Field Automation - Instead of having field workers clustered around system control panels in close quarters, operators could deploy artificial intelligence edge controllers to manage and optimise production. Letting a machine supervise the assets can potentially move employees out of the control room and create space for social distancing, ultimately optimising the entire producing fields and reducing the potential for virus transmission.
  • Drones - There isn’t a more compelling case for drone technology than a virus outbreak. Using a drone in a supply chain, a warehouse, or a delivery role means fewer opportunities for person to person interaction.
  • Process Overhaul - The lack of trust between parties involved in work processes in the industry has increased due to the virus. What if the field ticket, contract, certificate, paperwork, or license was holding the virus too? Blockchain has yet another compelling business reason for deployment by reducing virus transmission with the use of digital contracts.

The longer this pandemic drags on, the more costly these manual social distancing measures will become, and the more compelling it will be to reconfigure work to permanently solve the consequences of this measure. The global disruption caused by COVID-19 represents an opportunity for the oil and gas industry to leverage the technologies and digital tools that are available to them, ensuring the safety of their employees and efficiently pursuing their activity.