Working from the dining table, home schooling, the daily walk and Zoom quizzes have all become the norm for millions of people over the last 12 months. COVID19 has caused huge economic, and societal disruption across the globe, with no industry left untouched. As a sector which is essential to ensuring security of energy supply, how has the oil and gas sector responded to the pandemic and its associated challenges? And will this have a knock-on effect on the shape of the industry in 2021 and beyond?
Challenges and responses
In responding to the COVID19 challenge operators and the supply chain have had to effectively adapt to a frequently changing situation, diverging approaches of the UK and Scottish Governments, fluctuations in levels of the virus and a range of associated guidelines and restrictions. Strategic business continuity planning has been critical in ensuring operations are sustained and that personnel are continually available to support those operations. Management have engaged with all areas of their business in drawing up comprehensive and practical policies, ensuring rigorous testing is carried out to safely contain the virus and mitigate its spread on offshore installations. Homeworking has facilitated limiting the spread while maintaining efficient engagement. Indeed, as we emerge from the pandemic, many of these efficiencies are very likely to remain.
Similarly, oil and gas legal teams have had to deal with related issues over the last year. Receiving notices of force majeure and termination under certain contracts, many of which are critical to ongoing operations, has resulted in significant time being spent assessing legal options: negotiating with counterparties, agreeing (where possible) ways forward and considering and/or pursuing litigation. Furthermore, in the later part of 2020, Brexit planning once again came to the fore for oil and gas companies who had to dust off their Brexit plans and refresh them in light of the pandemic.
Opportunities and re-setting the stage
Notwithstanding COVID19, the energy transition is now at the forefront of corporate agendas, with organisations identifying their position in the transition. With that challenge undoubtedly comes opportunity. Regulatory support for the transition has been significant during lockdown. The UK Government's 10-point plan, followed by the Energy White Paper (both released in late 2020), together with the updated Oil and Gas Authority ("OGA") strategy (published in February 2021) have paved the way for a new chapter for the UK energy sector. While recognising the vital role to be played by oil and gas for years to come, they equally outline the opportunities to collaborate with renewable energy and technology companies to deliver energy integration projects, and ultimately plan for the long term sustainability of their businesses. In addressing the need to meet net zero targets, these policies and strategies also identify the coordination required among the various regulators, such as between the Crown Estate and OGA.
2020 has been a year of lessons learned for the oil and gas industry. Having quickly adapted and responded to the ever-changing circumstances presented to them, businesses operating in the UK's mature basin are well placed to continue to react and recover in 2021 and beyond. The eagerly anticipated North Sea transition deal will determine the success of this recovery. The UK energy sector has the opportunity to showcase itself as a world leader in facilitating an efficient and managed transition as well as its significant export potential in areas such as decommissioning and the new energy supply chain. The stage is set.
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