As coronavirus induced spikes hit the global economy, the oil industry is one of the hardest hit sectors due to lockdowns and closure of commercial activities around the world. Following the resultant plunge in the oil market, oil companies have been looking for a way out the strain.
Shell, Eni, British Petroleum (BP) and now Saudi Aramco are preparing not only to embrace the horror, but also for a future without fossil oil. Reuters reported, citing sources, that the second most valuable company in the world plans to boost its production capacity so it can pump as much of Saudi Arabia’s vast oil reserves when demand picks up before a shift to cleaner energy makes crude worthless.
In a clear attempt to make the best of oil before it becomes outdated, Aramco plans to undermine the interest of other companies by producing and selling more even when the price seems unprofitable. Part of the plan means that the oil giant will raise its production capacity from 12 million to 13 million barrels per day, a bargaining threat it has used earlier in March, during the disagreement with Russia on oil production cuts.
The sources said the state-run oil giant is also revising ambitious downstream expansion plans and now aims to grab assets in established projects in key markets such as India and China.
Though the move seems like a contradiction to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify the West Asia kingdom’s means of revenue from oil, it is actually a strategy. The Vision 2030 plan needs a lot of money to become a reality. And presently, Aramco’s oil is the only source of the kingdom’s revenue, which means, the Prince needs to use what he has to get what he wants. This also means Aramco will continue to run oil deals until Saudi Arabia is fully established as a diversified economy.
“The crown prince said he will diversify but he didn’t say he will kill the oil industry. As long as it can make more money why not? Take the money and invest it somewhere else.
“Let’s agree that given the global economic situation, full diversification won’t happen by 2030. To completely wean a giant economy like Saudi off oil, it will require at least 50 years more. So as long as oil is with us, make more money out of it if you can,” one of the sources told Reuters.
BP and Shell have taken on different strategies which include downsizing workforce and developing business models for cleaner energy.
“We are undergoing a strategic review of the organization, which intends to ensure we are set up to thrive throughout the energy transition and be a simpler organization, which is also cost competitive. We are looking at a range of options and scenarios at this time, which are being carefully evaluated,” a spokeswoman for Shell said in a statement.
Shell is exploring ways to reduce spending on oil and gas production by 30% to 40% for its upstream sector, its largest division. For the downstream sector, the company plans to cut 45,000 service stations, the biggest in the world, from its network. This will mean limiting its oil production to a few key places that include Nigeria, Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea.
BP and Eni had already taken similar steps, cutting jobs and shutting down operations to build new low-carbon businesses in the next decade in preparation for the era of cleaner energy.
While Aramco has taken a different route, it is also focusing on pumping cleaner fuel. Analysts and sources said the company is working on cutting greenhouse gas emissions to give a better chance to compete as environmental concerns push governments to tighten carbon regulations.
With 10.1 kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) for each barrel produced (CO2e/boe), Aramco boasts of oil production with the lowest carbon intensity, and plans on bringing it further low by the end of the year.
“Our priorities are to sustain our low carbon intensity and low cost of production, while delivering the energy supplies the world needs. Aramco is researching ways to reduce emissions through technology, such as making engines more efficient, better fuel formulations, carbon capture and sequestration, and turning CO2 and hydrocarbons into useful products,” the company said.
The strategy is geared towards securing a large share of the market in the future when oil demands return. Having taken care of carbon emissions concern to the barest level, Aramco’s 13 million barrels per day will put it in a position to have the lion’s share of the market, ahead of other OPEC members including Russia.
“There is always going to be space for oil and the lowest carbon emitter will win. OPEC market power will return, especially for those who can produce oil in the cleanest way possible, and Saudi Aramco fits that bill,” Amrita Sen, co-founder of the think-tank, Energy Aspects said.