The 26th UN COP26 conference in Glasgow in November 2021 will look to accelerate a global drive towards a net-zero economy. To reach targets of reducing emissions, and keep global warming below two degrees Celsius, industries like oil and gas will have to adapt, and as the recently published IPCC report highlights, global action is required now to stay within this target.
However, global climate policies typically have little relevance to the people of Africa, where the current energy mix is dominated by biomass and fossil fuels. David Clark, CEO of Vysus Group, explores the viability of Africa’s oil and gas industry in the wake of a global energy transition, identifying the challenges facing the industry, future prospects and steps companies can take to remain competitive during this transition.
Concerns around climate change are becoming increasingly important to African companies, as reflected in environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) commitments, as well as the wider populous as the effects of climate change impact on weather and rain patterns become increasingly evident. The continent has already seen the deployment of renewables in small quantities at the Noor Solar Power Complex in Morocco; however, fossil fuels and wood burning are still primary fuel sources. In a more eco-conscious world, the viability of oil and gas is impeded by the industry’s environmental impacts and consequently hesitance to invest in this.
Africa’s geographical and political landscapes create challenges for potential investment because of its sometimes unpredictable nature. For example, in Uganda, remote inland wells produce heavy oil that must be transported through long pipeline systems to distant refineries across difficult terrain. The vastness of the continent and the dispersion of industry assets means it isn’t always cost-effective to exploit potential sources. Furthermore, there are numerous challenges with regards to the somewhat chequered history of transparent governance across both government and corporate stakeholders across the continent and which impact investor sentiment, particularly given the long-term, multi-billion dollar nature of these types of energy developments. Disparity in regulations across borders also means that oil and gas companies are hampered by bureaucracy and uncertainty with their future operations.
The future energy mix
The energy transition will drastically alter the continent’s energy mix to heavily feature renewable sources in the years ahead. However, hydrocarbons will still be needed for many decades. The term ‘transition’ itself suggests a period of change, and in this case, a long-term process. We are not at the stage where we can simply ‘switch off’ fossil fuels, and it is too soon to see a rapid decline of oil and gas, particularly in a continent of rapidly expanding population and growing middle classes. There is still value in extracting these fuels, and although forecasts suggest they will lose their prominence, they will remain an integral feedstock in delivering an effective transition.
Fossil fuels are essential commodities omnipresent in aspects of everyday life, including, ironically, in the creation of renewable energy sources. Currently, 8% of global crude oil is used to make plastics, which will increase with the demand for lightweight materials to support electrical components vital to wind turbines, electronic vehicles and batteries.
Hydrocarbons can also be exported, when combined with carbon capture technology, as alternative fuel sources with both blue hydrogen and ammonia seen as potential low carbon, transportable fuel solutions for the global transportation and industrial sectors.
As Africa has already proven with the deployment of mobile telecoms networks and mobile trading systems, the continent has the opportunity to jump the development curve witnessed in the developed countries, deploying a broad range of localized renewables/low carbon generation, storage and distribution solutions to help drive domestic demand and economic development. Here, traditional oil, and particular gas, production will likely be a valuable feedstock.
Steps businesses must take
The world must, therefore, now look to bring innovative, creative ideas not only in the design of new energy infrastructure but also in how these can be designed, built, commissioned, operated and ultimately decommissioned.
Vysus Group has adapted by innovating on how we can deliver our expertise and capability to our clients remotely. In Ghana, we were able to remotely connect to a rig to provide critical rig positioning quality control expertise on deepwater rig operations. Without mobilizing personnel to the rig, we were able to provide to accuracy of better than ±5m in water depths in excess of 1,500m. This reduced costs and risks associated with ‘in-person’ consultancy, protected workforces from COVID-19, reduced the carbon footprint of the operation through less travel and fewer energy costs typically associated with an onboard workforce for the project’s duration.
The African continent can benefit from remote technological capabilities eliminating unnecessary costs and emissions. Healthier margins and environmental mitigation make investment more viable, given its important role in the energy transition. However, the intrinsic factors mentioned earlier could hinder further investment and success.
That said, the demand for oil, gas, and its bi-products will still be here for many decades to come. With the right focus and determination, governments, stakeholders, energy asset operators and the whole project and services supply chain can, and must, bring innovative technical and commercial solutions which leverage the significant natural resources available across the continent, whilst delivering low carbon energy to fuel the expanding African population, as well as the wider global market.
About Vysus Group
Following a strategic carve-out from Lloyd’s Register (LR), LR’s Energy business is now Vysus Group, a standalone engineering and technical consultancy, offering specialist asset performance, risk management and project management expertise across complex industrial assets, energy assets (oil and gas, nuclear, renewables), the energy transition and rail infrastructure.
Vysus Group retains LR Energy’s entire capability and continues to offer its full suite of technical, regulatory, and operational expertise globally, with all 650+ of our global experts transitioning to the new company. Driven by its purpose to help clients manage risk and maximize performance, Vysus Group blends deep technical knowledge and data-driven insights with hands-on expertise.
Working on complex and large-scale energy projects around the world, Vysus Group is one of the leading engineering consultancy partners of choice. Vysus Group launched its new brand in April 2021, with a new logo, brand identity and website reflecting our evolution, value proposition and full spectrum of capabilities.
For more information, visit www.vysusgroup.com.
About the Author: David Clark began his career as a Wireline Field Engineer with Schlumberger. There he enjoyed a lengthy service of 18 years in a variety of line management and staff roles across Europe and on assignments in Asia, Australia, the Middle East and India. He then developed his career in upstream oil and gas services and contractor segments with leadership roles in Technip UK and Wood, in the Middle East, Europe and Africa. He returned to Schlumberger in 2013 as global Vice President for the newly created Production Facilities Management business unit.
David joined Aker Solutions at the end of 2015 as President for UK & Africa and latterly held the position of Executive Vice President, overseeing its entire global services portfolio, which extends into renewables and decommissioning.
In January 2019, David moved to Lloyd’s Register (LR) as Group Energy Director, responsible for leveraging the company’s technical and engineering expertise across energy production and infrastructure segments.
In November 2020, following a strategic carve-out, LR’s Energy division became Vysus Group, a standalone, independent engineering and technical consultancy. As CEO, David is responsible for leading and growing the organization, which retains LR Energy’s entire capability and continues to offer its full suite of technical, regulatory, and operational expertise globally.