Do oil and gas businesses have a future?

Do oil and gas companies have a future?
Image: pitinan ©

Yes, says James McCallum, if they take digitalisation steps now to transition into a net zero future.

Do oil and gas have a future? It’s the question that seems to be on everyone’s lips, particularly in the lead up to COP26 this year.

To give you the short answer: For now, yes they absolutely do have a future.

This might not be what a lot of people want to hear as they warn the climate crisis is growing. However, the simple fact is that the world must have energy, and renewables just aren’t ready to make oil and gas completely redundant. Yet.

This article was originally published in Power Engineering International 4-2021.

Read the mobile-friendly digimag or subscribe to receive a print copy.

With the best intentions in the world and all of the fantastic progress we’ve made in recent decades moving towards sustainable low-carbon alternatives, there is no quick fix. The change from oil and gas to green energy simply cannot be an immediate change.

The idea that we can have oil and gas one day, then replaced by wind and solar power the next is a fantasy. The truth is the move to renewable energy is a transition that will take time, not a switch or a magic click of the fingers.

By understanding that the energy transition means we will be needing oil and gas around for some considerable time, we can focus our efforts on supporting oil and gas companies to transition faster, rather than simply condemning them as ‘bad for the planet’ and hoping they will go away.

They won’t. Because right now we can’t function without them. Unfortunately, fusion and green hydrogen energies are still a long way away from being scalable and affordable.

Energy security

It all comes down to energy security. In fact, it’s the main consideration in the continued use of hydrocarbons. The International Energy Agency defines energy security as the uninterrupted availability of energy sources at an affordable price, and describes it as a priority goal now and in the future.

Disturbances to energy systems have the potential to cause severe and chaotic impacts on society and the economy, limiting development in both and justifying the high concern around energy security.

This is because energy infiltrates every aspect of our lives, even those that seem so far removed from the energy sector.

Every vehicle we drive, every light we turn on, every item of clothing we wear and every electronic device we use is available to us because of the energy industry. And right now, whether we like it or not, it’s also largely because of oil and gas.

Of course we hope to change this heavy reliance on hydrocarbons. However it’s important to remember that our reliance on energy and power is growing everfaster, as society becomes increasingly electric.

This means on our journey to achieve net zero, energy security will only become more important. The good news is that undoubtedly the shift to clean energy will help to improve energy security across the world as natural resources become scarce.

Developing and adopting green energy low-carbon technologies will boost technological innovations and protect against technological uncertainty. This will in turn enhance energy security – it will just take some time to get there.

Digital transformation

Time is what the experts are increasingly warning us that we are running out of. The climate crisis looms and we must transition faster.

Easier said than done of course when much of the world’s energy infrastructure is built for fossil fuels. So how do we speed up the energy transition?

Digital transformation is key here. However, in order to see a real impact, this must be a sea change – a full industry wide digital transformation.

We need to break down the barriers of reliance on outdated processes and old technologies that are inefficient, using and wasting huge amounts of valuable energy through disparate systems and controls.

Deploying more low-carbon systems and modern technology capable of learning, like AI, will help to connect distributed teams delivering tomorrow’s office as a hybrid hub, maximising the benefits of remote work and immediately increasing energy efficiency.

The benefits of digitalisation come into play through work management automation tools that optimise business processes and therefore the energy services as well as combatting the challenges these energy companies face such as development and productivity.

The digital methodology and innovation to replace the old with new and improved technology is already out there, but unfortunately the sense of urgency is still lacking.

So, to put it bluntly for companies that aren’t yet convinced they need to make their contribution: Digital transformation is the only way oil and gas businesses will successfully transition and continue to operate effectively in the future. The key question then is: How can we help hydrocarbon businesses transition to clean energy?

Transitioning oil and gas

Investing directly in low-carbon tech is certainly one way to drive the innovation we need to support a full digital transformation, but achieving a lasting, green future also demands a total shift in thinking and attitude.

This happens to be something the younger, digitally-enabled generation are perhaps more adept at and so energy companies need to focus on attracting this up and coming green talent to help create and manage the new systems and technology we need.

But the negative image of oil and gas poses a challenge to recruitment. Association with the energy sector is no longer an attractive prospect to young, green talent eager to change the world; yet oil and gas must remain a part of the energy equation for years to come as the industry and the world works its way through the energy transition.

As it is imperative that companies do recruit for the success of the energy transition, they need help to attract and retain this new talent.

Specialised green talent recruiting software is an excellent place for businesses to start. It can offer a fast way to access or find new talent, as well as allowing companies to post ads for specific green projects, search for rated talent and engage freelancers.

Recruitment is already challenging and lengthy, but platforms like this can help to source some of the resources required to find the best green energy talent available.

Another way to attract and retain new talent is through the adoption of remote, flexible workplace systems, that embrace the gig economy.

The next generation of workers is looking for an attractive work environment without frustrating processes and slow decision making. They won’t hesitate in taking their time and skills elsewhere if such an environment is not available, regardless of employment status. In a nutshell, businesses need to adapt to a new way of working or lose out.

The gig economy revolution is founded on a fundamental shift in the way companies engage with talent and manage their work, underpinned by the digital transformation.

Technology is driving teams to work smarter, not harder, and will be a great benefit to a business’s green credentials in the longer term, therefore making them more attractive to prospective employees. Similarly, by embracing technology, employers and gig workers can see the benefit of a more flexible way of working, allowing access to a global green talent pool that is no longer restricted by geography.


James McCallum is co-founder of work management automation platform Proteus. He will be taking part in the next episode of the ‘Green is the New Black’ webcast series, which examines the intersection between the oil & gas industry and renewables.

No posts to display