Oil & Gas 4.0

The implementation of digitisation, Big Data, automation and the Internet of Things, together with the lucrative opportunity created by rising demand in Asia are driving producers in the Middle East and beyond to evolve and change

The oil and gas sector is changing in the digital era


Adnoc to embed innovation into every part of its operations to meet the energy demands of this era, writes its chief executive Dr Sultan Al Jaber

Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Adnoc Group chief executive and UAE Minister of State. Photo: Courtesy Adnoc

Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Adnoc Group chief executive and UAE Minister of State. Photo: Courtesy Adnoc

Last month, the world reached an important tipping point. For the first time in history, more than half of the global population is made up of middle-class consumers. This marks a pivotal moment in human progress and is the outcome of a remarkable period of economic growth over the past 50 years. The bottom line is that prosperity is not only growing in the traditional centres, it is spreading from West to East, North to South and throughout the entire world.

Fundamental to this accelerated pace of progress are breakthrough technologies, which are driving unprecedented rates of productivity and introducing an era that has been defined as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Just as the oil and gas industry was essential to powering economic growth over the past half century, so this sector will remain absolutely essential to this next big leap forward in global progress. To enable this massive step change in development, the oil and gas industry must think differently, embrace disruption and step out of our comfort zone. At Adnoc, we are giving this mission a simple name: Oil and Gas 4.0.

Oil and Gas 4.0 is where our industry meets the Fourth Industrial Revolution, an era where digital innovation is catalysing economic progress and driving demand for everything that depends on the humble hydrocarbon molecule –from power, to fuel and the countless products that enable modern life. Oil is set to break the 100 million barrel per day barrier in global consumption and will add another 10 million barrels a day at least by 2040. Natural gas will experience even stronger growth of 40 per cent over the same period. Petrochemicals, plastics and polymers will show the sharpest growth of all – increasing by 60 per cent.

The UAE, Abu Dhabi and Adnoc are stepping up to responsibly and reliably meet the energy demands of this era. Following this month’s Supreme Petroleum Council directive, we have committed to increasing oil production capacity to 4 million barrels per day by 2020 and extending to 5 million barrels per day by 2030. In addition, we will increase gas production to first attain self-sufficiency and then transition to become a net exporter.

To meet these ambitious goals we are leveraging our partnerships and in particular technology. This week we announced a first of its kind concession agreement with Total to explore and develop vast unconventional fields in Abu Dhabi. This is one of a series of initiatives that will support our efforts to commercially unlock our vast gas resources. We also entered into a strategic framework agreement with Saudi Aramco to explore natural gas and LNG investment opportunities. This builds on our strategy to venture beyond our borders, to seek out greater value and provide the energy that growth economies need.

At the core of Oil and Gas 4.0 is the recognition that while technology is transforming all industries, it is time to really focus on how it can evolve the oil and gas industry to be more efficient, more productive and to generate more value. At Adnoc, we believe artificial intelligence, Big Data and blockchain can enhance our operational efficiency, maximise our performance, drive our profitability and empower our people. We are applying the science of predictive analytics to significantly reduce maintenance costs. We are building up our state-of-the-art Panorama Digital Command Centre to mine for, monitor and measure terabytes of information across our operations. Yet we are still only scratching the surface of how technology can unlock our potential and greater value. Our ambition is to extend its power across our entire value chain from drilling platforms to trading platforms.

By embedding innovation into every aspect of our business, we are determined to make Adnoc the destination of choice for a highly skilled, digitally native workforce and a home for the best and the brightest of our young people.

We are at the beginning stages of an exciting chapter in the history of our industry. By embracing Oil and Gas 4.0 and opening up ourselves to the benefits of technology, we will transform our business, benefit our people and enable the next phase of global development.


The increasing symbiosis between energy producers and technology companies has the prominent expert Daniel Yergin optimistic, with Oil & Gas 4.0 leading to a new world of increased efficiencies and prosperity

Daniel Yergin is one of the world's leading experts on the oil and gas industry. Photo: IHS

Daniel Yergin is one of the world's leading experts on the oil and gas industry. Photo: IHS

A key characteristic of the new digital era for the oil gas sector, is the convergence between the industry and Silicon Valley’s biggest companies, where data increasingly becomes a valuable commodity.

That’s according to Daniel Yergin, the eminent energy expert and economic historian who authored two seminal books about the oil and gas sector; best sellers The Quest and The Prize – the latter winning him a Pulitzer Prize.

“Hydrocarbon molecules are the product of the industry but data is a product too,” says Mr Yergin, who is also vice chairman of IHS Markit, the global information and research company.

“There are companies that produce oil and gas and generate data, the two are wholly inter-dependent.”

Oil and Gas 4.0 which describes the nexus of technology and energy is increasingly palpable with the rise in the number of partnerships between the oil industry and technology giants. Microsoft, for example, has a number of strategic alliances with entities like Chevron and Shell.

Between 2013 and 2018, the proportion of announced partnerships with a digital emphasis, between the oil and gas industry and the supply chain, grew from 22 per cent to 55 per cent, Mr Yergin says. It’s not surprise as the partnerships support the digital transformation of international oil companies.

The push towards incorporating digital tools to improve efficiencies to lower costs and expand production capabilities has triggered the Oil and Gas 4.0 era.

“The industry has continually gone through periods of technology changing the business and developing new skills and capabilities, both internally and drawing on the wider benefits of technology and I think we are in one of those periods."

Daniel Yergin, energy expert and author of The Quest and The Prize

The evolution is linked to the broader Industry 4.0 trend, driven largely by technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution; namely artificial intelligence, Big Data, and the internet of things (IoT).

The collapse in oil prices following peaks of more than $110 per barrel in the summer of 2014, to below $30 in January 2016, also accelerated “the push to digitisation that has become very pronounced,” Mr Yergin says, adding, “because companies need to be more efficient…[it’s] part of a survival and prosper strategy.”

With price cycles so extreme, it’s futile to try and be in control, but costs can be managed during such periods. The three-year price slump that began in 2014 magnified this.

“You can manage your cost, be more efficient, be more productive”, Mr Yergin says.

The shift in gears creates greater resilience and in this case, the adoption of new digital tools such as sensors, wearables and automation - all of which have been key to maintaining momentum even as oil prices rebounded to more than $80 per barrel earlier this year.

“About every decade has a shock [for producers] and then people forget and the new normal is back,” Mr Yergin says. “You did have companies in the eighties and nineties that adjusted their cost structure and then costs started going up again. Now a company has tools it didn’t have before.”

Digital tools enable and empower companies to redesign processes across all aspects of the industry – production, refining, drilling – in addition to bringing in new skills, he says.

The trend, in many respects, is like the development curve of autonomous vehicles which were not possible in 2000s because of the absence of data analytics present a decade later, he adds.
The ‘de-manning’ of oil and gas facilities is another example of a trend that was not possible a decade ago.

“[You can] automate a lot of what is done. Capabilities were not there a decade or a decade and a half ago,” he says. “You don’t need a lot people on an oil platform, maybe almost no people but very powerful digital tools to manage it from onshore.”

In marked contrast to the past, companies today are pursuing greater efficiencies and capabilities regardless of the price of oil. That invariably is because technology has empowered them in a way it has not been able to before. That’s very evident with smaller, independent producers, which had been until recently the backbone of shale oil and gas in North America. The application of digitisation has given them the ability to bring down costs “and at the end of the day this is about costs and capabilities,” says Mr Yergin who has been investigating the impact of technology on the industry.

“Shale is growing dramatically again, US production last month reached 11.4 million barrels per day. There are other things involved too – general cost cutting and so forth – but this is a very clear example of what the application of technology means,” Mr Yergin says.
For larger oil and gas companies, wide-encompassing digital strategies are required. Their organisational transformation hinges on harnessing the technology, from drilling and production to safety where sensors can illuminate what’s taking place in a well, he says.
This not only applies to IOCs but also national oil companies (NOCs). Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) is at the forefront of NOCs on Oil and Gas 4.0, with it proactively embracing the digital transformation of the industry.

“We are going to see Adnoc emerge as one of the leaders in the global industry and [it] has made this trend a high priority,” he says.
A big advancement for the sector in the 4.0 era, is predictive maintenance. Thanks to a massive increase in the number of sensors being deployed across operations, companies can monitor what’s happening in real time, which markedly improves safety levels.

“Being able to see problems before they become problems, see what is happening with rotating equipment, see what is happening with pipes, this is part two of what we are talking about [with Oil and Gas 4.0],” says Mr Yergin. “Bringing that [scale of] data and information together is extraordinary, [and enables] the industry to operate upscale, efficiently and productively.”

Leveraging data analytics to achieve results within the oil and gas industry mirrors the activities of Silicon Valley’s biggest technology companies. Each has begun borrowing from the other, Mr Yergin says.

“At the CERAWeek [oil and gas conference in Houston] suddenly the big tech companies engaged in a way they have never been so obviously engaged before,” he says.

Essentially its because technology companies have come to the realisation that the oil and gas industry produces large amounts of data that can define and shape processes and bring about efficiencies.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, which has put data at the heart of its business. Photo by AFP

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, which has put data at the heart of its business. Photo by AFP

“I went to a dinner with Jeff Bezos and [from him] you understand Amazon is a massive manager of data and the capabilities are constantly improving,” says Mr Yergin. “It is a new frontier of technology and a frontier the oil and gas industry is very much moving into.”

In turn oil and gas companies have begun mimicking tech companies. They’re more venture-led, invest in startups, learn from their innovation in areas such as clean tech, analytics and IoT.

Changes related to the era of Oil and Gas 4.0 are not exclusive to how companies approach their operations. The shifting dynamics also impact how individuals approach their jobs which will bring with it challenges such as reskilling existing employees or bringing in new ones with different capabilities, says Mr Yergin.

“It was already happening but [it] accentuates the need for people that these technologies are a part of their training,” he says. Increasingly the oil and gas industry will compete with the tech industry for human capital. “Computer science is going to be a bigger part of the curriculum of becoming an oil industry professional,” says Mr Yergin.

The challenge now for companies is how to implement new efficiencies, how to manage costs while moving into Oil and Gas 4.0. That’s why strategic discussions are so important. The shift “at this scale and at this intensity, this is new terrain,” says Mr Yergin.

“Execution and strategy and implementation [are risks] that are very much on the mind of the industry; the capabilities are there but how to do it productively and in what timeframe.”

An advantage is that the oil and gas industry is populated by engineers and scientists.

“There is a natural affinity and curiosity but it is also doing what you have done in the past differently and doing new things. It is not just a process of implementation and execution but also a process of learning.”

That the industry has come so far and regularly demonstrates its extraordinary capabilities notwithstanding the ability to drill 10,000 feet under the sea bed makes Mr Yergin optimistic.

“Oil and gas has been at the forefront,” he says, adding “and it is undergoing another step change to ensure it is at the forefront again.”


Drones, robotics and other tech are increasing efficiency and productivity – while protecting the environment – in all stages of energy production

The impenetrable virgin forest of Papua New Guinea was always a formidable challenge to oil and gas companies searching for hydrocarbons without disturbing the flora and fauna of the south-west Pacific island.

But late last year, French oil major Total, which has a stake in an onshore block in the country, came up with a new tool to penetrate the forest.

It used drones with dart-shaped wireless geophysical sensors that engaged with a relay antenna to transmit and process seismic data in a method called “carpet recording”.

Through the use of Total’s Multiphysics Exploration Technology Integrated System, or Metis, the pilot project will help the company in its quest to build more predictive 3D models. This technology, which cuts costs and minimises health, safety and environmental risks, will soon be used in the desert environment of the UAE on an onshore field for the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

Oil majors are increasingly using technology such as drones to improve operational efficiencies. Photo: Courtesy Sky-Futures

Oil majors are increasingly using technology such as drones to improve operational efficiencies. Photo: Courtesy Sky-Futures

The French company holds a 10 per cent stake in the 40-year concession that covers Abu Dhabi’s 15 main onshore fields and represents more than half of the emirate’s oil production.

Metis is only one aspect of Total’s experience in using technological tools.

“Total has developed expertise in predictive maintenance for rotating machines based on big data,” says Bastien Januel, a technical specialist for Total in Abu Dhabi.

“The collection of very large amounts of data coming from gauges but also from specific events allows us, by applying artificial intelligence algorithms, to identify in advance some possible failure of equipment and to intervene before any event occurs.

“This is aimed at preventing any major issue in production shutdown.”

Total is just one of several foreign energy companies that have partnered with Adnoc, introducing new technology that will cut costs, improve exploration and operations, and help the company to achieve its targets. Adnoc plans to boost output capacity to 5 million barrels per day by 2030, up from about 3 million bpd now.

Its partners are using Big Data, the Internet of Things, drones, robotics and other tools to help the company in its quest for better management of reserves and boosting production capacity at minimal costs and damage to the environment.

Consultancy Bain & Co says using Big Data analytics and other technological tools can help oil and gas companies to improve oilfield and plant performance by an average of six to eight per cent.
British oil giant BP, another partner with a 10 per cent stake in Adnoc Onshore, is also harnessing technology in its UAE operations.

“The computer power available today has enabled processing sub-surface data in hours and days, instead of months and years.”

Mohammed Al Nakhi, technical lead for BP UAE

“This has enabled teams to make decisions based on current reservoir conditions, which saves costs and improves the value. We have also conducted some benchmarking visits with Adnoc to some of our operations in the region to showcase drilling and operational technologies.”

BP has extensive expertise working in difficult environments around the world.

In Oman, BP operates and holds a 60 per cent stake in the giant Khazzan gasfield, which has very hard old rock that is locked in low permeability reservoirs also known as tight gas.

“We have also conducted some benchmarking visits with Adnoc to BP’s Khazzan operations to showcase our success with tight gas drilling and completion technologies including hydraulic fracturing, which is helping Adnoc and Adnoc Onshore to plan their future drilling strategies,” Mr Al Nakhi says.

Adnoc is already working with oil services provider Baker Hughes on fracturing onshore gas formations, taking a lead in the Middle East on the exploration for gas onshore through fracking, as it seeks to achieve gas self-sufficiency.

It is no surprise that oil majors are using technology in their operations in the UAE and worldwide.

US company ExxonMobil is one of the Adnoc partners developing the offshore Upper Zakum field. Photo: Reuters

US company ExxonMobil is one of the Adnoc partners developing the offshore Upper Zakum field. Photo: Reuters

The trend is gaining traction, according to a 2016 survey by Accenture.
Over the next three to five years, 80 per cent of upstream oil and gas companies plan to spend the same, more, or significantly more (30, 36 and 14 per cent) on digital technology as they do now, the survey found.

Meanwhile, US company ExxonMobil, one of the partners developing the offshore Upper Zakum field through its 28 per cent stake in the company operating the reservoir, is also using technology in its operations.

Upper Zakum, the world’s second largest offshore field, is supported by four artificial islands, the largest of which is the size of 135 American football fields.

Development plans incorporate the use of technological tools to increase recovery, reduce capital requirements and minimise environmental footprint, ExxonMobil says. The company is using its proprietary technology – Empower – to achieve many of these results.

“Empower complemented advanced existing practices and tools in Adnoc Offshore, and contributed to the resulting reservoir models, which have been some of the largest in ExxonMobil’s global experience,” says Christian Lenoble, ExxonMobil UAE lead country manager and president of Exxon Al Khalij.

“Millions of cells or gridblocks are used to describe the reservoirs and run-flow simulations, generating enhanced value in terms of reservoir management and field development, and unlocking potential from previously underdeveloped reservoirs.

“The development plan also employed the first combination of artificial islands, extended reach drilling, and maximum reservoir contact well technologies in the world.”


Adnoc's technology-led Thamama and Panorama centres are leading the way in the use of analytics

At Adnoc’s Thamama subsurface collaboration centre, large screens flash with three-dimensional models of reservoirs under layers of rock in in Al Dhafra’s desert.

The flashing screens display data and chart graphs, so that the geologists, engineers and scientists there can work out the optimal location to drill a well or install a rig, and thereby generate billions in cost savings.

Thamama, the nerve centre behind the new generation of upstream activity at Abu Dhabi’s state producer, is at the heart of a drive for efficiency that Big Oil and regional national oil companies are determined to chase.

Screens flash with data at Adnoc's Thamama subsurface collaboration centre, which has become critical towards optimising productional efficiency and save costs. Photo: Khushnum Bhandari/ The National

Screens flash with data at Adnoc's Thamama subsurface collaboration centre, which has become critical towards optimising productional efficiency and save costs. Photo: Khushnum Bhandari/ The National

Adnoc, which opened the centre last year, hopes that incorporating artificial intelligence into the way it spuds wells and gets oil to market could reduce drilling time by 30 per cent next year and generate efficiency savings of up to $1 billion from last year.

It is not alone in expanding exploration to include optimal use of Big Data to respond in a leaner, quicker and more resilient manner to the vagaries of the oil markets.

Occidental Petroleum, which generates 45 per cent of its business from the Middle East and is one of Adnoc’s long-term partners in gas has already begun to lower costs by integrating AI and automation into its systems.

“Occidental have already said they’re looking at saving somewhere in the region of $325,000 a rig, where they can actually start using analytics to more accurately predict drill locations,” says Gareth Kirkwood, managing director Middle East and India at Lloyd’s Register.
The company specialises in digital and automation solutions for the industry.

“Certainly from the Middle East perspective, we have clients who have avoided costs of around $7 million thanks to implementing analytics,” Mr Kirkwood says.

The methods used to generate such cost savings are called predictive analytics, which is the ability to predict the future of an asset and its performance based on the evidence from data gathered by sensors.
Gathering such a high amount of data requires enough expertise to interpret its findings, leading some consultancies such McKinsey to predict that as many data scientists as geologists would be required to run operations in the future.

“We have a headline of 57 out of the world’s 100 largest oil and gas companies are using or have plans to use predictive analytics, so I think the industry is now moving in that direction,” Mr Kirkwood says.

“And out of that 57, 34 have already reported positive impact in terms of using predictive analytics for cost savings.”

Apart from operational cost savings, which have become a priority for oil companies particularly during the three-year price downturn in the market, the firms are also wary of catastrophic costs that could badly affect their bottom lines.

“Occidental have already said they’re looking at saving somewhere in the region of $325,000 a rig."

Gareth Kirkwood, managing director Middle East and India at Lloyd’s Register

A case in point was BP’s disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which caused the loss of 11 lives and cost the firm more than $20bn in fines and penalties.

The spill, which led to the loss of about five million barrels of oil, was caused by defective cement on a well, implicating BP, rig operator Transocean and contractor Halliburton.

“When you have a bad connection in a well and it leaks, it can lead to huge, huge remedial costs,” says Dean Bell, president of the well construction global business unit at oilfield services operator Weatherford.

“You’re talking about numbers of $15m to $14m and up to $300m in costs to go back and intervene in those wells.

“And so this technology prevents that from happening, because humans will never be infallible.”

At Adnoc’s Panorama control centre, data scientists carefully pore over real-time feedback on the company’s assets across upstream – both onshore and offshore – midstream, referring to transport of crude and product, and downstream, which refers to chemicals and refining.

The Panorama Command Centre and Artificial Intelligence space at the Adnoc headquarters. Photo: Khushnum Bhandari/ The National

The Panorama Command Centre and Artificial Intelligence space at the Adnoc headquarters. Photo: Khushnum Bhandari/ The National

Mr Kirkwood says that while AI sensors are beginning to monitor upstream activity, mid and downstream still lag in terms of adoption.
Woodside, an Australian energy company, “has already begun to implement sensors across their network”, Mr Kirkwood says.

“That’s when you start to see a real shift from that point of view,” he says. “Midstream I think is still a challenge.

“The intended adoption of tools as opposed to actual implementation is, I would say, split.”

While he remains coy on the costs of implementing AI across an energy company’s value chain, Mr Kirkwood says that companies such as his introduce pilots on a project-by-project basis, and then manage a full rollout of their analytics solutions based on need.

AI technical capabilities are now being developed in-house and outsourced, with interpretation of Big Data largely done by independent outsiders.

“We develop everything we can and we also know that we don’t have a monopoly on good ideas or brain power,” Mr Bell says.

“So we’re always searching the world for good ideas and good technologies and that makes sense to either acquire or work in joint ventures.”

The future, he says, is moving towards a world where rigs will become unmanned.

Oil and gas professionals who get their hands dirty onsite will be gradually moved into control rooms and poring over collated data instead.

“I think eventually, yes. You need some innovation to put it all together and get it working in concert, but more and you’re seeing more automated tasks on the rigs,” Mr Bell says.


Companies that have introduced the distributed ledger technology show it can bring down costs

Introducing blockchain applications to the oil and gas industry is a matter of leadership rather than the value of the distributed ledger technology, a leading expert on digital innovation says. Geoffrey Cann, who worked as a consultant at Deloitte for 30 years, says that while the industry “is only beginning to explore the early stages where blockchain technology could make the difference”, there is clear evidence of its potential to bring down costs and improve the efficiency of energy companies.

Blockchain, or distributed ledger, technology has potential benefits for a number of industries including oil and gas. Photo: Bloomberg

Blockchain, or distributed ledger, technology has potential benefits for a number of industries including oil and gas. Photo: Bloomberg

The new era of Oil and Gas 4.0 has driven changes across the industry as new digital tools, including blockchain, allow companies to reorganise their processes and operations to maximise revenues and hold on to savings, even as they produce more hydrocarbon products.
Blockchain is best known in relation to the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, which it underpins by providing a transparent, secure and de-centralised system for transactions.

Some oil and gas companies have moved into the very early stages of adopting blockchain for their supply chains and trading.
For example, last year, the VAKT consortium – which comprises Gunvor, BP, Shell and Statoil, Koch Supply and Trading, Mercuria, ABN Amro, ING and Societe Generale – developed an oil-trading platform based on blockchain.

Oil trading is still very much a paper-led practice and the VAKT platform will help to support the change to digital, which can reduce errors and costs.

Mr Cann says there has been evidence of a dramatic reduction in the time taken to resolve disputes between parties thanks to the ability of the blockchain to codify and store contracts, which can then be automatically executed in the event of an issue arising.

He says that in Alberta, Canada, a leading oil and gas region, there could be $2 billion in savings by avoiding royalty disputes if there were widespread use of “smart” contracts and distributed ledger technology.

Beyond royalty agreements, the technology could be applied to all kinds of contracts, such as those for leasing and rental of equipment.
Mr Cann says that an oil well, with its own distributed costs, revenues and ownership is ideal for blockchain applications.

“The challenge compared to other technologies is that you cannot adopt it on your own,” he says.

“It requires business partners to change the way they do business, which requires a firm hand, with clout, to push the supply chain along.”

Unlike other industries, the oil industry is fragmented and lacks a Maersk or Walmart that dominates the supply chain to insist that certain technologies are used, “so the adoption curve will not be as quick” with blockchain.

“It is a matter of leadership, Mr Cann says.

In the Middle East, a national oil company is in the perfect position to transform the way it does business with its relatively small number of trading partners and because it has the clout to, he says.

Mr Cann has a book coming out in January on digital transformation in oil and gas.


Adnoc’s transformation of its culture and structure has positioned it well for the future

With the oil and gas industry moving into a technology-led phase driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the nature of how national oil companies (NOCs) should operate becomes a critical issue if they are to not be left behind in this new era.

In the Arabian Gulf, many of the NOCs have acknowledged that their traditionally more passive roles as custodian of their nations’ hydrocarbon resources will no longer be effective enough to provide the same level of revenues as in previous decades, regardless of the market price of crude.

Oil and Gas 4.0 is as much about evolving mindsets - from top to bottom - as it is about incorporating AI, Big Data or other technologies.

Emiratis graduate from Adnoc’s advanced drilling training centre. Photo: Adnoc

Emiratis graduate from Adnoc’s advanced drilling training centre. Photo: Adnoc

In this vein, by the end of this year it is expected that six oil and gas concessions in the emirate of Abu Dhabi - the first time ever major onshore and offshore blocks were offered in a competitive round – will be awarded.

This landmark move illustrates how Adnoc - over the past two and half years – has successfully pursued a strategy designed to transform itself from a traditional national oil company (NOC) into a dynamic, innovative international energy company, capable of creating new revenue streams and maximising profit in the era of Oil and Gas 4.0.

In July last year, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces said: “Adnoc’s initiative will expand strategic partnership opportunities, deliver strong financial returns, and support the UAE’s future growth”.

“Expanding strategic partnership opportunities of our national companies enhances their competitiveness and leadership regionally and globally,” said Sheikh Mohammed.

Much of the rationale for the timing of this effort came in the aftermath of the drop in oil prices from their summer-2014 peaks of over $110 a barrel. Brent crude fell below $30 a barrel in January 2016. The next month, Dr Sultan Al Jaber was appointed group chief executive of Adnoc – itself a new role created to lead a new kind of company in an era in which profitability would become harder to grow.

The drop in prices had been instigated by rising production – particularly in the United States – helped by a drilling revolution that has made exploring for unconventional oil and gas more profitable.
Consultancy EY’s global oil and gas leader Adi Karev wrote in a blog in August this year that “the dramatic fall in prices unleashed a chain reaction with far-reaching consequences on government budgets, sovereign investment, economic development incentives, and critically on subsidy support and social welfare programmes”.

“The expansion plans for Ruwais will also support Abu Dhabi and the UAE’s economic development and diversification."

Adnoc group chief executive Dr Sultan Al Jaber

State-owned oil companies across the Middle East and North Africa have, as a result, been seeking to extract greater value from existing assets in what had been a persistently low oil price environment.

“We are improving operational efficiency, optimising resources and adapting the mindset of our people to focus on our strategic objectives and on maintaining our competitive edge,” Mr Al Jaber, who is also UAE Minister of State, said in April 2016. “We are being proactive and looking across the entire group to find ways to improve and optimise operational efficiency.”

There was an example of this that same month, when Adnoc awarded its first “mega tender” – for 100,000 tonnes of steel tubing over three years, to the French company Vallourec – as part of the company’s drive to streamline its procurement process.

Adnoc says it is accelerating the rate of new discoveries, increasing recovery rates, maximizing efficiencies, driving down costs, and increasing value across the full integrated value chain.

Part of the strategy has been to highlight Abu Dhabi’s status as a global energy centre – across the chain and not just in terms of upstream. In May, Adnoc said it will invest Dh165 billion in partnership with global energy companies over the next five years to develop the world’s largest integrated refining and petrochemicals facility in Ruwais, in Al Dhafra. By 2025, the expansion of Ruwais will have added 1 per cent to the UAE’s economic output annually and created 15,000 jobs, according to Adnoc.

“The expansion plans for Ruwais will also support Abu Dhabi and the UAE’s economic development and diversification, create high-skilled jobs and enhance the country’s status as a globally attractive destination for energy investments,” said Dr Al Jaber in May.

Cracking towers stand at the Ruwais refinery and petrochemical complex, operated by Adnoc. Photo: Bloomberg

Cracking towers stand at the Ruwais refinery and petrochemical complex, operated by Adnoc. Photo: Bloomberg

Adnoc has also found creative strategies and more dynamic business models, that bring together people, partnerships and technology, to drive growth and make it more resilient.

The BP onshore concession agreement was a prime example of Adnoc’s ambitions to structure new types of partnerships. In an unusual move, BP paid for its 10 per cent share with a 2 per cent stake in itself, the shares to be held on behalf of the Abu Dhabi Government. The IPO of service station operator Adnoc Distribution in December last year was another.

Adnoc is also working with Saudi Aramco to jointly invest in a $44 billion refinery on the west coast of India. Last month, US oil services provider Baker Hughes said it will pay $550 million for a 5 per cent stake in Adnoc’s drilling subsidiary as part of a partnership aimed at capitalising on the efficiencies that can be achieved from the GE company’s expertise and on growing the business including expansion into other markets in the Middle East.

Adnoc has also identified and brought along the next generation of the company’s leadership. Abdulmunim Al Kindy is running exploration and production for the group. Abdulla Salem Al Dhaheri is in charge of marketing, sales and trading. Abdulaziz Abdulla Alhajri is responsible for downstream.

Abdulmunim Al Kindy, head of upstream at Adnoc. Photo: The National

Abdulmunim Al Kindy, head of upstream at Adnoc. Photo: The National

“The manner in which these NOCs are operating…It’s a transformation so profound that it stands next to the nationalisations of decades past as the most defining moments of their respective histories,” EY’s Mr Karev wrote.

For those NOCs that are able to successfully change their corporate cultures, strategies and ambitions, the future should be a very rewarding place.


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