Energy Companies Shift Focus to New Technologies in the Era of $50-per-Barrel Oil

By David Clayton

Industry Trends

Several ARC Advisory Group analysts recently attended the 2017 Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) at NRG Park in Houston. Nearly 65,000 attendees gathered at the annual conference, which featured nearly 350 technical papers, 44 technical sessions, 13 panels, multiple poster sessions, and 24 topical breakfasts and luncheons. A key theme that resonated throughout the conference was the increasing focus oil companies are putting on new technology breakthroughs that allow them to increase operational efficiency as they continue adjusting to living in the new paradigm of $50-per-barrel oil.

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Despite attendance being down for the third year in a row, and the price of oil dropping more than 5 percent while the show’s doors were open, optimism among the exhibitors was clearly higher than last year. Many exhibitors mentioned a rebound in orders for Q1 and expressed optimism for Q2. While most large oil projects remain on hold, many exhibitors believed that some large projects could get kick started again over the course of 2017.

Most major process automation suppliers were present at OTC and it remains one of the only shows where you can see most of these suppliers in one place. During the show, ARC visited with ABB, Emerson Automation Solutions, Honeywell, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric, and Siemens. Emerson Automation Solutions was the only major automation supplier that held a press conference at OTC this year, focusing on its ability to help oil companies maximize their oil production.

The “new norm” of $50-per-barrel oil has put a lot of pressure on owner-operators to achieve the lowest cost of production. Given the stubbornly low price of oil and the ongoing delay or cancellations of new projects for upstream oil & gas, the focus for the oil companies has turned to leveraging new technologies to optimize their operational efficiency while lowering the cost of production and associated risks. The ongoing focus on operational excellence has many oil companies turning to the leading automation suppliers for help understanding and leveraging the emerging technology trends, including digitization and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Based on discussions with exhibitors and attendees alike, it is clear that many key executives of the oil companies have decided to embrace potentially disruptive technologies. Recognizing this trend, automation suppliers are working diligently to increase their expertise in and leverage these technologies within their existing offerings to help their customers improve operating performance.

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