Andrés Brügmann
Country Manager
Fieldwood Energy
Expert Contributor

COVID-19 Challenges for the Oil and Gas Industry

By Andrés Brügmann | Thu, 09/23/2021 - 15:18

In March 2020, the world lived through the biggest economic and health crisis of the 21st century. The COVID-19 pandemic hit every industry and the energy sector was no different. To an already challenging activity, we had to add a new hazard.

One of the particularities that has always made offshore development activities more challenging is the isolation and the distance of rigs and platforms to shore. Having an outbreak of COVID-19 would be harder to manage. Offshore activities are the most vulnerable since personnel in vessels, drilling rigs and fixed platforms typically share closed spaces and crew shifts increase the exposure, due to gatherings at waiting or transportation areas and sharing accommodations. Additionally, the time workers stay on the platforms could be enough for the virus to incubate and develop, provoking total lockdowns that could imply health and economic impacts.

Therefore, offshore operators and service companies should manage operations very carefully to take care of the most important asset of all: people. We need to be agile and implement and update protocols to minimize the spread of the virus and disruptions to operations.

The crisis slowed everything down, and especially the oil industry. COVID also brought an increase in costs because of the implementation of quarantine periods, routinary PCR and antigen testing and thorough sanitation of facilities, among many others. Nevertheless, most companies have managed to keep working and have avoided total stoppages thanks to the cooperation between personnel and vendors.

Unfortunately, new cases of COVID-19 around the world have arisen in the past months. The delta variant, first seen in India, is estimated to be 55 percent more transmissible than the alpha variant that surfaced in the UK in December 2020, and now it is the dominant strain worldwide. We cannot think that the evolution of the virus has come to an end; nevertheless, we have become smarter and have learned from past experience on how to take care of ourselves at work.

At Fieldwood Mexico, we have reinforced our preventive measures and protocols to protect our workforce and our service companies. On our side, we have benefited from having vaccinations available and knowing how to minimize exposure to the virus, which has helped us reduce project downtimes generated by medical leave and quarantine of vessels. This has been of the highest importance for us, and we, as an industry, should not let our guard down.

We recommend getting fully vaccinated, staying home even if presenting minor symptoms and getting tested periodically to avoid spreading the virus. In addition, thorough hand-washing and the use of face masks while working onshore and offshore, even for people who are vaccinated, should be obligatory. Social distancing, keeping rooms well ventilated, avoiding gatherings, suspending in-person meetings, events, and non-essential travel are also among the preventive measures we have taken.

Finally, as a reflection of those lessons learned, we want to remind our colleagues in the oil and gas industry that:

  • “Fully vaccinated” doesn’t mean “immune to COVID-19.” While the vaccines protect against developing severe disease, there is still a chance people will get infected and spread the disease.
  • Overall vaccination progress (with at least one dose) to August was 62.2 percent for the US and 55 percent for Mexico, both of which are still far from the 70 percent target estimated to reach herd immunity. [1]
  • Reinfection has been happening; even with antibodies, it’s possible to get COVID-19 again. It’s not clear how long people are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19.

It is possible to beat this virus together but we must act responsibly and follow the recommendations of the authorities and the World Health Organization. The oil and gas industry has always been an example of resilience and innovation, and we will get out stronger from this pandemic. I am certain this great challenge will make our industry stronger and better equipped to face future endeavors.




[1] Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Secretary of Health for fully vaccinated population

Photo by:   Andrés Bruggman