While the oil and gas industries experienced a difficult year in 2020, with decreased demand and a severe drop in prices, energy suppliers have continued to provide vital fuel sources for people around the globe. Though there were dramatic shortages of other products during the pandemic panic, oil and gas have remained stable sources of energy for those confronting the difficult realities of living in a strange new normal. People around the world have been able to heat their houses, fuel their cars, and use vital cooking energy to maintain a relatively normal standard of daily life. Transport continued as needed, with new safety provisions in place. There was no panic buying of fuel at gas stations as, despite the drop-in demand, supply remained stable. Overall, the provision of stable energy sources allowed people to avoid further panic during uncertain times.
As well as providing people with the reassurance that they’ll have their regular supply of energy, oil and gas have proved vital in the fight against Covid-19.
Much of the medical equipment and PPE needed over the last year is petroleum-based and relies on oil and gas plants to manufacture vital components. Adapting manufacturing processes to meet demand in the early months of the virus allowed the USA to provide much of the medical equipment needed at a fast rate.
While the energy sector has been largely overlooked, due to our daily reliance on fuel, many big companies have been tirelessly adapting to new restrictions and lockdowns to combat the difficulties faced under the pandemic.
As the vaccine begins to be rolled out across the USA and several other countries, governments are once again relying on energy companies, big and small, to support production and transportation processes. Vaccines must be transported locally and long-distance, kept in safe storage facilities at extremely low temperatures to ensure their efficacy. The energy sector continues to support this mission, hoping a “new normal” will bring a resurgence in demand and greater stability in 2021.
While much of the focus is on drilling for crude oil when we think about energy, the raw materials needed for vital medical equipment and as many as 70,000 other products cannot be overlooked. Gasoline, propane, and several other chemicals provide the basis of many plastic products needed to tackle the global pandemic, in addition to surfactants, pigments, synthetic rubber, polymers, fertilizers, and materials for batteries.
As the decrease in demand for oil and gas led activists to call for greener practices and a shift away from fossil fuels to sustainable alternatives, we must dismiss the current need for many of the little-discussed products and services that energy companies provide.
Just one example of the use of petrochemicals is in the development of the N-95 protective facemask. The mask relies on petrochemicals derived from oil and natural gas to protect its wearer and people around it from bacteria that spread the virus. To create effective filters, mask manufacturers use polymers like polypropylene to create a more effective mask than the cloth alternative.
Further, as demand for energy fell, we saw a clear increase in the efforts to develop and incorporate innovative technologies into the sector, seeing several start-ups emerge in support of the energy industry. Many of these new technologies have helped the sector weather the storm, making it possible to work remotely and providing jobs for thousands of workers who might otherwise be unemployed.
So, while the energy sector has been largely overlooked as a key player in the fight against Covid-19, oil, and gas companies have been lurking in the background to ensure that the daily energy supply has remained largely unaffected. Any shortage in fuel could have led to significant panic and an inability to manufacture and transport medical equipment, tests and vaccines. However, as the media and environmentalists are quick to criticize the industry, it has been a constant in the continued combat of Covid-19, ensuring the smooth-running of vital operations around the world.
By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com
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