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July 29, 2020

With the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing impact on businesses globally, the demand for fossil fuels excluding LPG and domestic gas has slowed. According to Goldman Sachs, the demand for oil has contracted by 150,000 B/D with FGE predicting oil demand to fall to 220,000 B/D from 2019 levels. This has resulted in oil prices plummeting by 60% and throughput of refineries and pipelines falling by 25-30%. In addition, offshore workers, production platforms, and midstream migrant and contract workers are practicing social distancing and working in confined spaces preventing pipeline personnel from traveling or working in field operations or repairs and integrity inspections.

Due to the travel ban and quarantines, refineries have faced massive labor shortages in support services, field operation, repairs and integrity inspections. This has triggered the need for the fossil fuel industry to adopt agile ways to explore, extract, produce, transport and distribute fossil fuels, while ensuring minimal human intervention and environmental impact. It is also important to leverage the right technologies for interaction, collaboration, and managing a leaner and remote workforce for successful project execution, planning and risk mitigation.

  • For organizations to deliver value with distributed teams, it is therefore crucial to focus on:
  • Enabling risk mitigation programs for employees working on-site in confined spaces
  • Maximizing outsourcing functions for scattered operations and trimming operating costs
  • Tracking movements for general safety by using employee data
  • Automating duties to increase social distancing and reducing person-to-person contact
  • Introducing flexible work arrangements for minimizing worker proximity
  • Upgrading employee skills to handle diverse operations in a collaborative ecosystem
  • Empowering employees to serve customers and meet core needs for business continuity
  • Leveraging devices to monitor personal protection, hygiene, and distancing norms
  • Revamping and digitizing fuel retailing and associated convenience stores to boost sales
  • Ensuring speed and convenience for selecting and receiving products, enhancing value proposition and addressing the post-pandemic consumer behavior

The way out?

Solutions and applications focused on remote operations, personnel collaboration, augmented reality and HSE applications can help the oil and gas industry adapt to, and cope with post pandemic requirements through:

Enhanced operational visibility: Wearable and augmented reality solutions can enhance engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) activities and production platforms, refineries and pipeline network through a real-time view of operational data and asset maintenance. This, in turn, can assist in remotely operating and repairing assets while enabling organizations to work in a distributed fashion, ensuring safety, slashing travel and office infrastructure cost. This can also help organizations re-employ and leverage the expertise of remote migrant workers and vendors.

  • Operational visibility: Fuel retail stations and their stores can leverage visibility solutions to check the current price of fuel and products in the store, their contents and composition and expiry date during delivery of products from the takeaway counter. This can help boost sales and reduce in-store footfall.
  • Digital asset and pipeline inspection:  Satellites and drones can help remotely inspect, detect anomalies, and maintain isolated assets, pipeline network and surroundings through multiple hyper-spectral and thermal images. Additionally, analytics and algorithms can enable organizations to pinpoint abnormalities and predict temporal and location probabilities while ensuring minimal onsite personnel numbers.
  • Training simulators: Immersive experience through 3D models combined with real-time operational data and voice based navigational guidance can help employees enhance understanding of the equipment. This also facilitates real-time collaboration with colleagues and experts while reducing unnecessary movement.
  • PPE solution: PPE solutions can offer monitoring capabilities to ensure the workers and customers are wearing personal protective equipment and masks when visiting retail stores or during self-fueling. Thermal cameras can scan persons, monitor over-crowding of areas, and raise alerts based on predefined parameters. For example, they can raise alerts when customers are not using safe procedures such as when the fuel nozzle is not replaced correctly or when someone misses disinfecting their hands before and after handling the nozzles.

Leveraging a suitable solution will not only help enhance worker productivity, it will also help redefine the selling and purchasing process while ensuring reduced costs.  


Even as all the efforts have poured into developing vaccines quickly, it will be sometime before we are well armed to deal with all the multiple mutations of the COVID-19 virus. In a nutshell we are looking at a challenge that will take a while to resolve. Over the past months communities and businesses have made strides towards adapting to this next phase of normal with social distancing, distributed operations, remote consultations, virtual product selection and buying options. Technologies like robotics, cybernetics, AR-VR wearables hold huge potential to contribute to the construction of this new future.


Santanu Sur is a Lead Consultant with the Oil and Gas group at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). He has over 28 years of experience across procurement and commissioning of hardware and software, ERP implementation, LPG operations, operations and marketing of natural gas, polymers, industrial solvents, propane, LPG, and chemicals. Santanu holds a Bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering from NIT, Srinagar, and a Master's degree in Business Administration (MBA) from the Faculty of Management Studies (FMS), Delhi.


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