Adapting to the new energy reality

Fuzzy Bitar Head of BP Upstream operations and member of IOGP’s Management Committee

My job is to look after the safe, reliable and efficient running of BP’s 48 major upstream facilities globally and around 11,000km of pipeline.

Wherever I go, I gain confidence from the people I meet and the skill, care and enthusiasm in how they work.

I’m particularly impressed by the way they’re tackling the ‘new energy reality’, which means adapting to the changing global energy landscape and shifts in the fuel mix.  The challenge will be to meet growing needs as the world’s population expands in numbers and prosperity — while simultaneously working to achieve lower carbon objectives.

Achieving this will require us to:

  • Drive greater collaboration
  • Maximize value through digital technology
  • And change – for the better – the way people in our industry work.

Ours is a complex mission – part of which is to champion the use of renewable energy. Yet over the next few decades at least, renewables alone won’t satisfy consumers’ thirst for energy.

Oil & gas meeting half the world’s energy needs

The BP Energy Outlook anticipates that oil and gas will still provide around 50% of the world’s energy in 2035. So, this isn’t a race to renewables alone; it’s about lowering greenhouse gas emissions overall.

It’s an important distinction, and why BP believes both gas and renewables are so important in advancing the energy transition.

Gas is accessible, abundant and produces only half the emissions of coal when burned for power.   At BP, 45% of our upstream production is currently natural gas.  We expect to grow that share to more than 50% by the end of the decade.

We’re doing this by adding eight further gas projects by 2020, on top of the six gas projects we brought online around the world last year. So, the long-term picture for gas is highly positive.

But there is an over-riding priority – one that comes ahead of everything else.  I’m referring to safety.

The International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (IOGP) has reported that, for the first time in recent history, our industry’s fatal accident rate has increased for two successive years in 2015 and 2016.

It’s shocking to learn this. Nothing is more important than people’s lives – and safety underpins everything else that we do.

Collaboration is key for safety

As an industry, we can reverse this trend, just as we’ve done in previous years. Collaboration is the key.

Some industries, such as aviation, have a head start on us – with decades of collaboration between regulators and industry stakeholders. Their partnership has transformed aviation safety and operational performance.

Progress in our sector is typified by IOGP’s industry-wide safety alerts, based on shared information relating to incidents that have led to fatalities.  This collaboration works.  IOGP members are almost four times less likely to be involved in a fatal helicopter accident than non-members.

Collaborating for efficiency

As an industry, we are also promoting efficiency.

At BP, we have several initiatives underway.  In Angola, for example, we are sharing marine crew changes with another operator.  This has increased vessel utilization while lowering crew change costs.

But there are many more boundaries to push.  The scale of opportunity is immense if we are willing to think in new ways.


One way to maximize value is through digital technology, which is transforming the world in which we live and work.

The speed of change is breath-taking: 90% of all the data in the world was created in just the past two years. Advances in analytics using algorithms and artificial intelligence are transforming the way we work.  Insights from this wealth of data can help us to reduce risk and improve performance.

For instance, in Trinidad, BP is using drones for inspections at four offshore platforms. This eliminates the need to erect scaffolding, so it’s safer.  Completion times are faster by a factor of four and without the need to shut down production, we gain on efficiency too.

We’re even getting higher quality information than before. In the North Sea, instead of traditional visual identification, we are using submarine-mounted lasers and cameras to inspect pipelines – six times faster.  In November 2017 we saved $4 million inspecting 500km of pipeline. Ongoing competitiveness depends on technology like this.

Augmented reality is another advance that we’re applying to upstream operations.  In the US, it’s already improving maintenance efficiency.

In collaboration with Baker Hughes GE, we are developing a Plant Operations Advisor system to predict and prevent problems. This is in operation on our Gulf of Mexico Atlantis field today.  The benefits are reduced downtime, enhanced reliability and greater productivity. And above all, greater safety.

Implications for people

But what about associated job reductions?

This is a wider issue facing society and almost every industry.  And it brings me to my final point… people

People will always be needed. But the types of jobs and skills required will change.  Sometimes for the better. Engineers, for instance, can spend up to a third of their time trawling through data.  By using algorithms, our engineers can now focus on higher value tasks.  At BP, we’re running boot camps on data science so its use becomes second nature.

Those camps are part of our overall aim to provide people with new tools to make their jobs safer and more fulfilling; enabling them to deliver better quality solutions that maximise value.

It’s all about adapting.  That’s something I know from personal experience. Seven years ago, I had a freak accident while on holiday. One minute I was swimming in the ocean. The next I was lying on the beach half drowned and paralysed from the neck down.

I spent a long time in hospital and had to re-learn all the basic things like sitting up and walking. Life had thrust change upon me.

I learnt then that you can adapt in a crisis. But it’s much better to adapt by choice rather than having change thrust upon you.

Having adapted, I get a kick out of so much in life.

US President Franklin D Roosevelt said: “We cannot always build the future for our young people, but we can build our young people for the future.’

We look to the next generation to inspire the sharing of ideas, minds and deeds.

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