Saudi Aramco President and CEO Amin H. Nasser says that “the worst is behind us” in oil markets in the latest edition of CERAWeek Conversations. He says that already-recovering demand has him “very optimistic” for the second half of 2020 and that countries are now better prepared for a second wave of COVID-19 if and when it occurs.
In a conversation with Daniel Yergin, vice chairman, IHS Markit (NYSE: INFO), Nasser talks about maintaining operations during the pandemic and how the 2012 MERS outbreak better prepared Saudi Aramco for COVID-19; the importance of shorter, more resilient supply chains; applying lessons from the United States in developing its own shale resources; the strategy behind the acquisition of SABIC, and more.
The complete video is available at: www.ceraweek.com/conversations
Interview Recorded Thursday, June 25, 2020
(Edited slightly for brevity only)
On Saudi Aramco being a publicly listed company:
“There is not much change except that it is more formalized now. We have been working as if we were a listed company before. We had one shareholder, but we were giving the same reports to our shareholders. COVID-19 started impacting the business from February going on. But in terms of the way we are doing business, not much changed, except now we see the results and the sentiment in the market by looking at the share price every day. Other than that – more communication that we are doing now with analysts and more shareholders to deal with.”
The near-term outlook for oil markets:
“The worst is behind us. We went from -$40 to +$40 with WTI. In April we were looking at demand of about 75-80 MMbd with significant supply at that time. Currently you are looking at almost close to 90 MMbd. I’m very optimistic about the second half of this year. We see it in China today – it’s almost at 90%. In gasoline it’s around 95% in China. Gasoline and diesel are picking up to pre-COVID levels. Jet fuel is still lagging in terms of less air travel. More countries will start opening up. So, we see that reflected in the demand on crude.
“There are different forecasts looking at between 95 and 97 MMbd by year-end. So, it will all depend on whether there will be a second wave of coronavirus or not. But I am also not as concerned about a second wave because I think we are much better prepared now. All countries, all medical establishments are much better prepared. We learned a lot during the first wave.”
Saudi Aramco and COVID-19: Learning from MERS, partnering with Johns Hopkins:
“Even though [MERS] had less of an impact compared to COVID-19 we learned a lot of lessons during that time that helped us with COVID-19. We started that [join venture with Johns Hopkins University] in 2013 and it put us in a very good position in terms of tackling COVID-19.
“The work between a corporation and an excellent medical provider definitely had its value because a pandemic is a sub-risk when we look at corporate risk for Saudi Aramco. Our preparation and readiness started much earlier than everybody else. For us, preparing for COVID-19 started early on in February working with Johns Hopkins and making sure we had all the necessary supplies available before that panic happened in March and April.”
On workforce operations during COVID-19:
“The majority of our workforce is industrial workforce. With operations continuing on, we were also at certain points at a maximum sustained capacity. All of our fields and plants were running smoothly with very high reliability during a pandemic. More than 50% [of the office workers] were working from home, but when it comes to field presence, everybody was working, especially in remote areas and offshore sites. We were able to manage the situation very well by putting all the precautions necessary to maintain their safety and health while maintaining our operational resilience during this time.”
On Saudi Aramco’s heightened emphasis on cybersecurity during the pandemic:
“We benefitted from having a chief digitalization officer and having one of the best IT infrastructures. We were availing more than 30,000 remote workstations for our people to work from home. At the same time, you accessed the network, there were a lot of issues with regard to cybersecurity. We had a lot of hackers that target energy companies, so we had to be making sure that we are able to provide the connectivity while protecting our network from any hackers.
“Cybersecurity is very [top] of our priorities. One of the things that will come out of the pandemic and the lessons learned as we look at it in the days ahead, is that there is a lot of talk about working from home and utilizing networks and remote working. But at the same time, even though there is a lot of productivity and savings by doing so, we need to also guard against cybersecurity because its system needs to be really protected very well during these times with a lot of remote people working.”
On flexibility of production—ramping up from 9.7 MMbd to 12 MMbd in just 20 days and then going down to 7.5 MMbd:
“Three components are very important. You need to look at your subsurface, the surface facilities, and then your export infrastructure and making sure they are very reliable and tested for this. When we tested the whole system in 20 days to bring it from [9.7 MMbd] to 12 MMbd – all of that you needed to make sure all your pump compressor system, including your export facilities, are working smoothly.
“Thanks to the professionalism and the commitment of the men and women from Saudi Aramco and the backing from their families, which was very important and critical because they did it during a pandemic where they are working remote fields, we had to use all of our workforce working full-time to put the maximum sustained capacity and making sure we maintained the highest reliability ever which is more than 99%.
“It’s more difficult to go up than down because usually going down. It’s not as intensive when it comes to an operation like going up. You need, of course, to deal with the issues of lower gas, lower heating, lower products. And we have ways to deal with that. But going up and making sure all of the facilities are in operation with the highest reliability possible, that is more work to go that way.”
On recent crises and the importance of resilient, shorter supply chains:
“We have seen a lot of plants and factories and suppliers that support Saudi Aramco from Europe, including China and other places – they had to shut down because of the lockdown. That impacted us for a while. But because of the optimum level of inventory that we have and because of our in-Kingdom total value add, which is our local content – we are at 56% so a lot of things are being manufactured in the Kingdom – it helped us a lot.
“It helped us also during the crisis when we had the attacks on Khurais and Abqaiq.
COVID-19 further confirmed that having your supply chain closer to you is very important. Globalization, when it comes to supply chains, is definitely successful and worked. But we are seeing, because of either the critical nature of the incident we had at Abqaiq and Khurais, or the lockdown that happened in different countries, having it closer to end use is very important these days.”
On the quick bounce back post-Abqaiq and Khurais:
“We have a very experienced and talented workforce that worked around the clock. Our supply chain was optimum, and we had all the needed spare parts and equipment to put the facilities back on. And also, our partners in-Kingdom and around the world helped a lot for us to restore these facilities. Everything worked together from a supply chain [perspective], from having the right trained and experienced workforce that knew what needs to be done during a crisis of this nature, and also the business continuity, the preparedness.
“We promised to bring the facility [back on] in days, rather than months. And through the talented men and women of Saudi Aramco we were able to bring these facilities on in days instead of months successfully, reliably, and no supplies to our international customers were interrupted even during the attacks.”
On Saudi Aramco’s investments in unconventionals and lessons learned from the U.S. model:
“The program is very successful in terms of the shale types that we are identifying. There are some similarities with what’s available in the U.S. Our basins, especially the Jafurah, are very rich with liquids. That definitely will help when it comes to the economics. The learning curve was very quick in terms of reaching a point where the cost is close to how much it costs in the U.S.
What was put as a goal and a target for our teams working on the unconventional gas: we had to change our operation to something similar to the U.S. We put the project management, the operation, the explorer, everybody in one organization, and unconventional gas was done differently than what we do with other things in Saudi Aramco; because we learned from the U.S. experience [that] speed, efficiency matters when it comes to unconventionals.
“We empowered (the team) and we gave them all the resources to do everything within that organization without having to go to other businesses, it’s like a company by its own. It worked very well for Saudi Aramco.”
The strategic plan behind the SABIC acquisition:
“We acquired a 70% stake in SABIC. SABIC is definitely a global and a leading company when it comes to petrochemicals. Our aspiration from the beginning when we started our strategy plans, we decided that we needed to be a leading energy and petrochemical company. We have a leading position when it comes to upstream and refining. We needed to integrate further our refinery with petrochemical; in addition, we are looking at crude-to-chemicals. We could not do all of these aspirations in terms of adding value, extracting more value from our barrels, without a big acquisition.
“SABIC was ideal. It’s run based on best-in-class when it comes to operations. It works in more than 50 countries. There’s a lot of synergy with Saudi Aramco; we operate also in similar markets. There’s a lot of value that can be extracted by acquiring a significant position in SABIC. I’m sure we can achieve our goals of adding value to our shareholders, both shareholders in SABIC and Saudi Aramco, by turning our feedstock to petrochemicals and adding value. Crude-to-chemicals is very important to Aramco.”
On the benefits of half of Saudi Aramco’s workforce being under 35-years old:
“Saudi Aramco’s young workforce is definitely a strength for the company. We take them from high school, and we train them. A lot of our industrial workforce we hire them from high school and put them through our training centers. They start at 17-18 years old and then they continue for the long-term. This is a source of strength for the company going forward, especially with a lot of things in terms of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and machine learning. This is where the company is heading. That new young workforce will help us a lot to achieve our goals. Then we have another program which is for university. We take them from high school, and we send them for either a bachelor’s degree, or a master’s, or both, or Ph.D.”
On Saudi Aramco’s role in the energy transition:
“The focus even before COVID-19 about climate change and sustainability was one of the highest priorities for Saudi Aramco. We are working on it individually and collectively through the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative with our partners. That focus will continue to be there even after COVID-19 because climate change is important and critical, and we need to do something to reduce our carbon footprint.
“I still believe that oil and gas will continue to be strongly part of the energy mix over the long-term. However, it’s going to be cleaner because we are working to make sure that we are reducing our carbon footprint. We have a leading position when it comes to our carbon emissions in terms of our carbon intensity in the upstream: 10 kilograms of CO2 per barrel of oil equivalent and methane intensity of .06. That leading position didn’t come all of a sudden. This is because of our focus since inception in reducing emissions and putting the right investment and using the right technologies.
Watch the complete video at: www.ceraweek.com/conversations
About CERAWeek Conversations:
CERAWeek Conversations features original interviews and discussion with energy industry leaders, government officials and policymakers, leaders from the technology, financial and industrial communities—and energy technology innovators.
The series is produced by the team responsible for the world’s preeminent energy conference, CERAWeek by IHS Markit.
New installments will be added weekly at www.ceraweek.com/conversations.
Recent segments also include:
- Leadership Dialogue with Lawrence H. Summers – Former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and current Charles W. Eliot University Professor and President Emeritus at Harvard University interviewed by IHS Markit Senior Vice President Carlos Pascual
- Leadership Dialogue with Wan Zulkiflee – President and Group CEO of Petronas interviewed by IHS Markit Vice Chairman Daniel Yergin
- Leadership Dialogue with Hon. Dan Sullivan – U.S. Senator from Alaska interviewed by IHS Markit Vice Chairman Daniel Yergin
- Taking Practical Action on Carbon Emissions – OGCI Climate Investments Chief Executive Dr. Pratima Rangarajan interviewed by IHS Markit Senior Vice President Atul Arya
Making better decisions for the energy transition – Robert C. Armstrong, director, MIT Energy Initiative, Chevron Professor of Chemical Engineering;
Laszlo Varro, chief economist, IEA; Emre Gençer, research scientist, MIT Energy Initiative interviewed by IHS Markit Senior Vice President Atul Arya
A complete video library is available at www.ceraweek.com/conversations.
About IHS Markit (www.ihsmarkit.com)
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