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Crude Awakening: The Global Black Market for Oil

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A Crude Awakening: The Global Black Market for Oil

A Crude Awakening: The Global Black Market for Oil

The value of the crude oil production alone is worth a staggering $1.7 trillion each year. Add downstream fuels and other services to that, and oil is a money-making machine.

Both companies and governments take advantage of this resource wealth. More of the world’s largest companies work in the oil patch than any other industry. At the same, entire government regimes are kept intact thanks to oil revenues.

The only problem when an industry becomes this lucrative?

Eventually, everybody wants a piece of the pie – and they’ll do anything to get their share.

The Black Market in Fuel Theft

Today’s infographic comes from Eurocontrol Technics Group, and it highlights the global problem of fuel theft.

While pipeline theft in places like Nigeria and Mexico are the most famous images associated with the theft of hydrocarbons, the problem is actually far more broad and systematic in nature.

Fuel theft impacts operations at the upstream, midstream, and downstream levels, and it is so entrenched that even politicians, military personnel, and police are complicit in illegal activities. Sometimes, involvement can be traced all the way up to top government officials.

E&Y estimates this to be a $133 billion issue, but it’s also likely that numbers around fuel theft are understated due to deep-rooted corruption and government involvement.

How Fuel Theft Actually Happens

Billions of dollars per year of government and corporate revenues are lost due to the following activities:

Tapping Pipelines: By installing illicit taps, thieves can divert oil or other refined products from pipelines. Mexican drug gangs, for example, can earn $90,000 in just seven minutes from illegal pipeline tapping.

Illegal Bunkering: Oil acquired by thieves is pumped to small barges, which are then sent to sea to deliver the product to tankers. In Nigeria, for example, the Niger Delta’s infamous labyrinth of creeks is the perfect place for bunkering to go undetected.

Ship-to-Ship Transfers:
This involves the transfer of illegal fuel to a more reputable ship, which can be passed off as legitimate imports. For example, refined crude from Libya gets transferred from ship-to-ship in the middle of the Mediterranean, to be illegally imported into the EU.

Armed Theft (Piracy):
This involves using the threat of violence to command a truck or ship and steal its cargo. Even though Hollywood has made Somalia famous for its pirates, it is the Gulf of Guinea near Nigeria that ships need to be worried about. In the last few years, there have been hundreds of attacks.

Bribing Corrupt Officials:
In some countries – as long as the right person gets a cut of profits, authorities will turn a blind eye to hydrocarbon theft. In fact, E&Y says an astonishing 57.1% of all fraud in the oil an gas sector relates to corruption schemes.

Smuggling and Laundering:
Smuggling oil products into another jurisdiction can help to enable a profitable and less traceable sale. ISIS is famous for this – they can’t sell oil to international markets directly, so they smuggle oil to Turkey, where it sells it at a discount.

Adulteration:
Adulteration is a sneaky process in which unwanted additives are put in oil or refined products, but sold at full price. In Tanzania, for example, adding cheap kerosene and lubricants to gasoline or diesel is an easy way to increase profit margins, while remaining undetected.

The Implications of Fuel Theft

The impact of fuel theft on people and the economy is significant and wide-ranging:

Loss of corporate profits: Companies in oil and gas can lose billions of dollars from fuel theft. Case in point: Mexico’s national oil company (Pemex) is estimated to lose $1.3 billion per year as a result of illegal pipeline tapping by gangs.

Loss of government revenues: Governments receive royalties from oil production, as well as tax money from finished products like gasoline. In Ireland, the government claims it loses €150 to €250 million in revenues per year from fuel adulteration. Meanwhile, one World Bank official pegged the Nigerian government’s total losses from oil revenues stolen (or misspent) at $400 billion since 1960.

Funds terrorism: ISIS and other terrorist groups have used hydrocarbon theft and sales as a means to sustain operations. At one point, ISIS was making $50 million per month from selling oil.

Funds cartels and organized crime: The Zetas cartel in Mexico controls nearly 40% of the fuel theft market, raking in millions each year.

Environmental damage: Not only does fuel theft cost corporations and governments severely, but there is also an environmental impact to be considered. Fuel spills, blown pipelines, and engine damage (from adulterated fuel) are all huge issues.

Leads to higher gas prices: Unfortunately, all of the above losses eventually translate into higher prices for end-customers.

How to Stop Fuel Theft?

There are two methods that authorities have been using to slow down and eventually eliminate fuel theft.

Fuel dyes are used to color petroleum products a specific tint, so as to allow for easy identification and prevent fraud. However, some dyes can be replicated by criminals – such as those in Ireland who “launder” the fuel.

Molecular markers, which are used in tiny concentrations of just a few parts per million, are invisible and can also be used to identify fuels.

In Tanzania, the initiation of a fuel marking program using molecular markers led to significant increases of imported petrol and diesel for the local market, and a decrease of kerosene.

At the retail level, product meeting quality standards increased from 19% in 2007 to 91% in 2013. Ultimately, this resulted in an increase of tax revenue of $300 million between 2010 and 2014.

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Energy

Connected Workers: How Digital Transformation is Shaping Industry’s Future

This graphic explores the role connected workers play in achieving successful digital transformation and identifying new growth opportnities.

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Connected Workers: Shaping the Future of Industry

Digital transformation has upended businesses on a global scale, and no industry is immune from its powerful effects.

New technologies and enhancing customer experience are key drivers for companies investing in digital transformation, but the most important reason for prioritizing this shift is that it will allow them to leverage entirely new opportunities for growth.

However, with the speed of digital transformation accelerating at a furious pace, companies need to quickly adapt their working environment to keep up. This graphic from mCloud unearths the origins of the connected worker, and explores the potential applications of connected devices across industries.

The Rise of the Connected Worker

The mass adoption of smart devices has sparked a new wave of remote work. This type of working arrangement is estimated to inject $441 billion into the global economy every year, and save 2.5 million metric tonnes of CO2 by 2029—the equivalent of 1,280 flights between New York and London.

However, flexible or remote working looks different depending on the industry. For example, in the context of business services such as engineering or manufacturing, employees who carry out different tasks remotely using digital technologies are known as connected workers.

The term is not a one-size-fits-all, as there are many different types of connected workers with different roles, such as operators, field workers, engineers, and even executives. But regardless of an individual’s title, every connected worker plays a crucial role in achieving digital transformation.

Real Time Data, Real Time Benefits

When workers are connected to assets in real time, they can make better, more informed decisions—ultimately becoming a more efficient workforce overall. As a result, industries could unlock a wealth of benefits, such as:

  • Reducing human error
  • Increasing productivity
  • Reducing dangerous incidents
  • Saving time and money
  • Monitoring assets 24/7

While connected workers can enhance the potential of industries, the tools they use to achieve these benefits are crucial to their success.

Connected Worker Technologies

A connected device has the ability to connect with other devices and systems through the internet. The connected worker device market is set for rapid growth over the next two decades, reaching $4.3 billion by 2039. Industries such as oil and gas, chemical production, and construction lead the way in the adoption of connected worker technologies, which include:

  • Platforms: Hardware or software that uses artificial intelligence and data to allow engineers to create bespoke applications and control manufacturing processes remotely.
  • Interfaces: Technologies such as 3D digital twins enable peer-to-peer information sharing. They also create an immersive reflection of surroundings that would have otherwise been inaccessible by workers, such as wind turbine blades.
  • Smart sensors and IoT devices: Sensors that monitor assets provide a more holistic overview of industrial processes in real time and prevent dangerous incidents.
  • Cloud and edge computing: Using the cloud allows workers to communicate with each other and manage shared data more efficiently.

Over time, connected devices are getting smarter and expanding their capabilities. Moreover, devices such as wearables are becoming more discreet than ever, and can even be embedded into personal protective equipment to gather data while remaining unobtrusive.

Real World Applications

With seemingly endless potential, these devices have the ability to provide game changing solutions to ongoing challenges across dozens of industries.

  • Building Maintenance and Management
    Facility managers can access real time information and connect with maintenance workers on site to resolve issues quickly. Building personnel can also access documentation and remote help through connected technologies.
  • Task Management
    Operators in industrial settings such as mining can control activities in remote locations. They can also enable field personnel to connect with experts in other locations.
  • Communications Platform
    Cloud-based communication platforms can provide healthcare practitioners with a tool to connect with the patient, the patient’s family and emergency care personnel.

By harnessing the power of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and analytics, connected workers can continue to revolutionize businesses and industries across the globe.

Towards a More Connected Future

As companies navigate the challenges of COVID-19, implementing connected worker technologies and creating a data-driven work environment may quickly become an increasingly important priority.

Not only is digital transformation important for leveraging new growth opportunities to scale, it may be crucial for determining the future of certain businesses and industries.

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Energy

Tracking the Growing Wave of Oil & Gas Bankruptcies in 2020

Dropping crude prices and a worsening pandemic have led to a growing wave of energy bankruptcies. Here’s what that fallout looks like.

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The Growing Wave of Oil & Gas Bankruptcies in 2020

2020 hasn’t been kind to the energy sector, and a growing wave of energy bankruptcies has started to build.

After a difficult year marred by rising geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and crude prices in the $50-60 per barrel range, analysts warned that the energy sector needed a strong recovery to offset a rising (and expiring) mountain of debt.

Instead, the oil patch has seen one bombshell after another, and the impacts are adding up.

Fueling the Wave’s Growth

The new year opened with a U.S. attack on a top-ranking Iranian general in Baghdad, followed by an Iranian counterattack on two bases in Iraq that hosted U.S. military personnel.

Then, the energy industry worried that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) wouldn’t renew its production deal with non-member countries, causing increased production and negative pressure on crude prices.

All the while, the threat of COVID-19 grew and started to spread. In March, the new coronavirus hit markets hardest, right as the OPEC+ deal collapsed. Russia and Saudi Arabia subsequently flooded the markets with cheap oil, starting a price war to drive out competition.

What developed was the perfect storm of nonexistent demand matched up against oversupply. Crude prices plummeted and hit a historic sub-zero low on April 20th, with futures for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) Crude closing at -$37.63.

The Wave’s Initial Damage

Now, following a renewed OPEC+ deal limiting production agreed upon on April 9th and slowly restarting economies driving up crude demand, prices have started to tick up.

Unfortunately, the damage has already been done and will take a long time to recover. By charting the sector’s bankruptcies over the first half of 2020—tracked by law firm Haynes and Boone, LLP for the U.S. and Insolvency Insider for Canada—we can see the wave start to swell:

Company TypeQ1 BankruptciesQ2 BankruptciesTotal (H1 2020)
Oil & Gas Producer71825
Oilfield Services71219
Midstream Services213
Total163147

For oil and gas producers, the second quarter of 2020 saw 18 bankruptcies, the highest quarterly total since 2016.

So far, they’re largely centered in the U.S., which saw a boom of surface-level shale oil production in the 2010’s to take advantage of rising crude prices. As prices have dropped, many heavily leveraged companies have started to run out of options.

Company TypeQ1 Total DebtQ2 Total DebtTotal (H1 2020)
Oil & Gas Producer$1.4 billion$29.2 billion$30.7 billion
Oilfield Services$10.8 billion$13.2 billion$24 billion
Midstream Services$0.2 billion$0.2 billion$0.5 billion
Total$12.5 billion$42.7 billion$55.1 billion

The biggest victim in the first half of 2020 was Chesapeake Energy, a shale giant that declared bankruptcy on June 28 with more than $9 billion in debt.

Canada has also seen an uptick in energy bankruptcies, especially after facing years of stiff competition from U.S. shale producers. However, the number of cases in Canada is far fewer than in the United States.

One reason is that companies staved off bankruptcy or receivership in four of the seven insolvency cases in Canada since January 2020, at least temporarily. Instead, they are seeking protection under the country’s Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, giving them a chance to restructure and avoid insolvency.

A Prolonged Fallout

Another reason for the discrepancy in bankruptcy numbers is timing. The energy sector faced its biggest challenges in 2015/2016, causing many companies to take on debt.

Unfortunately, much of that debt is starting to expire, or becoming too difficult to pay off in the current market conditions.

That’s why, despite the wave of bankruptcies caused by COVID-19 gaining steam, the wave will continue well into 2020 and likely beyond.

July has already seen more companies declaring bankruptcy or seeking creditor protection. The question is, how many more are waiting to surface?

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