Africa Oil & Power interviewed C. Derek Campbell, CEO of Energy & Natural Resource Security, Inc., about the possible impacts to security as a result of COVID-19 and the low oil prices in the market.
What are the security risks facing the energy industry in today’s environment?
Right now, the African energy market is suffering from multiple ‘black swan’ events – depressed oil prices, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the locust swarms in East Africa – that are causing a lack of cashflow and a lack of personnel availability to the continued operations of their energy assets. This is a toxic cocktail for oil and gas and power and utility companies on the continent, causing negative impacts on the resiliency of energy and natural resource asset operations. When you don’t have the money to maintain security protocols and when you don’t have the people to monitor and manage operations, your assets become hyper-exposed to physical and cyber threats.
The issue that leadership must address is that security is not a cost, but an investment. From a prioritization standpoint, they need to include security as a key performance indicator for the health of the energy/natural resource operation. Already, you see in Mozambique that attacks have ramped up, as security is looked at as a second-tier cost. You now have vandals looking at your asset as a target of opportunity. On the cyber side, we are also seeing an acceleration of attacks in both Africa and the Middle East.
Why have attacks — both physical and cyber — ramped up during the crisis?
The leaders in many of these corporations aren’t focused on security right now. Their focus is on how to maintain continuity of operations and their ability to continue to sell their products to meet market demand. This dynamic has caused security to become an afterthought and that creates an opportunity for bad actors to disrupt their operations.
What type of attacks are most likely and what regions are most at-risk?
We have already seen an increase in the number of attacks, but the real take away is the indications and warnings of threat actions that we are picking up – the indications that future attacks are going to happen. Physical attacks, cyber-attacks, piracy and theft are all likely to increase in the coming weeks.
Regions that are most at risk, both onshore and offshore, include Mozambique, Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea, particularly the Bight of Bonny (offshore Nigeria).
How can companies mitigate risk?
They need to do an immediate assessment to understand where they are – what are the current threats at the operational and tactical level that will impact their ability to maintain their operations?
Additionally, when companies talk about mitigating their financial risk as they endure multiple ‘black swan’ events, there needs to be a prevention and mitigation internal corporate discussion on how companies deal with threats to their vulnerabilities – and they need to budget for that. I’m not going to dismiss that it is hard to do during this time of crisis, but they need to prioritize their maintaining vigilant security operations. If this is not done, the cost of having a major operational disruption to their operations will cause owners, operators, investors and insurers of these critical energy and natural resource assets further financial peril.