Treating Asset Protection as an Investment

  • The ‘Navigating Risk: Increasing Threats in the African Energy Market Under COVID-19’ webinar, hosted by Africa Oil & Power and the Africa Energy Chamber, tackled current threats to physical and cyber security of oil and gas assets on Friday.
  • Panelists included Dr. Sara Vakhshouri, Founder & President of SVB Energy International; Shawn Robert Duthie, Managing Director of Inyani Intelligence; and C. Derek Campbell, CEO of Energy & Natural Resource Security, Inc.

Leaders in African energy risk management united in a webinar on Friday under the theme, ‘Navigating Risk: Increasing Threats in the African Energy Market Under COVID-19,’ to put forth strategies for mitigating physical, cyber and security risks, with a view toward protecting employees and assets.

From regulatory uncertainty to political unrest to physical and cyber security attacks, the risk of investment in several African countries has been heightened by the onset of COVID-19, not least of which has been the threat to stable energy demand.

“Global lockdowns have had a severe impact on both prices and demand. This double shock – in which both prices and demand collapsed – has implications for both oil producer and consumer countries,” said Dr. Sara Vakhshouri, Founder & President of SVB Energy International. “African countries are facing challenges to security of demand, since global consumption has been significantly hit. There are expectations that by the end of this year, demand will increase further and countries will start racking up their exports. But in the case of major African producers like Nigeria, we are seeing that they have not yet complied with OPEC production cuts.”

“The big impact of COVID-19 has been government-imposed lockdowns. It is the economic hit that increases risk for all businesses,” said Shawn Robert Duthie, Managing Director of Inyani Intelligence. “Lack of money means a lack of money for social services and social delivery. This could lead to social conflict. In South Africa, we haven’t seen much protest, but underneath it all, there is a growing social tension about how the government’s lockdown has affected people’s livelihoods and jobs.”

Reduced government revenues from crude oil exports due to a drop in demand could also lead to changes in tax and regulatory frameworks that govern oil-producing countries.

“Looking at a more macroeconomic level, we might see new regulations that increase taxes or financial burdens, especially on foreign companies and large multinationals,” Duthie added. “This is a risk for a lot of places, especially high-risk countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo and Burkina Faso that do have natural resources.”

When it comes to the increased threat to asset protection faced by companies during COVID-19, the question remains whether the crisis has only shed light on, rather than created, existing breaches in security.

“With a situation like COVID-19 coupled with depressed prices, your assets are exposed,” said C. Derek Campbell, CEO of Energy & Natural Resource Security, Inc. “You have human terrains gaps, cyber security gaps and indications and warnings of extremist groups looking at ways to attack infrastructure. As you have reduced manpower and lack of risk identification methods, you have invasion of sites. That’s at a tactical level.”

He highlighted that to mitigate potential threats to on-the-ground risk and security, regular risk assessment programs must be conducted to identify weaknesses and prevent breaches in security from affecting returns on project investments.

“Companies need to ensure that they have a consistent review and assessment program using global standards,” said Campbell. “In addition to an initial assessment, it needs to be done periodically. As an operator, you need to be able to ensure resiliency so that you can maintain continuity of operations. If you cannot do that, then you cannot optimize and monetize the asset. And that is what is at risk – capital investments in upstream, midstream and downstream projects. That is impacted by depressed prices because your posture is down and you are not concerned about protecting from physical and cyber risk, which ultimately impacts the financial risk.”

Sub-Saharan Africa has seen several physical and cyber-attacks in recent months, from pirates and vandals to militants, suggesting a need to prioritize investment into the security of projects in the region.

“There are a number of recent attacks offshore Equatorial Guinea, in Algeria around 2011 and 2012 and consistent threats that happen in Nigeria to operational networks in oil and gas, onshore and offshore,” Campbell noted. “When investors come in, they squeeze projects, charging a high rate of return. In order to mitigate financial risk, they squeeze the project and expect to get their returns in three years. But then the operator cannot mature the project because they don’t have the cash.
To mitigate that financial interplay between owners and operator, I recommend not looking at security of your asset as a cost, whether it’s a new Greenfield or ongoing activity. It is an investment that will help you mature that asset and make it grow.”