Now is the time for oil and gas companies to embrace modern technology solutions. Getty Images

The oil and gas industry has always been volatile. The profitability of leading companies has largely stemmed from their ability to predict future changes and therefore adapt to them. However, when a truly unpredictable situation happens, uncertainty clouds the entire market.

Such a structural shift has occurred at the intersection of the marketplace and COVID-19. The traditional energy sector must find ways to change, but it has to occur in non-traditional ways. We believe that technology will show us a way forward.

At the beginning of 2020, the oil and gas market looked optimistically at its forecasts for the year. Those predictions were left in shambles after the OPEC debacle and the novel coronavirus wreaked havoc on the world. Those events combined to cause demand shortages that led to historically low and unsustainable price points for the industry.

Therefore, we predict a lot of bankruptcies and layoffs until we see economies come back online and demand increase. However, companies with a strong cash flow and minimal debt should use this as an opportunity to turn technology into profitability, but it will require a willingness to learn and try new things.

At EAG Services & EAG 1Source, our midstream and upstream clients look to us for solutions. While they focus on combating the unknown and staying afloat, our team conducts diligent internal investigations to locate technological and infrastructure answers.

We have assembled three actionable insights in response to the shifts experienced by many oil and gas companies.

Lean into the digital age by automating your processes

The importance of accurate and timely data is at an all-time high as headcounts decrease and human capital becomes more valuable. By investing in automation, you'll increase business efficiency as a hedge against workforce risks. You will also achieve simplicity, transform your digital presence, and increase service quality and delivery.

Such tools should automatically capture, process, and extract essential data for executing routine processes. This includes information such as POP statements, invoices, meter readings, and non-operated statements that can be integrated into your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) System. These next-generation intelligent information systems combine workflows, content management, and automatic classification of files based on the meta-data most important to your organization.

Recognizing the value of your employee and their time goes a long way, especially in an emergency situation. It is imperative you give them tools that helps them operate as efficiently as possible so they can make rapid and informed decisions. During this time more than ever it is essential that your resources are able to quickly correlate information, and analyze and provide you with answers to determine your next move.

Provide remote access with cloud hosting

While many oil and gas companies look for ways to cut costs due to low consumer demand, cloud hosting offers you opportunities to eliminate capital purchases of IT hardware. Moving applications to the cloud not only helps protect your important data, but it inherently forces your organization into a remote work mentality.

Additionally, as team sizes and workloads shift, cloud computing offers essential flexibility to either grow or shrink, as many cloud and infrastructure hosting firms offer a "pay-as-you-use" model. Cloud computing also provides solutions for disaster recovery and business continuity by delivering data to your remote offices with enhanced security.

Establish a cybersecurity plan to protect your data

We've seen a rise in phishing attempts and cyber-attacks over the last month. Hackers recognize that people are in a unique situation, so they disguise themselves as "updates" and "signups" for news regarding COVID-19.

Do not let your employees or business assets fall victim to a cybersecurity incident. Give your staff secure access to data by providing systems with tools and software that block exploits and filter out malicious attacks.

Your company's exposure increases when corporate devices lack necessary security capabilities. This is true whether your employees connect to corporate assets from remote locations or use non-managed devices. You company should consider company laptops, change how users access corporate data, and deploy anti-virus and management tools to home-bound employees on a temporary basis.

Even with the unprecedented changes across the oil and gas industry, we've seen many businesses implement these modifications and succeed. By introducing technology that integrates their systems, they are weathering the current storm and preparing for unforeseeable threats in the future. Those who adapt and invest in technology today will be sustainable and scalable tomorrow.

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Elizabeth Gerbel is CEO of EAG Services and EAG 1Source, which provides business process, technology, and advisory services to the midstream and upstream oil and gas market,

Elizabeth Gerbel, CEO and founder of Houston-based E.A.G. Services Inc., shares how to navigate M&A activity for both startups and large companies. Pexels

All is not lost in a merger or acquisition, says this Houston energy exec

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Nervous about an upcoming merger or acquisition? You're not alone. Last year, there were nearly 15,000 mergers and acquisitions in the U.S., according to the Institute for Mergers, Acquisitions and Alliances. These transactions, although executed with optimistic intentions, don't always work out. What is it that separates those that deliver from those whose results simply fall flat?

While you won the legal battle, the real culprit to a failed merger or acquisition transaction lies in post-deal activities such as integrating the divesting company's assets into the acquiring company's existing systems, processes, and organizational structure. If executed poorly, companies could face several hurdles, including:

  • Increased acquisition costs
  • Loss in previously efficient business processes
  • Reduced data quality in current and acquired assets
  • Extended TSA timeline

With the stakes being high, it is critical for each step of a merger or acquisition to be rock solid before moving on to the next stage. In fact, when executed successfully, an M&A transaction can significantly benefit both companies — from startups to well-established corporations.

A strategy for M&A data integration

In order to facilitate efficient and effective merger or acquisition, the critical success factors focus on these driving goals: Minimizing organizational disruption and Maximizing ROI. To achieve these goals, we execute three main stages for every merger and acquisition.

  1. Planning
  2. Analysis
  3. Execution

We start with thorough planning, think of planning as the foundation for a successful merger or acquisition. Without a good plan, the company will be vulnerable to all sorts of structural weaknesses. To prevent key elements from falling through the cracks, companies must define objectives and data requirements, maintain strong communications, and develop both short-term and long-term expectations.

The next step – analysis – since data is absolutely essential in mergers and acquisitions. There is a lot to watch out for: What's the best way to extract and convert the acquired data? Will IT or business support need to be permanently added? What system configuration changes are required? What are the impacts to current business processes and internal audit controls? Will additional training be required? The answers to these questions are highly individualized to each merger and acquisition, and they'll impact how seamless the transition will be. Many people gloss over this stage but then realize the criticality not only in the case of a merger or acquisition but also in the case of a future divestiture.

Finally, the last stage: Execution. This stage is one of the main reasons why some mergers and acquisitions may fall short of expectations. To avoid common issues stemming from poor execution – including disruption of previously effective business processes, impaired customer service, and increase in the cost of the merger or acquisition – we coordinate roles and responsibilities, ensuring that all key tasks are executed. From day one to full integration, we continually monitor to ensure the company is on track to meet its initially defined objectives.

The risks and benefits of a merger or acquisition

I'll be candid: Without a solid foundation through adequate preparation, a merger or acquisition is set up to fail. This risk can be higher for startups and small companies, which don't have the resource buffer that some larger firms can fall back on. Large companies may face a different risk, business processes and data may not be aligned with their current state. And yet, according to Economy Watch, an extensively strategized merger or acquisition transaction, beyond increasing the company's size, can yield significant benefits that include:

  • Improving its strategic position
  • Entering a new market
  • Developing new assets
  • Lowering operational costs
  • Expanding market influence

For smooth mergers and acquisitions, we recommend a multi-step process so that you can identify and reduce risks, condense your integration timeline, and quickly capture value. Because despite the challenges, not all is lost during a merger or acquisition – and there is much to be gained.

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Elizabeth Gerbel is the CEO and founder of Houston-based E.A.G. Services Inc.

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Rice University develops 2 new innovative tools to detect COVID-19

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Rice University is once again spearheading research and solutions in the ongoing battle with COVID-19. The university announced two developing innovations: a "real-time sensor" to detect the virus and a cellphone tool that can detect the disease in less than an hour.

Sensing COVID
Researchers at Rice received funding for up to $1 million to develop the real-time sensor that promises to detect minute amounts of the airborne virus.

Teams at Rice and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston are working to develop a thin film electronic device that senses as few as eight SARS-CoV-2 viruses in 10 minutes of sampling air flowing at 8 liters per minute, per a press release.

Dubbed the Real-Time Amperometric Platform Using Molecular Imprinting for Selective Detection of SARS-CoV-2 (or, RAPID), the project has been funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Rice notes. Further funding will be contingent upon a successful demonstration of the technology.

Attacking with an app
Meanwhile, the university announced that its engineers have developed a plug-in tool that can diagnose COVID-19 in around 55 minutes. The tool utilizes programmed magnetic nanobeads and a tool that plugs into a basic cellphone.

First, a stamp-sized microfluidic chip measures the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein in blood serum from a standard finger prick.

Then, nanobeads bind to SARS-CoV-2 N protein, a biomarker for COVID-19, in the chip and transport it to an electrochemical sensor that detects minute amounts of the biomarker. Paired with a Google Pixel 2 phone and a plug-in tool, researchers quickly secured a positive diagnosis.

This, researchers argue, simplifies sample handling compared to swab-based PCR tests that must be analyzed in a laboratory.

"What's great about this device is that it doesn't require a laboratory," said Rice engineer Peter Lillehoj in a statement. "You can perform the entire test and generate the results at the collection site, health clinic or even a pharmacy. The entire system is easily transportable and easy to use."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Chevron's Houston-based venture arm launches $300M fund focusing on low-carbon tech

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Chevron Corp.'s investment arm has launched a $300 million fund that will focus on low-carbon technology.

Chevron Technology Ventures LLC's Future Energy Fund II builds on the success of the first Future Energy Fund, which kicked off in 2018 and invested in more than 10 companies specializing in niches like carbon capture, emerging mobility, and energy storage. The initial fund contained $100 million.

"The new fund will focus on innovation likely to play a critical role in the future energy system in industrial decarbonization, emerging mobility, energy decentralization, and the growing circular carbon economy," Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures says in a February 25 release.

Future Energy Fund II is the eighth venture fund created by Chevron Technology Ventures since its establishment in 1999. In 2019, the investment arm started a $90 million fund to invest in startups that can help accelerate the oil and gas business of San Ramon, California-based Chevron.

Chevron Technology Ventures' portfolio for low-carbon technology comprises a dozen companies: Blue Planet, Carbon Clean, Carbon Engineering, ChargePoint, Eavor, Infinitum Electric, Natron Energy, Spear Power Systems, Svante, Voyage, Vutility, and Zap Energy.

Only one of the companies in the low-carbon portfolio is based in Texas — Infinitum Electric, located in Round Rock. However, Chevron Technology Ventures is active in the Houston entrepreneurial ecosystem as a participant in the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Greentown Labs, The Cannon, and The Ion. Chevron's investment arm was the first tenant at The Ion.

In an August 2020 interview with InnovationMap, Barbara Burger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, said the investment arm places a priority on helping advance entrepreneurship in Houston. "It is our home court," she said.

Burger said that for Houston to succeed in energy innovation, companies, government agencies, investment firms, and universities must rally around the city.

"We're doing a lot of things right — almost in spite of the world being crazy. … I think constancy of purpose is important," she said. "Despite the headwinds from COVID and despite the headwinds that industries are facing, we need to stay committed to that."

Burger noted that innovation "is not a straight path."

"We've got to plant a bunch of these seeds and see how they grow — we need to water them every day, and then I think we'll have a beautiful garden," she said.