Unique Supply Chain Challenges of Oil & Gas Industry

Unique Supply Chain Challenges of Oil & Gas Industry


Vivek Sood




February 12, 2019

One of the common problems cited by the boards and senior management is that the consultants they hire do not understand their unique challenges.

This problem applies even more to large cookie cutter approach based consulting houses with thousands of consultants where the guys who have the knowledge are too senior (and too involved in their company’s internal politics) to focus on your problems, and the junior people who have all the time have little knowledge or experience.

Time and time again I hear clients complaining about this problem, and their aversion to teaching very expensive junior consultants everything about their own business, only to have it all regurgitated back to them in a report.

That is why our approach works – we focus knowledge on problems.

Let me give an example.

I was recently asked a question about the Key Challenges in the Supply Chain the Upstream Oil & Gas Companies Face?

See below my answer, and understand how unique the challenges in this industry are. All the generic supply chain challenges fade away in comparison.

My answer below:

I am going to assume that you are looking for challenges that are unique to this supply chain, and not generic challenges faced by all supply chains. I am also assuming that the boundaries of upstream go till the refinery and beyond that is the downstream oil and gas industry.

In the exploration stage, the investments are big and the probability of success is low. Exploration equipment, seismic survey vessels and equipment is very expensive. Today, it is also very data intensive work. You must procure contracts for equipment at the best possible rates, and keep them productive at a very high level of utilisation and availability. Getting parts to remote locations where exploration is underway and machinery or vessel is broken down is often a big challenge. The machinery itself is highly sensitive and must be treated with a lot of care.

Booms and busts are common in these markets due to oil price fluctuations. When the oil price is high all producers are rich and wants to explore and make more ‘finds’, and increase their proven reserves. When the prices are down they give up on exploration and a lot of equipment is ‘parked.’ MAnaging the economic cycle of the industry is one of the biggest challenges as a result.

Moving from exploration to pre-production, and then on to production has its own set of challenges. Consortiums of some of the largest companies on earth are involved in these processes. Co-ordinating these large companies’ activities is never a simple affair.

The business network becomes very complicated. Outsourcing is very common, and sometimes badly managed. I wrote the story of Deepwater horizon in my book Outsourcing 3.0 | Outperform | Outsource | Outprofit – Vivek Sood and will reproduce some parts below to give you a sense of the complications:

Deepwater Horizon, a semi-submersible oilrig owned by Transocean was a dynamically positioned drill rig of this type of vessel. A highly acclaimed rig for its numerous deepwater successes, it was deployed off the shore of Louisiana at an approximate cost of $1 Million per day to drill an exploratory well for British Petroleum (BP) who owned the exploratory rights for the block it jointly owned with two other unrelated parties. BP had chartered the oil rig from its owners, the Swiss entity, Transocean. Transocean operated this rig through a subsidiary – Triton Asset Leasing also based in Switzerland, although the rig carried a Marshall Island flag of convenience.

5-STAR Business Networks come together in many forms

As the exploratory well it was digging nearly came to completion, on 20 April 2010 Deepwater Horizon became front page news on nearly every newspaper on earth. The incident was reported in a press release by Transocean [1] as follows:

“Transocean Ltd. (NYSE: RIG) (SIX: RIGN) today reported a fire onboard its semisubmersible drilling rig Deepwater Horizon. The incident occurred April 20, 2010 at approximately 10:00 p.m. central time in the United States Gulf of Mexico. The rig was located approximately 41 miles offshore Louisiana on Mississippi Canyon block 252.”

“Transocean’s Emergency and Family Response Teams are working with the U.S. Coast Guard and lease operator BP Exploration & Production, Inc. to care for all rig personnel and search for missing rig personnel. A substantial majority of the 126 member crew is safe but some crew members remain unaccounted for at this time. Injured personnel are receiving medical treatment as necessary. The names and hometowns of injured persons are being withheld until family members can be notified.”

The details of the incident, as per the figures from popular mechanics [2] were attention-grabbing:

4.9 million: Barrels of oil (205.8 million gallons) leaked from the Deepwater Horizon well, about half the amount of crude oil the U.S. imports per day
19: Times more oil leaked from Deepwater Horizon than spilled from the Exxon Valdez in 1989 (10.8 million gallons)
62,000: Barrels leaking per day when the wellhead first broke, roughly the amount of oil consumed in Delaware each day
53,000: Barrels leaking per day when the well was capped on July 15, roughly the amount of oil consumed in Rhode Island each day
397.7 million: Dollars’ worth of the oil spilled at current market prices ($81.17 per barrel)
665: Miles of coastline contaminated by oil

The resulting investigation to establish the causality, contributing factors and liability will fill up a book many times the size of the one you are holding.

Outsourcing is a fact of life in business today

We will however, briefly focus on three relevant parties – BP, Transocean and Halliburton for the sake of discussion relevant to this Chapter – on modularized outsourcing. BP had outsourced the task of drilling to Transocean. At the same time Transocean had bought the Blowout preventer from Cameron International Corporation. Whether it can be argued that BP or Transocean had outsourced the task of Blow-out Prevention (BOP) to Cameron is not certain; neither is the liability on malfunction of the blowout preventer because of allegations of lack of proper maintenance. Cameron agreed to settle all claims related with the Deepwater Horizon tragedy with BP for $250M – without any admission of guilt. The situation with Halliburton is still unclear. As per a CNN news-report [3]:

BP and Halliburton sued each other in April 2011 claiming each is to blame for the deadly explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig and resulting disastrous oil leak. Halliburton was in charge of cementing the Macondo well and claims that its contract with BP indemnifies (releases) Halliburton of any legal action resulting from its work as a contractor…

In a response filed Sunday, BP asserted that “maritime law prohibits indemnification for gross negligence.”

As part of that four-page filing, BP reiterated that it was seeking to recover from Halliburton “the amount of costs and expenses incurred by BP to clean up and remediate the oil spill.” BP has estimated in the past that the total cost will be around $42 billion, and by the end of November 2011 the oil company it has paid out or agreed to pay out $21.7 billion to affected individuals, companies and governments around the Gulf.

In an e-mail to CNN, Halliburton spokesperson Beverly Stafford said “Halliburton stands firm that we are indemnified by BP against losses resulting from the Macondo incident.”

Outsourcing tasks does not transfer responsibility for those tasks

President Obama quipped in an interview with CNN [4] On May 14, 2010 “you had executives of BP and Transocean and Halliburton falling over each other to point the finger of blame at somebody else…The American people could not have been impressed with that display, and I certainly wasn’t.” The legal wrangling continues and will take considerable time and expense to resolve. We need not go into the gory details of dollar numbers too big to even fully comprehend, but from our perspective in this Chapter three key points stand out:

  1. When you outsource a task, service or suite of services, you could still retain significant responsibility for its full and proper execution.
  2. Brand-names, size of the company or even their experience is no guarantee of performance of the outsourcing service contracts.
  3. No matter how close the ‘partnership’ is at the start, the test of a successful outsourcing contract is how it ends.

Copyright - These concepts, frameworks and ideas are copyright of GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAIN GROUP from the time of their creation. Do NOT copy these without permission and proper attribution.


  1. These ideas and concepts will be usually expressed by our thought leaders in multiple forums - conferences, speeches, books, reports, workshops, webinars, videos and training. You may have heard us say the same thing before.
  2. The date shown above the article refers to the day when this article was updated. This blog post or article may have been written anytime prior to that date. 
  3. All anecdotes are based on true stories to highlight the key points of the article - some details are changed to protect identification of the parties involved. 
  4. You are encouraged to comment below - your real identity and email will not be revealed when your comment is displayed.  Insightful comments will be  featured, and will win a copy of one of our books. Please keep the comments relevant, decorous and respectful of everyone. All comments represent opinions of the commentators.

Vivek Sood

Our Quick Notes On Five Flows Of Supply Chain Management

Part of our new “Quick Notes” series – this report answers your most pertinent questions of the topic.

  • What are the five flows of SCM?
  • Why are they important TO YOU?
  • How can you map, track, and optimise these flows to serve YOU?
  • What is the importance of difference between "Supply Chain" and "Value Chain"?
  • What are the stellar case studies of each of the five flows?


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  • Such a good article Vivek. Supply chain challenges are global and variable in nature. The challenges in this domain of operation are high and likely to increase each day. In my opinion, the challenges are hard to quantify as the companies differ in size and structure. The first tier companies are less likely to face challenges of serious nature as compared to the companies that fall in a tier of higher status. Supply chain flow and its management could emerge to be the key factors in the making or collapse of a company. However, the challenges you have mentioned with specific reference to Oil and Gas are quite interesting, relevant and informative.

  • Really a worthy attempt Sood, whether its oil and gas or any other industry/company the challenges are more or less same. Initiating complications from generic and picking it up to a specific level, doesn’t change the scenario at all. The issues, any kind of, could raise serious consequences in supply chain management and yes, in supply chain control too. Either you make an entry into oil and gas or in the manufacturing industry the supply chain is everywhere. The only way to take control of supply chain concerns is the application of knowledge (read expert knowledge) at the right time. The moment problem arises, implement the relevant knowledge and let the problem nip at the bud.

  • Since we talk mostly about the demand and supply gap but you have intelligently dragged our attention towards the phenomenon of price and supply gap. The important yet occasionally discussed the topic you have delivered to us so we may consider this from a wider perspective. Totally agreeing with you, I am relying on the challenge you are much carefully accumulated in this blog. Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge this industry is facing is the fluctuation between the price and the supply. Price increase ultimately upturns the supply stream. The companies rush towards increasing their deliveries than their usual estimated supplies. You have rightly pointed out the challenge of “booms and busts”. The prosperity is not something that remains forever and the decline is something that can happen anytime.

  • Better preparedness yields success. The nicely crafted piece of article you’ve given us and I am quite delighted to read it. When it comes to owning a company, the management relies on investments. Doesn’t matter if you are just dealing with stuff at the exploration phase or you have entered into the production stage, investments follow you all over the place. The exploration phase is such a sensitive juncture were the wrong estimation or to say overestimations could resultantly give you major setbacks. The probabilities are all over the wide. The probability of success is definitely high when all the arrangements are carried out in the right direction. The seamless logistic arrangement, related or required equipment availability and reasonable but affordable expenses make such a perfect combination that decreases the probability of failure.

  • Outsourcing sensation is spreading like anything in society. Almost every company aspires to outsource their service or may acquire the services of other outsourcing companies. In this blog, you have talked about outsourcing in such a detail that urged me to supplement my point of view as well. The mushroom growth of companies has encouraged the notion of outsourcing to flourish and penetrate its roots deep enough that its fruits are accessed and eaten by everyone. Practically, every company considers it a privilege to outsource its services. The outsourcing is taking the form of both foreign and domestic contracting and it often leads to offshoring. Outsourcing is result oriented when the company is professional and knowledgeable enough to offer services that truly are beneficial.

  • A very informative article you have provided Vivek. The whole article is full of information and facts sufficient to give direction to every executive. Let me appreciate you to state this professionally true perspective “when you outsource a task, service or suite of services, you could still retain significant responsibility for its full and proper execution”. This is exactly the same that I have always believed throughout my professional life. Outsourcing is a responsibility and on no grounds, you can ever deny this element. You are under every obligation to stay responsible until the task you have outsourced is properly executed. From beginning to the end, it’s you who is in charge of making sure that the whole outsourcing thing is going right.

  • Contracts compliment outsourcing, performance measures outsourcing success. Well-designed contracts are free from tags like brands names, structure, and reputation. The outsourcing reaps the sweet outcomes if it is taken as an independent entity. I agree with you Vivek at this stance that a company reputation and prior experience it doesn’t yield the estimated conclusions. Performance determines the success of the project being outsourced. The performance and success go hand in hand and hence directly proportional to each other. The rise of one takes with it the other one and the decline is also shared mutually. The benefits of outsourcing are shared and so are the losses.

  • Contracts compliment outsourcing, performance measures outsourcing success. Well-designed contracts are free from tags like brands names, structure, and reputation. The outsourcing reaps the sweet outcomes if it is taken as an independent entity. I agree with you Vivek at this stance that a company reputation and prior experience it doesn’t yield the estimated conclusions. Performance determines the success of the project being outsourced. The performance and success go hand in hand and hence directly proportional to each other. The rise of one takes with it the other one and the decline is also shared mutually. The benefits of outsourcing are shared and so are the losses.

  • You will reap what you sow. However, you have expertly put my words into your expression. Outsourcing is about providing a proper mechanism to both parties in close co-operation and to protect both companies from undesirable consequences towards each other. The start of partnership doesn’t determine the success of the outsourcing contract. How well you carry the outsourcing contract till the end is what decides the success. In this regard, all the insecurities and strengths of both companies should be mapped at the very start of the outsourcing process. The mapping of insecurities would cease future in-capabilities. The mapping of strengths secures and ensures the smoothness of the contract. The degree of closeness between companies weakens and the successful execution of outsourcing contract wins.

  • I really appreciate Vivek for always coming with different topics and perspectives. Your articles never disappoint me as they offer the novelty of topics and thoughts. This whole article is full of statistical and theoretical information that I never know before. You have taken the topic of outsourcing to such an exciting level. Outsourcing is often neglected by even by many expert executives and they don’t bother exploring this approach in detail and depth. The challenges of the oil and gas industry have wisely been accumulated and they have clear my vision and make it brighter. It had helped to comprehend the industrial supply chain and outsourcing problems. The supply chain issues along-with outsourcing if addressed genuinely could make the canvass of industry wider and steady.

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