The oil, gas, and petrochemical industries have taken a massive financial blow from the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report from the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) concludes, but its financial troubles preexisted the emergence of the novel coronavirus and are likely to extend far into the future, past the end to measures aimed at curbing the spread of the disease.
“Oil and gas are among the industries hardest hit by the current economic crisis, with leading companies losing an average of 45 percent of their value since the start of 2020,” the report finds. “These declines touch on nearly every facet of the oil and gas sector’s business, including the petrochemical sector that has been touted in recent years as the primary driver of the industry’s future growth.”
That’s to some degree because of the abrupt plunge in demand for oil resulting from shelter-in-place and quarantine measures that, as of early April, applied to over 3 billion of the world’s 7.8 billion people — including 90 percent of the United States. And the United States uses an outsize amount of gasoline — in 2017, the U.S. consumed one fifth of the gasoline used globally, the report notes. Nearly 70 percent of petroleum products are consumed for transportation, the report adds — meaning that the impact on demand resulting from quarantines is enormous.
But, before the pandemic, oil, gas, and petrochemical firms “showed clear signs of systemic weakness,” CIEL’s report says, listing factors like the industries’ poor stock market performance, high levels of debt, competition from cheaper renewable energy, slowing growth in demand for plastics, and growing awareness among investors of the impacts that action to slow climate change will have on the sector.