US firm National Oilwell Varco has braved an economic whirlwind only to have the real thing land on its Houston doorstep.
Hurricane Harvey brought devastation to the Texas oil capital earlier this month, with highways becoming rivers, homes wrecked, refineries shut in and the death toll now at 70 people.
But chairman and chief executive of the oilfield services company, Clay Williams, has been buoyed by the response of the oil and gas industry, who have rounded in support of the flood stricken southern state.
He said: “We’ve all been in this sort of economic hurricane with oil prices these last few years and now you’ve got a real hurricane on top of that.
“It really underscores for me what a community the oil industry is.
“We’ve several hundred employees who are out of their homes. The good news is that we’ve already cleared out the wet sheet rock and carpet from over a hundred employee homes.”
Williams revealed the work that is being done while speaking to Energy Voice at the Offshore Europe conference, which is running in Aberdeen this week.
He flew into the city on Wednesday but plans to be back in Texas by the weekend, “to get his sleeves rolled up and help with the clean-up”.
The hurricane’s aftermath was another blow for Texas, which has also been negatively impacted by the global oil downturn.
National Oilwell Varco (NOV) was not immune to that particular ‘storm’ either.
The firm cut its global headcount be nearly half since the heady heights of 2014’s $100 oil.
But Williams claims there are “brighter days ahead”.
The company is slowly rebuilding, after the lack of activity over the last three years – especially in the offshore sector – saw staff numbers drop from around 60,000 to 35,000.
Williams said: “We’re doing better. We are still a long way from ‘recovered’ but we’re making good progress.
“This has been a really tough downturn.
“But I’m optimistic. This has been a cyclical industry since its earliest days and when you go through one of these cycles, and I’ve been through a handful in my career, you really just have to make it to the other side.”
He added: “We’ve had to make tough decisions, like everyone.
“We had to reduce our workforce and our costs. It’s really tough seeing friends of yours leaving the company because we simply don’t have enough work to do.
“We’re not out of the woods yet but business is stabilsing and parts of our business are starting to grow again.”
Bright spots include US shale plays – still booming – and the Middle East, a market that Williams said remained “strong” even while others suffered.
He said: “You have had half of the world’s E&P capex evaporate since the downturn.
“There’s always a supply response that comes out of that dramatic change in investment.
“Oil has dipped below $50 a barrel, which I think is an important psychological threshold. That limits the appetite for further growth in terms of rig count and capex.
“We are really anxious to see the offshore part of our business get back engaged and back to growth.”
And how does the industry do that? Well according to Williams it is a matter of “time, ingenuity and perseverance”.
But for now, it’s people first.
He said: “First things first, we have to get people back in their homes and get their lives stable.
“That’s been the top priority for us and I’m very proud of the effort that the company has made to make sure that our employees are safe.
“Aberdeen and Houston have a lot in common – they are both really resilient. We will get through this – I’m confident of that.”
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