The COVID-19 outbreak has dramatically changed the global energy landscape, severely affecting a wide range of markets and economies. Since the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), governments around the world have enacted emergency support responses to safeguard their industries. The outbreak has created an urgency for countries to adapt to new societal norms while pushing for a sustained economic recovery. Ever since its first recorded case on 9th March 2020, the Government of His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam has undertaken emergency measures to protect the welfare of the population.
Following the announcement of the COVID-19 outbreak, which first emerged in the City of Wuhan, People's Republic of China and subsequent reported cases of the virus in the neighboring countries, under the wise leadership and guidance of His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, the Ministry of Energy in close collaboration with oil and gas operators and relevant agencies took precautionary measures to monitor the health of the returning Chinese workers and students from the People's Republic of China. As the concern among members of the public on the potential spread of the coronavirus in the oil and gas industry heightened, the Ministry activated its Crisis Management Taskforce in January 2020 to provide foundational support for the operators to deal with potential crisis.
As the pandemic continued and cases began to be recorded in-country, mitigation strategies were implemented in ensuring the business continuity of the energy sector. In March 2020, the Ministry of Energy activated its Business Continuity Plan (BCP) with the main objective to ensure timely and effective responses to minimize impact to people, the environment, assets and reputation. Developed by the Ministry's Crisis Management Taskforce, the BCP presented an industry-wide commitment and coordinated action to maintain the stability of the country's energy sector. The BCP put a strong emphasis on protecting Health, Safety, Security and the Environment (HSSE) and emergency preparedness measures during the pandemic.
Immediate safety measures and additional protocols were also put in place to ensure continuity of healthy workforce for onshore and offshore operations. In realizing the sector's pivotal role as the country's most critical economic sector, the Ministry released a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and Self-Isolation Guidelines for Marine and Offshore Oil and Gas Workers on 26th March 2020. The SOP enabled the Oil and Gas operators to manage any potential safety risks to their offshore operation.
In recognizing manpower as a key component in the operational continuity of the energy sector, the Ministry of Energy collaborated with relevant government agencies as well as oil and gas operators to prioritize the sector's critical skills and expertise. In line with the Entry Travel Pass applications issued by the Prime Minister's Office, entry to Brunei Darussalam for the purpose of working in the energy sector was limited to foreign experts with critical roles and functions. The prioritization of such experts allowed the sector to provide further opportunities for local employment.
The SOP and Self-Isolation Guidelines for Marine and Offshore Oil and Gas Workers has been effectively operationalized without compromising on safety, schedule and cost. Brunei Shell Petroleum Company Sdn Bhd (BSP), for instance, has managed the quarantine procedures required for foreign crew in vessels, avoiding operational impacts and vessel idle time.
The Ministry also supported BSP in creating safety bubbles for critical energy frontliners and to ensure safe and reliable operation of its assets. A temporary change of shift rotation was implemented for onshore and offshore production operations personnel, from a two-week shift to a 28-day shift (28/28). This meant that BSP continued to produce energy for the country without comprising on the national drive to "flatten the curve". This indeed demonstrated the adaptability, agility and resilience of the energy industry, especially during such extraordinary times.
As the pandemic put the global energy supply chain under increased stress, Brunei Darussalam's energy sector focused its strategy on reducing dependency on imported fuel products while continuing to generate products for export. A milestone was reached following Hengyi Industries Sdn Bhd announcement of the first domestic supply of transportation fuels (Gasoline, Diesel and Jet A1 fuel) on 15th May 2020. It signified the energy sector's resilience during the pandemic, and confirmed the country's ambitions to further expand its domestic oil and gas value chain. Since then, Hengyi Industries has continued to supply refined fuel products to Brunei Shell Marketing Sdn Bhd (BSM) to meet the domestic demand of petroleum products.
Whilst maintaining uninterrupted operations and its contribution to the country's economy, the energy sector community led by the Ministry of Energy affirmed its commitment to provide support to the local communities during the pandemic. In April 2020, the Ministry of Energy handed over a donation in the form of essential medical protection items to the COVID-19 Relief Fund. The Ministry has also extended assistance to healthcare frontliners through its statutory body, the Safety, Health, Environment and National Authority (SHENA) which donated Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The oil and gas operators in the country have also rallied to help the communities through their corporate social responsibility initiatives. In the spirit of solidarity, the #BSPCares initiative was launched in BSP. One of the major successes of this initiative was the #100beds campaign for the National Isolation Centre in Tutong. Within 24 hours, BSP staff collected donated sums worth 110 beds, surpassing the initial 100-bed target, with the remaining funds being contributed to procure medical equipment for the Seri Suri Begawan Hospital in Kuala Belait. In addition, Zhejiang Hengyi Group Company Limited through Hengyi Industries Sdn Bhd has donated USD1 million worth of medical supplies and equipment to help assist the Government of Brunei Darussalam in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic in Brunei Darussalam.