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Oil Industry


Multinational oil companies such as Chevron, Total, BP, Shell and ExxonMobil are household names in many countries not least because, as well as drilling for oil, they also refine and sell the finished products in petrol/gas stations across the world.  (And also because each of them has been associated with at least one major, environmental disaster.)

Less world-famous names are Brazil’s Petrobras, China’s CNOOC and Petrochina, and Russia’s Lukoil and Gazprom. Yet, by some measures, these are as big as the high profile Western names, and rapidly gaining public attention outside their home countries.

These big names sit at the top of a global industry and, like Premier League football clubs, capture most global attention.

However, in addition to this handful of very large corporations— known in the industry as “oil majors”—the global oil industry also encompasses thousands of companies which either directly engage in oil exploration and production or sell specialised geological, engineering, logistical and other services to the oil companies.

Dozens of smaller but still quite sizeable oil companies prospect for oil. These are known in the industry as “independents.”  Tullow Oil is one such player—but, thanks to spectacular, recent exploration success in several countries, is now growing fast.

The smallest prospecting companies, known in the industry as “wildcatters,” typically raise venture capital to look for oil or gas in hard-to-reach or high risk areas. If they strike lucky, they can make huge profits by selling on their licences to other companies (as Heritage did in Uganda).  But the financial risks are high and if they fail to find oil these companies can walk away with nothing but debts—as eventually happened to Neptune in Uganda.

Beyond the oil companies

Also important are the many hundreds of specialist firms selling services in everything from hi-tech geological surveying to catering.

For the oil companies do not themselves do all the work of getting the oil out of the ground (or seabed) and into global markets. At every stage of the process, they hire in contractors.

Some of these, such as Baker Hughes, Halliburton, Schlumberger and Weatherford, are big corporations in their own right, specialising in ‘oilfield services’ – hiring out drilling rigs and other specialist equipment and skills. (See our listing of Oilfield, Engineering and Infrastructure Services companies active in Uganda)

Others, such as Saipem, specialise in building the infrastructure needed to develop an oilfield—the pipelines, refineries, and even the roads and airports that result from a major development.

Shipping and trucking companies are needed to lift and shift heavy equipment across seas and continents. (See the Transport and Logistics section.)

Once it is in place, the equipment needs testing to prevent—or at least reduce—the possibility of environmental disaster.  (See the Inspection Services section.)

The men—almost exclusively men—hoisting and operating this equipment, need beds to lie on at night, movies to watch before they turn in, Internet access to stay in touch with distant loved ones, and food and drink to sustain them.  Enter the Camp Management and Catering companies.

And beyond this lies even more . . . the environmental consultants (see the Environmental and Waste Management Services section; and let’s hope they do a good job); accountants, lawyers, trainers, insurance companies that work out special deals to insure the oil companies against the risks of human and environmental catastrophe. (See, for at least some of this, the Others section.)

This area of the Oil in Uganda website aims to give readers a wide-angle view of the oil industry by profiling companies in all these fields.

As with much of the site, this is a work in progress. More companies will be added as we make time to profile them, and as they make time to explain to us what they do: for, we regret to report, some have so far proved reluctant.