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Oil and gas executives may be more prepared than they are aware to handle the rigors of the energy transition, the leader of BP Plc’s digitalization efforts said Aug. 17 during his keynote presentation at the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC).

BP Rob Kelly
"We’re changing because the world is changing," BP's Rob Kelly said.
(Source: BP Plc)

“What struck me was the experiences that I’ve had at BP over the last 33 years have actually prepared me very well for the transition that's happening at the moment and what’s about to change,” said Rob Kelly, BP’s vice president of digital production and products. “And it’s due to the skills and the knowledge that I’ve acquired along the way.”

Advancing the energy transition became part of the job description for Kelly and the other 70,000 or so BP employees 18 months ago when the company committed to being a net-zero company by 2050. Suddenly, an international oil company was pivoting to a newly defined integrated energy company, figuring out how to deliver solutions to its varied customers. 

It’s a tectonic shift for a major to attempt and spurred a lot questions, he said, many of them along the lines of, why make this change to a company that’s been in existence for 110 years?

“Well, we’re changing because the world is changing,” Kelly said.

How to do it

In its 2020 Energy Outlook, BP identified five beliefs to guide its energy transition strategy: 

  • The world will electrify, with renewables a clear winner;
  • Customers will redefine mobility and convenience, driven by electrification, digital and fleets;
  • Oil and gas will be challenged but will remain part of the energy mix for decades;
  • Energy systems will become increasingly multi-technology, integrated and local; and
  • Customers—whether countries, cities, industries or corporates—will demand bespoke energy solutions.

Kelly added a sixth: The world is becoming more digital and that’s the glue that’s integrating every aspect of the energy transition.

BP has tasked itself with a slew of specific goals to reach, from increasing its renewables production to securing significant shares of the biojet fuel and hydrogen markets.

BP will also reduce oil and gas production by 40% with no new exploration in new countries, he said, but reiterated what CEO Bernard Looney said at a recent conference that the company would not turn its back on oil and gas.

As an example, he pointed to the Manuel subsea development that works off the BP-operated Na Kika platform in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. BP is a 50:50 partner with Royal Dutch Shell in the project, which is expected to produce an average of 20,000 boe/d. The two-well project is tied into Na Kika by a single riser and flowline.

“This is BP producing more efficient energy by growing our advantaged oil on our existing infrastructure, which is the strategy,” Kelly said. 


Kelly described four “buckets,” or shares of the energy system, in which the company is pushing its activities. The buckets refer to the International Energy Agency’s pathway for countries to meet the Paris Agreement goals of reducing carbon emissions.


BP is making workflows more efficient by standardizing them across both oil and gas operations and its seven refineries. After they are standardized, they are digitized.

The company’s strategic partnership with Microsoft has resulted in a project called Connected BP 2.0, which focuses on digitization across assets to optimize CO2 emissions and create what it calls “carbon-aware operations.” By 2023, methane measurement will cover all of the BP’s oil and gas assets.


BP operates in solar, biofuels and onshore wind in the U.S., including a joint venture (JV) with Equinor with 1.7 Gw of gross operating capacity off the East Coast. Offshore wind, in particular, plays to the strengths of the oil and gas industry, Kelly said.

“That capability of installing offshore structures, and designing and building big pieces of equipment—absolutely the skills and experience we have within our industry,” he said.

BP even appointed a veteran offshore oil and gas manager to run one of its offshore wind operations. The project manager possessed the required transferable skills, even though he had no experience with wind.

Carbon capture, utilization and storage 

A new business for BP, its Teesside plant in Northern England will have the capacity to store up to 2 MMtons of CO2 by 2030. It will link with the zero-carbon Humber project in the U.K. 

Fuel switching

BP’s electric vehicle (EV) charging business in the U.K. is known as BP Chargemaster. The company is partnering with DiDi Chuxing Technology Co. in China, known as the Uber of China. Didi is the world’s leading mobile transportation platform in a country with half of the world’s electric vehicles.

Smarter than you think

For Kelly, his undergraduate study of chemistry has come in handy in enabling him to better understand the workings of everything from hydrogen power to EV chargers.

“So, something I haven’t done for 33 years, actually now is at the forefront of supporting the type of physical technology that we’re going to need for this energy transition,” he said. 

Among other skills that Kelly and many in the industry’s executive ranks have mastered are logistics and shipping, commercial strategy, manufacturing operations, project management and JV management.

Kelly’s advice to executives unnerved by the energy transition veered toward that of Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh. But Kelly also noted that experience would not be enough—the most important skill he acquired in his career was an agile mindset.

“The reason I’m sharing this with you is I’m sure many of you out there are thinking, how do I fit into this energy transition?” he said. “Frankly, the answer is by using the skills you’ve learned over your career overlaid with this agile mindset—so, inquisitive, learning, being able to develop, wanting to develop and open to change."


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