The downcycle may have left many companies in the energy industry, particularly upstream, battered as spiraling profits sucked away thousands of jobs and activity slowed until commodity prices rose.

But it didn’t crush optimism altogether.

A study recently released by the Black & Veatch Insights Group, “Strategic Directions: Natural Gas Industry Report,” showed that more than 70% of the oil producers surveyed had either an optimistic or very optimistic view on future growth of the global oil and gas industry between now and 2020.

Perhaps understandably, the level of optimism among those surveyed was the lowest among oil and gas industry services providers, at 60.9%.The percentage, however, was higher for pipeline operators and local distribution companies—at more than 87% and 89%, respectively.

“Factors stoking optimism for segments of the natural gas industry are plentiful. In North America, local distribution companies are awash in low-cost supplies that are helping to expand natural gas’s use as a source for power generation,” Black & Veatch said in the study. “Gas is replacing many legacy coal units while also supporting the future promise of renewable power generation and emerging battery storage technology.”

The level of optimism shrinks when looking at the years beyond 2020, especially for oil producers. The survey showed 65.1% have an optimistic or very optimistic outlook on the industry between 2020 and 2030.

“Thinning revenue streams and diminished appetites for capital investment have left many producers with abundant supplies but increasingly few places to send it profitably,” the study stated.

The number of people with happy thoughts could be a lot lower, considering how sharply profits have fallen for some companies. However, some are starting to see their net incomes rise.

An increase in global energy demand might also be adding to optimism . The International Energy Agency forecasts demand growth of 1.2 million barrels per day (MMbbl/d) in 2016 with a similar gain in 2017. Slowing growth in recent quarters may have something to do with the mixed picture. Or perhaps rising commodity prices are boosting confidence with Brent at just over $50/bbl and U.S. crude futures just shy of that mark.

Though far from its highs, the Henry Hub natural gas price is also increasing—up to about $3.20 per million British thermal units (MMbtu) from below $1.50/MMbtu in November 2015.

The study pointed out that “underserved global markets, particularly in Asia, are capitalizing on low natural gas prices to spur economic development. With limited infrastructure to produce and distribute natural gas, these markets will rely on suppliers such as the United States and Australia and will need to invest in additional pipeline infrastructure and transport projects.”

This means opportunity for LNG trade and technology.

“Today’s market orthodoxy may be hiding an opportunity,” the study said.

Players also appear bullish on technology and operational efficiencies as well as their abilities to help meet global demand.

Just more than 46% of those surveyed said their organizations place a very high or high priority on investing in new technologies that utilize real-time data to improve customer experience and satisfaction.

“To maximize production from current assets, survey respondents listed implementing operations and maintenance improvements as the most common strategy [71%],” the study said. “Using new/innovative technology was ranked second, selected by 42% of respondents. … Organizations that invest in finding operational efficiencies now will be well-positioned to yield returns as the market rebounds.”

Black & Veatch pointed out “interesting optimism” in responses it received regarding when the low-price market with correct itself, specifically for the global LNG supply overhang. More than 40% believe the overhang will reverse between 2021 and 2025, while 16% believe a correction will come after 2026.

“With this backdrop, today’s market orthodoxy may be hiding an opportunity,” Black & Veatch said in the study. “All markets correct themselves, and how stakeholders across the natural gas industry address the current correction will go far in determining natural gas’s full potential as world governments step closer to fulfilling agreements related to climate change.”

Velda Addison can be reached at