Could blockchain technology help stabilize oil prices?
As the price of oil remains in the high-$40, low-$50 range, every cog in the oil industry is scrambling to reduce costs and streamline sales.
The oil industry has long been a leader in the adoption of different technologies. But, despite advancements made in recent years, even pushing breakeven costs to record lows, the industry is widely ignoring one of the most important developments of the century. Blockchain technology.
Blockchain tech – the “Buzzword of 2017” describing the “Internet in the 1990s” – is seeping into every major industry that it touches.
As we enter a whole new world in finance and technology, confidence and efficiencies in banking may be at an all-time low. Many financial institutions are scrambling to find solutions to reduce errors, speed up transactions, and provide greater transparency, which customers are demanding. This has led the financial sector toward the implementation of smart contracts and distributed ledgers. Blockchain is catching on so quickly, in fact, IBM expects 65 percent of major banks to be using blockchain technology in some fashion within the next 2 years.
Blockchain technology is already being used in bond transfers, remittances, fraud reduction, payment processes, and trading platforms. Transactions are processed quickly, safely, and with significantly greater security, saving banks millions in the process.
One of the largest impacts that this technology may have on the banking industry, however, is the “Know your customer” process in which banks identify their clients with the goal of preventing money laundering, corruption and terrorism. The financial sector spends anywhere between $60-million and $500-million each year to remain compliant with these regulations. Because a blockchain is public ledger, the transactions are more transparent, allowing information to be accessed more easily and without a long turn around.
These revelations have even led major governments to delve into blockchain technology.
In another recent study by IBM, 9 out of 10 government organizations have suggested that they will be using, or at least experimenting with blockchain technology by the year 2018. This new tech can be appropriated in astounding ways by governments. Distribution of social services, contract management, regulatory compliance, identity management, and even voting and tax collection stand to be impacted significantly.
The technology is taking hold especially fast in the world’s largest oil producing region. The race is on in the GCC to adopt blockchain tech, and UAE is in the lead.
With the “Dubai Blockchain Strategy,” the smart city aims to utilize blockchain tech in all government entities by the year 2020. “We’re taking the responsibility here in Dubai to make sure that we shape this nascent technology and make it happen in a way that really suits [the] city’s needs,” said Dr Aisha bin Bishr, the director general of Smart Dubai Office. It is estimated that the city will save $15-20 billion per year in banking transactions alone. Further efficiency gains in land contract management, payment collection, and business registration and licenses are sure to propel the city into a fintech future.
Perhaps the most important disruption to note, however, is where the public and private sectors meet.
As the demand for efficiency and transparency continues to grow, the oil industry is at a crossroads. Still using paper contracts and outdated trading platforms, the implementation of distributed ledgers and smart contracts could leapfrog the industry into the digital age. While it may not seem as exciting as submerged oil rigs or robot controlled power grids, revamping the Big Oil’s back office stands to save the industry a whole lot of money going forward.
One of the biggest impacts that this technology will have on the oil industry is in how oil and oil futures are traded. Right now, oil being traded at such incredible volumes through producers, suppliers, contractors, subcontractors, refiners, and retailers, that attempting to keep up with the real-time movement of crude is often in vain. With a scaled blockchain, transactions will happen instantaneously, allowing anyone and everyone to track the transactions – reducing costs, stabilizing prices, and providing a level of transparency which was previously impossible. Marco Dunand, CEO of Swiss trading giant Mercuria noted:
“The energy industry will have to digitalize more and more in oil production, refining, shipping. So traders will also have to participate. It is a pre-archaic process. So introducing blockchain will allow to pass title from buyer to shipper to seller without going through massive paperwork of bills of lading.”
But there are other benefits, as well…
The oil and gas industry is heavily regulated and enforcers of the regulations may struggle to keep up, but using blockchain technology, all data is secured and easily accessible at any given time. This is a plus for the regulators as it will help keep Big Oil in check, but it is also a huge leap forward for the industry. This form of data sharing brings a new level of communication and transparency into global collaborations from which complicated lawsuits and lengthy legal processes often emerge. Additionally, shareholders will be able to follow exactly what is happening in the industry, enabling them to make more educated decisions in how they invest their money.
In such a globally connected economy, the impact of transitioning to blockchain tech will be profound and will likely turn any industry on its head.
In particular, the oil industry.
Rig counts and production data will be available in real time, freely available to anyone. Regulatory compliance will be easily tracked. Data will be shared seamlessly between joint ventures. The time it takes to cut a deal will be reduced significantly. And perhaps most importantly, the middle man essentially disappears, reducing costs for every sub-section of the industry.
Even if the oil industry has lagged behind in adopting this technology, it is bound to happen. As oil prices struggle to find stability, the industry races to reduce costs, and consumers increasingly demand greater transparency, could this new tech be the answer?
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