The oil and gas industry is facing a downturn exacerbated by the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, but companies in the sector are well-placed to help fight the spread of coronavirus.

Many companies have donated money to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund, despite having recently made cutbacks. The fund purchase and ship protective equipment for medical workers, as well as issuing guidelines for the public. It will also put money toward research, helping develop vaccines and tracking the spread of the virus.

The fund has produced a plan outlining the need for “at least $675m for critical response efforts in countries most in need of help through April 2020”. However, it has said this need for funding may increase as the pandemic progresses.

Safety begins at home, and companies are introducing new protocols to keep workers safe. Social distancing measures have led to massive staff cuts at offshore installations in the North Sea. Maintenance projects there and worldwide have been cancelled until the pandemic is under control.

UK oil and gas company BP has removed thousands of workers from the Tangguh LNG facility expansion project worksite in Indonesia, because of its “remote, closely-confined workspace”. It has donated $2m to the WHO fund so far.

In Brazil, one of BP’s joint ventures is using ethanol from sugarcane intended for fuel use to make disinfectant. It is then distributing this to local health services to help 1.4m at risk of coronavirus.

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The company has also started offering free fuel to emergency service vehicles in the UK. It is supporting efforts in Australia, Spain, Turkey and Poland, while giving fuel cards to emergency service workers in Germany. It has also supplied free jet fuel to four air ambulance charities in the UK.

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French company Total is making a similar effort, donating fuel vouchers worth $54.39m (€50m) to hospitals across France.

Total Chairman and CEO Patrick Pouyanné said: “In this period of crisis, Total’s teams remain mobilised to enable French people to make all their necessary travel arrangements. The group has decided to make this practical gesture of support for our hospital staff, who are working to ensure the health of patients.”

Meanwhile, US giant ExxonMobil is working on the redesign and manufacture of a reusable protective mask. Working with the Global Centre for Medical Innovation, the company hopes a reusable mask would help with the shortage of protective gear needed to protect against coronavirus.

The mask would use disposable cartridges containing filter fabrics and would withstand sterilisation. Because of this, it would not need to be replaced. In a statement, ExxonMobil said the new mask design covered the mouth and nose better than existing N95 masks.

The US Food and Drug Administration is currently testing the masks. ExxonMobil has said it would help manufacture and deliver the masks as soon as possible.

Donations to help fight coronavirus

Refining company Valero has donated $1.8m to fight the virus in the cities where it operates. In a statement, it said it would “support organisations on the front lines helping people most in need”.

Chairman and CEO Joe Gorder said: “The health and the safety of our employees, our families and our communities are critically important. We are blessed to be able to continue supporting our community partners as we all work together to overcome this extraordinary situation.”

US operator Chevron has given $7m to food banks, education and health services, and is matching employee donations two-to-one.

Austrian oil, gas and petrochemical company OMV is donating $1.09m (€1m) of fuel cards to the Austrian Red Cross and Caritas Austria, a food and shelter charity.

OMV Chairman and CEO Rainer Seele said: “These aid workers accomplish great things. We are helping them get around, which is an essential factor in delivering provisions and support to people in need as well as emergency aid”.

Three weeks ago, before Austria stopped large gatherings, Seele said coronavirus had not yet affected its garage sales. He told reporters: “People only have one tank to fill, after that, they have to drive away. People aren’t bringing jerry cans, and there’s no danger of us running out of Mars bars.”