The coronavirus pandemic has shocked the oil industry, flooding companies with more supply than the world can burn and bankrupting small players. The damage has only just begun. “In a few years’ time, when we look back on 2020, we may well see that it was the worst year in the history of global oil markets,” said Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), on a call with journalists. “April may well have been the worst month. It may go down as Black April in the history of the oil industry.”
However ugly the view backwards is at that point, what remains will look very different too. Many players will have restructured or disappeared. The companies that survive will likely face reduced political power and need to grapple more urgently with the reality of climate change. That will be a sea change. For as long as almost anyone roaming the planet today has been alive, oil has powered our lives and shaped our politics and way of life.