With social distancing orders in place across the world amid the coronavirus pandemic, innovation has been at the forefront of the latest relief efforts by the oil and natural gas industry to assist communities in need.

BP plc has donated $2 million to the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund to provide critical aid and supplies to medical professionals and patients. It also has begun delivering drinking water by canoe to an African town in Mauritania after its border was closed because of the pandemic.

The river island of Ndiago normally relies on clean water transported daily from Senegal, but the virus forced the Mauritanian government to close its border with Senegal, leaving Ndiago, a town of 2,000 residents close to BP’s Greater Tortue Ahmeyim project, without a drinking water source. After meeting with Mauritanian authorities, BP and its partners repaired an old water tank and organized canoes to transport water to communities in need.

“The water-by-canoe method is a temporary solution,” said BP. The London-based supermajor already is working with nongovernmental organizations and local authorities to permanently upgrade Ndiago’s water infrastructure.

Meanwhile, BP Bunge Bioenergia, a 50/50 joint venture with Brazil’s Bunge Ltd., has adapted some of the sugarcane-based ethanol it produces to make a product suitable to disinfect surfaces. The product is to be donated for use by the national health system in 32 municipalities surrounding the 11 operated sites. The donation is part of a joint initiative coordinated by Unica, the Brazilian sugarcane industry association, which plans to donate 1 million liters of ethanol to the national health system.

Elsewhere, BP also is providing fuel at no cost to emergency services vehicles at ivarious fueling stations during the coronavirus crisis, and it is serving free coffee to emergency workers in Spain, noting that “police and ambulance drivers cannot work on gas alone.” Also in Spain, the company’s Castellon refinery donated 20,000 facemasks to regional hospitals, while a new retail initiative allows Spanish customers to donate MiBP loyalty points to Spain’s Red Cross, with BP tripling their value.

In addition, BP is offering free delivery of food and convenience goods from some UK retail sites, while colleagues at the Neuhof lubricants blending plant in Hamburg have donated 1,200 spare breathing masks to three hospitals in northern Germany.

“Covid-19 is a global challenge that can only be met by countries, communities and companies working together,” BP CEO Bernard Looney said.

BP is joining dozens of other energy companies around the world that already have launched major initiatives to manage during the pandemic.

Tulsa-based Williams has pledged $1 million to provide community support focused primarily on emergency response, food insecurity, health and human services and kindergarten-12 distance learning solutions for public schools. The Williams Foundation has established an intake form for grant requests and encourages 501(c)3 organizations, first responders and public schools to apply online.

“Not only does the coronavirus pandemic continue to create disruption in our communities, but we are also closely monitoring the collapse in oil prices and the potential fallout this will have in those communities whose livelihood comes from this industry,” said CEO Alan Armstrong. “At Williams, we are fortunate to have a strong, resilient business, and strong, healthy communities are critical to our operational success. 

“We recognize how critical first responders, nonprofit organizations and schools are to the longevity and overall well-being of a community, and we want to ensure their ability to meet needs not only today, but in the long term as well.”

Healthcare Support

Some energy companies are tailoring their services to assist healthcare professionals across the world.

Bloom Energy Corp. and Almo Corp. have joined forces to refurbish unused, out-of-warranty ventilators that would be shipped to state agencies and hospitals throughout the country. The effort came about after California Gov. Gavin Newsom reached out to Bloom CEO KR Sridhar for support, with the state providing 24 unused ventilators that had been idle. Overnight, Bloom engineers fixed them and had all 24 refurbished by the next day. Bloom estimates that it could refurbish up to 1,000 ventilators/week.

“This is a great story about Californians looking out for each other,” Newsom said. Sridhar added, “Community isn’t defined just by physical proximity; it’s coming together in a time of need to act in the interest of the greater good. That’s what this partnership represents, and we certainly welcome others to join.”

As part of the process, Almo is using its national logistics network to ship the ventilators to/from Bloom’s manufacturing facilities in California and Delaware for refurbishment and then to state agencies and hospitals in need. Meanwhile, Bloom is working with biomedical engineers at Stanford Health Care to test the functionality of the refurbished ventilators.

In Houston, AirLiquide SA also has ramped up its medical gas production capabilities to meet the current demand. The gases, technologies and services company has been communicating with its hospital customers through its region-based specialists to appropriately manage the supply of the most critically needed medical gases, such as oxygen.

In addition to maintaining the highest inventory levels at customers’ onsite liquid medical oxygen storage units and within the fill plants of subsidiary Airgas, Air Liquide also is working to shift excess cylinder assets to areas with the greatest anticipated need and is preparing portable assets to serve the eventual oxygen needs of mobile treatment centers.

“As we navigate through these unprecedented times, Air Liquide remains committed to serve the critical needs of customers in healthcare, food, pharmaceuticals, energy and refining with excellence, so that these vital industries and services continue to operate for the good of our communities and for the resilient and sustainable growth of our economy,” said CEO Michael Graff.

Woodlands, TX-based chemicals giant Huntsman Corp. has begun producing a hydro alcoholic solution to produce hand sanitizer in the Swiss Canton of Vaud and the General Hospital in Lausanne, Switzerland. At its manufacturing site in Monthey, the company plans to produce around 50 tons of hand sanitizer to donate to hospitals and pharmacies, which are facing increasing shortages. The first shipment of five tons was to be delivered immediately, with a stable supply of three to five tons/week thereafter.

In China, Huntsman recently donated methylene diphenyl diisocyanate to enable tprefabricated polyurethane insulation panels to be manufactured for hospital construction, as well as products to manufacture personal protective equipment for medical personnel.

“We are very humbled to be in a position to contribute what we do every day to help in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic,” said CEO Peter Huntsman. “As this virus makes its way to every continent, we will continue to leverage our experience and knowledge in other regions, including the U.S.”

TechnipFMC plc teams in France have donated more than 10,000 protective face masks to health professionals on the front lines of fighting the outbreak, including to health workers at the La Défense Health Center, the local hospital in Sens, Burgundy, and at SOS Médecins, which sends doctors directly to a residence instead of sending an ambulance.

Ineos, a leading European producer of hand sanitizer ingredients isopropyl alcohol (IPA) and ethanol, plans to build two factories in the UK and Germany each capable of producing one million bottles/month. The company expects to concentrate on meeting the needs of front-line medical and care services as well as making the “pocket bottle” hand sanitizers for personal use for people across the UK and Europe. Ineos indicated it would supply hospitals, schools, places of work, pharmacies and supermarkets.

Utility Efforts

A growing number of U.S. local utilities do not plan to disconnect customers and are waiving late fees. Emera Inc. subsidiaries Tampa Electric Co. and TECO Peoples Gas have gone the extra step of supporting customers who cannot pay their bills.

The Florida companies are donating $500,000 to their Share program, which is administered by the Salvation Army, to provide assistance during the pandemic. The utilities are giving another $500,000 to other charitable partner organizations working on the front lines of the pandemic, providing critical support to the community through meals, housing and other assistance.

“Our goal is to provide assistance and peace of mind so customers can stay focused on what’s most important -- keeping themselves and their family safe and healthy,” said Peoples Gas President T.J. Szelistowski. “It is important for our customers to know that we’re here for them.”

Northeast gas and electric provider Avangrid Inc. and its foundation have announced a $2 million commitment to support local and national organizations that support emergency needs, while TravelCenters of America Inc., the nationwide operator of the TA, Petro Stopping Centers and TA Express travel center network, is focusing on its more than 21,000 employees who continue to work and serve customers during the pandemic.

The company is guaranteeing first quarter bonuses for all field managers, regardless of performance; issuing cash bonuses tol field employees to be paid over the next six weeks; providing free meals for all on-site employees working shifts of six hours or more; and granting 80 hours of paid sick time for field employees with a confirmed Covid-19 diagnosis.

“We are fortunate to have such passionate employees who are committed to the millions of professional drivers hauling crucial supplies around the nation right now,” said TA CEO Jon Pertchik. “We are so grateful for the sacrifice and dedication of our valued team working hard so that we can remain open for the drivers who are relying on us.”