OPINION: This column started 2020 with the prophetic words: “Unhappy New Year!”

It was a comment on a US military strike in the Middle East, which had raised geopolitical instability to the top of the agenda and sent crude prices soaring to $70 per barrel.

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Little did we know that this really was going to be one of the unhappiest new years in living memory, with a global pandemic destroying oil demand and sending prices — albeit briefly — down to sub-zero within months.

As the coronavirus took hold and oil company share prices plunged, pressure also intensified on the industry to meaningfully tackle climate change.

Total chief executive Patrick Pouyanne summed it up succinctly by telling staff that the French supermajor faced a threefold calamity: financial, Covid-19 and climate.

Cost-cutting became the central strategy across the oil and gas industry, with exploration and production spending slashed and workers laid off.

By the end of April, Shell was cutting its dividend for the first time since World War 2 and others were to follow suit.

The formerly prolific, but now heavily-indebted US shale drillers were fighting for survival, while the services sector was reeling. Industry leaders Schlumberger and Halliburton took huge financial writedowns, while a bevvy of offshore drilling contractors filed for bankruptcy.

By mid-year, the end of the Oil Age was being forecast as Shell and BP between them wrote off $40 billion-worth of investments.

By August, ExxonMobil was pushed out of the Dow Jones Industrial Average of 30 leading stocks.

It was the first time this had happened for 92 years and ExxonMobil's place was taken by cloud-based software company Salesforce.

Tech stocks accounted for 27% of the S&P, compared to 3% for oil and gas by the end of the third quarter.

US oil prices started to recover to $40 per barrel, but this was in part aided by domestic production falling by 20%.

By October, Shell had raised its dividend, but admitted that, in its view, oil demand had probably peaked forever during 2019. The future now was for Shell and other oil companies to transition from oil towards a low carbon future, it said.

BP also began to provide more details about how it planned to transition into a low-carbon giant investing more in renewables.

Total, Eni and Equinor were talking as much about electric batteries and floating wind farms as fossil fuels.

US oil and gas groups were slower off the mark, with ExxonMobil distinctly cool about the rush to renewables.

And yet one of the political landmark events in 2020 was the toppling of US oil champion Donald Trump in November's presidential election.

The White House will, from January, play home to Democrat Joe Biden, who has promised to immediately rejoin the Paris climate agreement and hasten a “green” revolution in the US.

Still, the year looks like it will end with Brent crude prices back around $50 with oil and gas stocks having risen about 25% since September.

Opec and key producers in the Opec+ alliance have steadied nerves by keeping production down, while new vaccines have brought optimism about eventually overcoming Covid-19.

It has been a tumultuous year for oil and gas, but most companies have survived and arguably have fast-forwarded internal changes they should have made earlier.

That leaves the industry financially weaker, but in some ways better placed for the challenges — and opportunities — of 2021.

(This is an Upstream opinion article. This article has been corrected to show that, by August, ExxonMobil was pushed out of the Dow Jones Industrial Average of 30 leading stocks, not the S&P 500.)