Something happens the first week of May each year in Houston, Texas that lends testimony to one of the City’s sobriquets, ‘energy capital of the world’. OTC. The annual Offshore Technology Conference held at the Reliant Park, also home to Astroturf and the Astrodome, draws people involved in the energy business from both hemispheres – officially 129 countries.
OTC is big business for Houston – hotels booked solid, restaurants queues out the door, taxis and hire cars almost impossible to find and the Galleria, Houston’s answer to Bond Street, does a steady business in take home gifts.
For me OTC is a time when people from all over the world converge on my adopted town. The spare bedroom is invariably in use and the evenings are full with drinks and dinners and schmoozing before returning to OTC the next day for more energy talk.
The panels and keynote speeches covered a multitude of issues facing the industry, safety and risk management being high on most people’s lists after the Macondo disaster in the Gulf of Mexico last year.
Back on the floor of the Reliant Center I am reminded of kindergarten as bright red, blue and green models of bits, and pieces, crucial to the extraction and production of oil and gas are displayed under slivers of spotlights. Those relatively new conference exhibitors earn their way, year by year, from the outdoor tents into the Center, where they start at the back of the hall and inch forward and upward with tenure. The conference floor is a model maker’s dream – rigs for all conditions and countries, wire-line trucks, LNG plants, cranes and ships all displayed with swagger, and just the occasional young woman in short shorts and high heels.
But OTC for all its marketing razzmatazz means business. Small operators dream big and spend four days walking the aisles talking up their products and services in the hopes one of the big boys will snap.
Countries and continents converge on aisles. Purple vanda orchids propped amongst rig models extolled the benefits of rig building in Singapore. Around the corner Korea preferred a more direct method by telling the world their rig building and accommodation satisfied the requirements of the UK HSE standards. The commercial section of the British Commonwealth and Foreign Office, UK Trade and Investment’s attempted to lure business to Britain with the help of a kilted Scot, and brochures outlining the benefits of Scottish living. Strangely none mentioned the haar (fog) that settles over the granite of Aberdeen that chills the bones and hearts of many who live there.
Africa was well represented with banks, oil service and energy companies all vying to be the most colourful. Suits, on this aisle, competed with men in traditional clothing, and colourfully dressed women flitted around draped with stamped bags full of goodies from the multitude of stands, all attempting to woo the passer-by with free pens, candy, lanyards and caps.
Saudi Arabia rubbed shoulders with Denmark, Malaysia with Russia but the predominant language was English with a slew of accents that made eavesdropping a fascinating exercise. Haircuts are often a clue in the where’s he from game! Foppish definitely Italy, Spain or South America. Buzz says America, and short back and sides competed with scruffy to scream Britain. And strangely this year there were more beards than normally seen on a baseball diamond.
I was encouraged to climb the steps and peer into a bright orange life raft and admire the compactness of an area licensed to hold 60 people though not comfortably, particularly if some were ill or injured. Along with emergency provisions and 3 litres of water per person was a pair of oars and a box of matches that seemed obsolete in 2011, but are part of the regulations laid down almost a hundred years ago, after the Titanic sank.
Ed Riley, CEO of Mount ECP in Brazil, summed up the first week in May for many, OTC gives me a chance to meet my partners and customers and renew contacts in one place, in one week, once a year. Houston deserves to be called ‘energy capital of the world’ and the City welcomes the global connections OTC presents, and I welcome a chance to see old friends from over thirty years on the sidelines of the industry.