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Energy & Environment

Inside Energy: CERA Conference wrap up

For a week each year, a hotel in Houston, Texas becomes the center of the world of energy.

Energy executives from around the globe as well as top government officials descend on the city for the annual IHS CERA week conference.

Our Inside Energy Team was also there for the event, which drew to a close on Friday. Dan Boyce reports.

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At an event sponsored by many of the most powerful companies in the world, those who pay to get in the door can be sure they’ll get plenty of free drinks.
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Energy kingpins in dark suits fill a vast hall of the Hilton Americas Hotel, plucking lavish appetizers from the silver dishes of wandering wait staff.

An intimidating mixer for the non-kingpin?
Well, for his liquid courage tonight, Nick Brown has chosen whiskey.

BROWN: “Just straight whiskey.”

He’s an analyst for Montana’s legislature, and says it’s actually not all that hard to chat people up.

BROWN: “Even though, it feels like kind of the elite of the energy world.”

CEOs from BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, among others.
Brown was here last year too, and says the tone of the event has clearly changed.

BROWN: “It’s just so different.”

Last year - with oil prices topping $100 dollars a barrel, the conversations were all about where’s the hottest new place to drill? what’s the next play?

BROWN: “Just feeling of almost exuberance.”

Now, a year later.

BROWN: It’s more about cost control measures and ways to streamline processes.”

The sense is nobody really saw it coming - this fast -  oil prices dropping more than half in six months, industry layoffs which some estimates put at 75-thousand jobs lost so far.

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During the first day of the conference, a call to action comes from Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski.

The new Chair of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee has strong words regarding one of the conditions of a proposed nuclear deal with Iran.

MURKOWSKI: “We shouldn’t lift sanctions on Iranian oil while we are keeping sanctions on American oil.”

She’s referring to a 40 year old ban on exporting American crude oil overseas.
A ban put in place during an oil shortage in the 70s she feels is deeply outdated in today’s climate.

MURKOWSKI: “It makes no sense.”

Lifting the ban would give oil companies new markets for the crude oil they continue to stockpile now.

Murkowski will be introducing a bill to lift the ban this year. Her clarion call is echoed by many at the event, ranging from oil giants like Hess Corporation CEO John Hess.

HESS: “It’s high time we lift the self-imposed sanctions.”

To Pioneer Natural Resources CEO Scott Sheffield.

SHEFFIELD: “We need it lifted.”

At least one notable retort, though.

MONIZ: “In a situation where we still import 7 million barrels of crude oil, per day,

That’s US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz

MONIZ: “I don’t think an overly compelling argument has been made on the basis of kind of pragmatic economics.”

As big oil wants bans lifted and red tape cut, companies are also looking internally.

Harold Hamm is the CEO of Continental Resources, the biggest operator in the Bakken formation of North Dakota and Montana.

In a downturn, Hamm says they can focus on efficiencies.
He says his company has cut costs up to 25 percent in the last four and a half months alone.

HAMM:  “You can only do that in times like this, with everybody running wide open like we were, you know, you couldn’t do it then.”

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In between the cocktail parties and keynotes, bomb-sniffing dogs patrol the perimeter of the Hilton.

Police guard hallways outside closed-door executive meetings.

The trimmings that come with a gathering of billionaires.

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Many of the attendees, though, are not here to broker enormous deals or craft game changing strategies.

Engineer Katherine Leskin works with a top company, she’s reluctant to say which one.

LESKIN: “It hasn’t been passed through marketing, so probably not.”

That company got her a day pass, and she’s grabbing some of those free drinks with college friends.

They’re standing near a display of posters showing which drilling regions are not producing the profits they were last year.

The tone might be different here this time, but Leskin feels the core mood is still upbeat.

LESKIN: “Maybe people recognize that the oil and gas industry is cyclical and that there will be peaks and valleys.”

Little comfort for the folks in the industry whose jobs are on the line.
But for those attending a conference like this, job security is probably not an immediate concern.

Inside Energy is a public media collaboration focusing on America’s energy issues.
 

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