CERAWeek Diary: Houston buzzing ahead of ‘oil man’s Davos’ — or was it the 16-hour flight?

CERAWeek by IHS Markit is appropriately held in Houston, in the ‘Republic of Shale.’ (Supplied)
Updated 11 March 2019

CERAWeek Diary: Houston buzzing ahead of ‘oil man’s Davos’ — or was it the 16-hour flight?

  • CERAWeek by IHS Markit is widely regarded as Pulitzer-winning historian of the oil industry Daniel Yergin’s show
  • Much like the Steigenberger Grandhotel Belvedere in Davos, the Hilton Americas is the epicenter of the CERA experience

HOUSTON: Downtown Houston was buzzing on the eve of the Texan city’s big event: The oil man’s Davos — otherwise known as CERAWeek by IHS Markit — the annual gathering of the masters of the energy universe.

Nobody actually uses the “by IHS Market” bit in casual conversation — it’s just CERAWeek. But because the event’s wonderfully efficient communications people spend a lot of time specifying exactly how the event should be referred to, it would be churlish not to give it its full brand name — on first mention at least.

It is also widely regarded as the Daniel Yergin show. The Pulitzer-winning historian of the oil industry — as author of “The Prize” — is absolutely everywhere at the five-day event, from crack-of-dawn breakfast meetings to more informal late-evening gatherings.

I almost expected him to be manning the concierge desk at the Hilton Americas-Houston hotel and conference center, where the event takes place and where most of the energy movers and shakers stay.

CERAWeek — with the invaluable help of information provider IHS Markit — has got so big in recent years that it has taken extra space in the George R. Brown Convention Center across the sky bridge to stage its “Innovation Agora” forum, a celebration of all that is high-tech in the energy world. Completing the classical allusion, it also houses a “Lyceum Program” of workshops and other interactive technology fireworks.

The theme of the main conference this year is the “New World of Rivalries.” No doubt the organizers mean the three-way pull between the US, Saudi Arabia and Russia for dominance of the global oil industry, which has been given real substance by the incredible recent production record of the US shale industry.

Texas, with its booming Permian Basin, has been at the heart of that incredible growth. One Texan oil services worker I chatted to on the 16-hour flight from Dubai — maybe that’s the real reason I thought Downtown Houston was buzzing — called The Lone Star State the “Republic of Shale.”

That phrase might catch on. Texas has in the past had a “redneck” reputation, but lately its politics have become far more progressive — some of the local Republicans are actually lobbying for more relaxed attitudes to tax and other social issues. Should we tell the US president?

Much like the Steigenberger Grandhotel Belvedere in Davos, the Hilton Americas is the epicenter of the CERA experience. The night before the event was formally launched, the lobby bar was a nest of intrigue. Internationally renowned energy journalists doorstepped executives from all round the world. The air was thick with Arabic, Russian and English, with a lot of Spanish in the background, not least at Pappasito’s Cantina, a Tex-Mex fun-palace near the CERA HQ.

Over the way, The Grove bar and restaurant — scene of high-stakes negotiations in recent years — was virtually empty on CERA-eve, but a steady stream of visitors, many from the Middle East, were enquiring about dinner reservations later in the week. Expect some imminent revelations from the internationally renowned energy journalists.

But here is the nice thing about Houston, and Texas. Just around the corner from the Hilton Americas, there is a lovely open area called Discovery Green: An expanse of green amid the high rise glass and concrete, with a roller rink (this is Texas) and a beautiful cosmopolitan family feel to it — not a wall in sight.

There, somebody has set up a display of children’s paper windmills, extending over an area the size of several tennis courts. A giant (again, this is Texas) wind-blowing machine makes all the windmills go crazy at the same time, gyrating madly in the humid air. A sign said: “Se el viento — be the wind.” I think it’s a message from enlightened Houstonians to Big Oil, and the wall-builders.

Palestinians in financial crisis after Israel, US moves

Updated 22 March 2019

Palestinians in financial crisis after Israel, US moves

  • A Ramallah-based economics professor said the Palestinian economy more generally, remain totally controlled by and reliant on Israel
  • Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since 2014

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The Palestinian Authority faces a suffocating financial crisis after deep US aid cuts and an Israeli move to withhold tax transfers, sparking fears for the stability of the West Bank.
The authority, headed by President Mahmud Abbas, announced a package of emergency measures on March 10, including halving the salaries of many civil servants.
The United States has cut more than $500 million in Palestinian aid in the last year, though only a fraction of that went directly to the PA.
The PA has decided to refuse what little US aid remains on offer for fear of civil suits under new legislation passed by Congress.
Israel has also announced it intends to deduct around $10 million a month in taxes it collects for the PA in a dispute over payments to the families of prisoners in Israeli jails.
In response, Abbas has refused to receive any funds at all, labelling the Israeli reductions theft.
That will leave his government with a monthly shortfall of around $190 million for the length of the crisis.
The money makes up more than 50 percent of the PA’s monthly revenues, with other funds coming from local taxes and foreign aid.

While the impact of the cuts is still being assessed, analysts fear it could affect the stability of the occupied West Bank.
“If the economic situation remains so difficult and the PA is unable to pay salaries and provide services, in addition to continuing (Israeli) settlement expansion it will lead to an explosion,” political analyst Jihad Harb said.
Abbas cut off relations with the US administration after President Donald Trump declared the disputed city of Jerusalem Israel’s capital in December 2017.
The right-wing Israeli government, strongly backed by the US, has since sought to squeeze Abbas.
After a deadly anti-Israeli attack last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would withhold $138 million (123 million euros) in Palestinian revenues over the course of a year.
Israel collects around $190 million a month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through its ports, and then transfers the money to the PA.
Israel said the amount it intended to withhold was equal to what is paid by the PA to the families of prisoners, or prisoners themselves, jailed for attacks on Israelis last year.
Many Palestinians view prisoners and those killed while carrying out attacks as heroes of the fight against Israeli occupation.
Israel says the payments encourage further violence.
Abbas recently accused Netanyahu’s government of causing a “crippling economic crisis in the Palestinian Authority.”
The PA also said in January it would refuse all further US government aid for fear of lawsuits under new US legislation targeting alleged support for “terrorism.”

Finance Minister Shukri Bishara announced earlier this month he had been forced to “adopt an emergency budget that includes restricted austerity measures.”
Government employees paid over 2,000 shekels ($555) will receive only half their salaries until further notice.
Prisoner payments would continue in full, Bishara added.
Nasser Abdel Karim, a Ramallah-based economics professor, told AFP the PA, and the Palestinian economy more generally, remain totally controlled by and reliant on Israel.
The PA undertook similar financial measures in 2012 when Israel withheld taxes over Palestinian efforts to gain international recognition at the United Nations.
Abdel Karim said such crises are “repeated and disappear according to the development of the relationship between the Palestinian Authority and Israel or the countries that support (the PA).”
Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including now annexed east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and Abbas’s government has only limited autonomy in West Bank towns and cities.
“The problem is the lack of cash,” economic journalist Jafar Sadaqa told AFP.
He said that while the PA had faced financial crises before, “this time is different because it comes as a cumulative result of political decisions taken by the United States.”
Abbas appointed longtime ally Mohammad Shtayyeh as prime minister on March 10 to head a new government to oversee the crisis.
Abdel Karim believes the crisis could worsen after an Israeli general election next month “if a more right-wing Israeli government wins.”
Netanyahu’s outgoing government is already regarded as the most right-wing in Israel’s history but on April 9 parties even further to the right have a realistic chance of winning seats in parliament for the first time.
Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since 2014, when a drive for a deal by the administration of President Barack Obama collapsed in the face of persistent Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.