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.