May 16, 2019

OTC Houston 2019 – celebrating 50 years with a focus on the future

Posted by Andrew Bradshaw
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The dust has just settled on the 50th annual OTC conference and exhibition in Houston and, as ever, the event produced many interesting points and conversation topics.

And while there was recognition that turning 50 was a significant landmark – there was much more debate on where the show, and the industry, sees itself in the future.I had the privilege of sitting in on some genuinely thought-provoking debates over the event’s four days, and hearing the views of a number of forward-thinking leaders about what they envisage the next few years will hold for the offshore sector.

Topics discussed ranged from what the technological requirements of future fields will look like to the need to demonstrate clear support for the energy transition to renewables, increasing business activity (particularly an international resurgence in merger and acquisition activity) and how to attract the young engineers of tomorrow.

With the battle for the ownership of Anadarko looming large over OTC, eventually won by Occidental over Chevron, business growth and M&A was a hot topic on the exhibition floor.

Mike Sibson, an investor in the Aberdeen office of BGF, the UK and Ireland’s most active investor in growing businesses with several supply chain companies in its portfolio, shared his own thoughts on the potential for increasing M&A activity with knock on benefits for the service sector as confidence in offshore activity grows.

“We’ve had a significant turnover in assets in the North Sea recently and new owners want to do things differently. That’s a positive thing from the point of view of the market we operate in,” he told me.

“A turnover in assets creates an anticipation that things are going to happen and that can generate more confidence for the service sector.”

Another key insight was offered by Roderick Larson, CEO/President of Oceaneering, who discussed the need for the industry to embrace transition, already being adopted by some of the operators that have repositioned as energy providers rather than oil and gas companies.

Mr Larson also discussed the technological revolution taking place, particularly in the subsea sector, where he called for an improvement on incremental change to achieve a reduced carbon footprint and greater human safety. That included the greater adoption of automation, better battery technology, improved connectivity offshore and more widespread use of augmented reality and artificial intelligence.

He shared a subsea vision where ROVs and AUVs would sit permanently on a seabed charge pad and be activated remotely as required to support field operations.

David Clark, Lloyd’s Register’s global energy director, called for the industry to adopt a holistic view of energy, not least to help attract the future talent necessary to achieve the required transition.

While the records will show the number of attendees at OTC was down for a fifth consecutive year at 59,200, there is no doubt that confidence in the offshore sector has been on an incremental rise over the last three years as the industry emerges from the downturn in the middle of this decade. Traditionally, attendance at the show was used in some circles as a rough indicator of the health of the industry – but the gap between show attendance and industry confidence is widening. This would seem to be another indication that the oil and gas industry post-2014 is no longer adhering to the rules of the past, and that present and future guidelines have yet to be defined.

It was also interesting to note a perceived reduction in the amount of hardware on display at OTC this year. It seemed that more booth designers had adopted an open plan design, perhaps to enable their clients to use the space for business discussions rather than showing kit. This again is possibly indicative of a shift in company focus with digital displays being used to demonstrate product benefits.

Like the industry it represents, OTC is changing to meet the needs of the market. The show is proof that, even after 50 years as the global hub for oil and gas professionals, it hasn’t lost its golden touch.