SXSW for energy execs

Mega oil conference brings high-tech security, a BP "sorry", Clinton, W. and Kissinger to Houston

Mega oil conference brings high-tech security, a BP "sorry", Clinton, W. and Kissinger to Houston

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Lights, camera, action! It's CERAWeek time, one of the most important conferences for oil industry executives of the year. Photo by Fayza A. Elmostehi
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"Until the economy is back on its feet, I would not encourage the country to have a debate on energy taxes," said CEO John Hess in a press conference at CERAWeek. Photo by Fayza A. Elmostehi
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Commodities, pricing, cost, design, supply chain, defense, risk, security, sustainability, oh my! The sky's the limit on topics and conversation at CERAWeek. Photo by Fayza A. Elmostehi
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News_CERAWeek_energy conference_oil conference
News_CERAWeek_energy conference_oil conference

Step aside, Bush Intercontinental. Your security measures don't even hold a radio wave to the lockdown at IHS CERAWeek 2011.

Well, I suppose you'd be scanning bar codes on conference attendee badges, too, if you were having a former secretary of state and two former presidents speak to high-powered oil executives (pun intended!).

Appearances by Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush notwithstanding, this five-day annual bonanza is an energy lover's paradise, taking up temporary residence on the first through fourth floors at the Hilton-Americas downtown.

If you don't know what it means to heart the energy industry, let me paint the scene for you.

You'll find yourself adrift in a sea of business attire — black, navy, khaki and gray-clad men, with a few decidedly fierce-looking women sprinkled in (you go, girls).

And where you might find heads bowed to the gods of smartphones at a conference like SXSW, at CERAWeek, the order of the day is still the traditional phone call — no matter what language, no matter what voice level.

But it's not all severity and suits up in this summit.

"I'm interested in understanding the energy angle from an oil perspective," said Beth Lowery, former vice president of environment, energy and safety policy at General Motors, and currently a principal at GreenOrder, an environmental management consulting agency in New York City. "We have to take environmental responsibility. Energy policy for the long term is a national security issue."

Judging by the turnout, we're guessing energy policy is a global issue, too. With over 60 countries represented at the event, it's a wonder that everyone leaves town on the same page. Or do they?

"We provide translation services for the Chinese and Russian delegations," said Leo Galperin, president of Language Connections, a Boston-based company that has provided language interpretation for CERAWeek for the last 15 years.

It's a good thing, too. After 30 years going strong, CERAWeek still packs in the surprises in any language. Like BP CEO Robert Dudley saying he was sorry for the oil spill in his speech on Tuesday afternoon.

Yeah, that really happened.

With impossible zingers like that, how does this year's conference stack up to years past?

"This year, it's not as academic," said Camilo Marulanda López, a three-year veteran of CERAWeek, and vice president of strategy and development at Ecopetrol, based in Bogotá, Colombia. "It focuses more on a business point of view for the industry."

Action over analysis? Sounds like CERAWeek is off to a productive start already.