OTC attendance hits a 30-year high, at 104,800

Attendance at the Offshore Technology Conference hit a three-decade high this year, the second-highest attendance in conference history.

Organizers said 104,800 people attended the four-day show at Reliant Park, up 17 percent from 2012.

And Thursday afternoon, they began to tear down.

“It’s been crazy,” Miranda Knippas said as she prepared to wind up four days at the NALCO Champion booth at the Offshore Technology Conference.

“We’ve given away cookies, pens. It’s been good.”

Last year’s conference drew 89,400 people, itself the most since the boom years of the early 1980s, when the conference drew more than 100,000 people for several years.

And while an official breakdown of international visitors wasn’t available, Edward Stokes, vice chairman of the board of directors said the international nature is at the heart of the conference.

“The vision of OTC is to be a global conference,” he said. “All the countries share one thing. They need energy, the safe development of oil and gas.”

There now are Offshore Technology Conferences in Brazil — the next will be in October — and one will be held in Asia in 2014. Several have been held to focus on technology used in Arctic exploration; both have been held in Houston, although Stokes said the next Arctic conference will be in Europe.

But the Houston conference is the original and largest, and the four days were packed with a mix of wow-factor big equipment in the exhibits and high-profile speakers, including federal officials who gave industry leaders a heads up on coming changes in federal rules, and wonky technical sessions aimed at engineers and other specialists.

Morten Saue of the Norwegian Technical Institute was among the speakers discussing engineering standards for offshore wind turbines Thursday; he suggested the wind industry had learned from the offshore oil and gas industry.

But a lot of the action at OTC happened outside the sessions.

Informally, companies and job-seekers traded job openings and resumes in search of a match, and companies tried to touch base with their existing customers.

“It’s great for cementing relations,” said Kay Marshall of Expro, a service company based in Aberdeen, Scotland.

The company threw itself a 40th anniversary party on the exhibition floor Wednesday, complete with a band, cupcakes and the Houston Texans cheerleaders.

“Great fun,” Marshall said.

The Offshore Technology Conference is also serious business, reflecting the increasingly global nature of the energy sector.

Zhang Mi, chairman and president of HongHua Group, was there for the eighth year in a row, hoping to connect with the Chinese equipment manufacturer’s global customers.

The company, whose U.S. headquarters is in Houston, will launch a drilling rig designed specifically for the U.S. market later this year, Zhang said.

It will be produced in Houston, he said.