On engineers’ playground, OTC oddities dazzle the layman (photos)

By Allan Turner
Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON — Houston’s 45th annual Offshore Technology Conference opened its four-day run at NRG Park Monday, offering nearly 100,000 attendees a look at the oil industry’s dazzling future and a nostalgic glance at the pre-industrial past.

Between opening day’s educational sessions, oil company delegates from more than 130 nations strolled through the vast NRG Center, where exhibitors displayed gargantuan oil field equipment rarely seen within four walls.

They sampled “Texas style” hot sauce concocted by a Houston industrial lubricants company. And, in an incongruous a nod to the Old West, they snapped photos of Eli the horse and his Texas cowgirl rider.

Sponsored by 13 oil industry-related professional societies, the OTC is billed as the world’s foremost conference dealing with offshore oil exploration, drilling, production and environmental protection. It is Houston’s largest annual convention, bringing an estimated $100 million to the city each year.

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Jerry Carroll, junior past president of International Electrical and Electronics Engineers, one of the OTC’s sponsors, touted the conference — the largest of four OTC hosts internationally — as the prime chance for offshore professionals to network with colleagues, hear and interact with industry experts and see the latest in technology.

Duke Tadiodi, a projects manager for Nigeria’s Flowline Energy Service, said he expects to recruit expert help for his company’ projects at this year’s conference. Aisha Alsulaili, a contracts team leader with Kuwait Oil Co., said she hopes to enlarge the pool of potential contractors to operate and maintain her company’s new heavy oil facilities.

As in past years, the OTC is an engineer’s playground.

Monday’s sessions included offerings such as “State-of-the-art SCR Qualifications Program for 24 inch x 40 mm Thick Clad Pipe with Upset Ends for the Browes Project,” “Hydraulic Fracture Design for the Lower Tertiary Gulf of Mexico Optimization Under Uncertainty,” and “Evaluation of a Composite Device with an Embedded Non-intrusive Water Cut Sensing Platform for Production Tubing and Well Completions.”

On view in the sprawling exhibit hall was Baker Hughes’ LaunchPRO wireless top drive cement head, an impressive but — to the uninitiated — totally perplexing device.

Attendees munched sugar cookies emblazoned with the company’s logo and chatted with exhibit staffers in polysyllabic engineer-speak. Phil Ward, who helped design the device, reflected on its emergence from drawing board to physicial hardware. “Up to this point,” he said, “it’s only existed in digital reality.”

But what does it do?

“You’re asking the right question,” said a booth staffer, “but you’ve got the wrong person.”

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The right person, Baker Hughes representative Ben Ronck,tried to explain the device, which is used in well cementing operations.

“It’s all remote controlled,” he said. “It’s safer and faster.”

At the booth of Jet Lube, the Houston-based producer of what a company marketing assistant called the “Cadillac” of such products, a universally understandable product at last was on display: hot sauce. Specifically, “Big Red High Temperature Texas Style Red Pepper Sauce (May irritate sensitive stomachs) Liquid Fuel for Your Food.”

Although Jet Lube produces an array of products for the industry, hot sauce is not among them.
Still, heartened by the comprehensibility of cayenne pepper, a visitor stumbled past green laser images of Earth’s continents projected on the carpet, exhibits of explosion-proof cameras and battery systems to power valves in search of more comprehensibility, finding at last the booth of Red Wing work shoes.”

“Please say something eloquent about shoes,” the visitor pleaded.

“I don’t think you can say anything eloquent about shoes,” responded territory sales manager Eddy Coates. “Shoes are very simple.”

Outside the convention center, technological exhibits sprawled in baffling array.

Forum Energy Technology (“Let’s Talk Valves”), Parker Engineering (“Engineering Your Success — Fittings, Valves, Piping, Flanges”) and Dragon drilling rigs (“Make It Happen”) all were present.

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But attention at times seemed focused on the most comprehensible — and overtly Texan — exhibit of all: Eli the horse, and Shawna Hankinson, his rider. Both stood Texas tall as international visitors edged up to their corral on the asphalt plain surrounding the convention center to snap photos.

Hankinson, who also works at Twin Peaks, a Houston restaurant and sports bar, became familiar with horses during her West Texas childhood. She can’t ride, she confessed, but she looked the part as — attired in shorts, boots and cowboy hat — she perched atop Eli’s tooled leather saddle.

But, the pre-automobile, pre-offshore drilling exhibit’s Texas aura was only a veneer.

Eli and Hankinson were working on behalf of a German equipment maker, ZF, which touted its oil field engines as “handling the big horses.”


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