Houston still world’s energy capital, BP exec says

Lamar McKay, then upstream CEO, speaks at the Offshore Technology Conference in 2013 in Houston. ( James Nielsen / Houston Chronicle )

Despite the crash in oil prices and the loss of thousands of jobs, Houston remains the world’s energy capital, BP’s number two executive said on Wednesday.

Lamar McKay, speaking at the Greater Houston Partnership’s fourth annual State of Energy address, said the city is BP’s largest office, an “exceptionally important” base in the world.

“It has remained, as it was decades ago, the energy capital of the world, probably more today than it ever was,” McKay told the banquet hall at the Hilton Americas downtown. “Houston itself has, over the last few decades, really become a global city. It attracts loads of creative people, from all over the world.”

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The almost three-year-old crash in oil prices devastated the industry here. The partnership estimates the city lost 81,000 oil and gas jobs, or one-in-four in the sector. And yet the slump didn’t have the impact of the downturn of the 1980s, at least in part because refineries and petrochemical plants got a boost from the low oil and gas prices, leaders said.

But the downturn, coupled with the shale revolution, turned the energy world on its head, McKay said. Companies had to cut operations, layoff employees and increase efficiency.

“We’ve been dealing with an extraordinary amount of simultaneous change,” he said.

Between 2005 and 2016, U.S. oil production increased 71 percent, natural gas 50 percent.

“That,” McKay said, “has arguably been the fastest and the most significant energy transformation that I can recall in my career.”