CERAWeek: High attendance despite low prices

Some years – particularly when energy is a hot commodity – CERAWeek’s high attendance makes hobnobbing outside the main conference ballroom an elbow-to-elbow affair. This feels like one of those years despite slumping oil and natural gas prices.
CERAWeek handlers say attendance is projected to be on par with last year’s record numbers. Keynote addresses on Monday by Shell Chief Executive Jeroen Van Der Veer and Saudi oil minister Ali Naimi were packed. The lobby is buzzing with energy watchers interested in natural gas this morning.
Dan Yergin, CERA’s chairman, said he expects attendance of about 2,200 from 100 different countries. There does appear to be a higher international contingent present this year, including large delegations from China, Russia and a handful of Latin American countries.
That might be because six of the top 10 resource discoveries in 2008 were in Latin America. And many Asian-based companies – and governments in that region – still have cash and are in the market for oil and gas assets.
Today some of the talk, in addition to U.S. gas supply and demand, is about Russian production and the flow (or lack thereof) of gas to Europe. The first speaker: H.E. Gerhard Schroder, former Chancellor of Germany and current Chairman of Nord Stream, a Gazprom-controlled company spearheading a new natural gas pipeline between Russia and the European Union.
Despite the high turn-out, conference organizers fretted about dwindling travel budgets since so many corporations have slashed all non-essential expenses in the face of the recession. So CERAWeek launched a new online feature this year.
For $7,500 – roughly the same price as the entrance fee for one person to get access to the conference – companies including Chevron, BP and Exxon Mobil have bought enterprise-wide licenses that allow employees to view the expert panels and breakout sessions on their computers from the office.
Upside: It’s exponentially cheaper to hear what the CEOs, consultants and policy wonks have to say.
Downside: No networking.