Top energy conferences of 2012

After a year full of energy conferences in the energy capital of the world, we decided to highlight the ones that gave us the most to talk about. And not just because of the quality of their food.

So, what better way to acknowledge those most inspiring of energy conferences than another online list?

To be clear, there is no shortage of energy conferences in Houston. There are summits of women in energy and showcases of wind energy innovation. There is even a platform for discussing the latest developments in Arctic drilling —  held in one of the hottest cities in America.

With so much energy industry talent and know-how in Houston, it comes as no surprise that it is a hub for discussing challenges and sharing approaches to overcome them.

So here are the best conferences of them all:

1. IHS CERAWeek – This exclusive gathering of world energy executives is the crème de la crème of energy conferences, a Davos-like summit of the leading energy thinkers and decision makers on the planet. Regularly heard at IHS CERAWeek are the top executives of the world’s largest energy-related companies, including addresses in 2012 from Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson and Dow Chemical Company CEO Andrew Liveris, among others. Hosted by global research and information firm IHS and named after the company’s Cambridge Energy Research Associates division, IHS CERAWeek is arranged under the direction of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Daniel Yergin. It is regularly a source of news and of discussion of the most substantial developments and challenges facing the industry, including regulatory hurdles and geopolitical disruptions. It will also cost you (or your employer) a pretty penny, with ticket prices this year costing as much as $7,250 for a week-long pass. IHS CERAWeek 2013 will start on March 4.

2. Offshore Technology Conference – While IHS CERAWeek has the suits, OTC has the heavy iron – the hulking machinery that moves the industry. At OTC, engineers and executives discuss the latest innovations in drilling technology, seismic imaging and subsea infrastructure while exhibitors display massive, gleaming equipment on an expansive floor. The conference drew more than 89,000 attendees in 2012 and brings together the leading experts in offshore exploration and production, many of whom are based in Houston. It is frequently a source of news (and industry cheerleading), but some of the most fascinating details about industry innovations are hidden among scores of technical presentations given by researchers and engineers. And many of them are not the most engaging of speakers, regularly reciting text, in a sleep-inducing monotone, from projected presentation slides. Executive panels at the conference are more colorful, however, and they offer a look at offshore industry trends and strategy. OTC 2013 is set to begin May 6.

3. High Horsepower Summit – In the aftermath of the natural gas boom, a group of gas advocates arranged a conference to explore how to get more of the world’s heaviest fuel users to give up diesel. Although somewhat self-serving, the High Horsepower Summit, which examined the potential for natural gas use in high horsepower applications, established itself on the leading edge of discussion related to use of the newly abundant resource in North America. From train companies to cruise businesses to drilling rig operators, the interest in using natural gas was high. The conference revealed a strong and active movement by companies to switch from more-expensive diesel to run their fuel-intensive operations. It also detailed current efforts to work with natural gas in high horsepower uses while examining potential future developments in heavy engines. The conference also featured one of the better quotes of 2012, from Caterpillar executive Joel Feucht. Although the 2012 summit was in Houston it is not clear if it will return or where it will be located.

4. Total Energy USA Conference – This new Houston conference earned a spot in our top five for its efforts to take a look at the total energy picture, a sort of all-of-the-above look that typically falls into the background at other gatherings in the city. While other energy conferences highlighted the need to develop more energy resources to meet growing energy demand, the Total Energy USA Conference singled out energy waste and opportunities for more efficient energy use that would cut down the need for more energy. That perspective is coincidentally absent from conferences dominated by oil and gas producers, who predictably advocate for more exploitation of natural resources. The Total Energy USA Conference also focused on renewable energy, energy storage, fuel cells, nuclear innovations and electric grids with more depth and weight than the marginal attention given those areas at other conferences. This year’s conference is set to begin Nov. 19.

5. World Shale Oil & Gas Conference – With its global perspective, meant to share local shale drilling insight to interested parties from around the world, the World Shale Oil & Gas Conference offered a good dose of balance that encouraged honest conversations on industry challenges. Among the major industry issues in focus at the conference were the large costs involved with freshwater use in hydraulic fracturing. An environmental scientist was also among the main speakers, an unusual sight for an energy industry conference. He was given the opportunity to report on methane gas leaks connected to shale production, a source of criticism from activists. This year’s conference is set to begin Nov. 4.

Other Houston conferences deserving of mention were the Women’s Global Leadership Conference in Energy and Technology, Hart Energy’s series of breakfast presentations from analysts and the schedule of energy-oriented speakers at Rice University’s Baker Institute.