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Lower Oil Prices Translate To Smaller Crowds At OTC

Last year’s Offshore Technology Conference set an attendance record of more than 108,000. It’s unlikely to match that this time.

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The first-ever oil-industry themed version of “Monopoly” lets players buy up companies, like Halliburton and National Oilwell Varco, in place of the usual mix of real estate and railroads.

 

On the floor of NRG Center, amid the displays of heavy machinery and safety gear, stands a 5-foot stack of long, slender boxes. Each box bears a picture of bustling offshore activity, with a helicopter buzzing around rigs and drillships — along with a familiar red and white logo.

“Go to Jail.”

“Yeah.”

It’s the first-ever oil-industry themed version of “Monopoly.” Developed under license from Hasbro, the game lets players buy up companies like Halliburton and National Oilwell Varco in place of the usual mix of real estate and railroads.

Brion Palmer, president of Houston-based AtComedia, came up with the idea playing the regular game at home with his two girls.

“If you think about it,” Palmer says, “it’s [Monopoly is] the very first time kids are exposed to the business world, in many cases. They’re learning about buying and selling property, managing money, going bankrupt, going to jail, paying taxes, so it really exposes them to a lot.”

Palmer began selling the board games last week, to mark the 40th anniversary of Offshore Engineer, AtComedia’s flagship magazine. The launch comes at a rough moment for the industry. The drop in oil prices late last year battered many of the companies featured on the board, each of which sponsored its respective square.

Crude oil is now trading at around $60 dollars a barrel by the West Texas Intermediate benchmark, its highest level since December. But the months’ long slump has taken a toll on this year’s Offshore Technology Conference (OTC)

“The conference seems to be a little bit thin compared to previous years,” says Doug Marti, a market development manager for Trelleborg Offshore Norway. He’s been coming to OTC for more than 30 years. “The whole flow of people coming in and out, it’s not what it was, say, last year at this time. You can get a definite sense of it. The other thing is, talking to clients or customers or other people here in booths, where they would normally send 100 people, they’ve only sent 50 or 80 people this year.”

If the atmosphere is more subdued than last year, it’s hardly one of defeat. Mark Gravouia, a product line manager for McCoy Global, is at OTC demonstrating an electric bucking unit, a large, yellow machine used for assembling long joints of casing.

“The slowdown in drilling activity has reduced the need for casing,” Gravouia says, “So [for] this type of unit, demand has slowed quite a bit. Other bucking unit product lines — it hasn’t slowed as much because they’re long-term investments that they basically dedicated the money to before the slowdown.”

Even with oil prices down from last year, some niches of the industry are still thriving. Flor Dimassi is CEO of Global Speak Translations, a Houston-based company provides written and live translation services for the energy sector. She’s been busy for months, thanks to Mexico’s recent energy sector reforms.

“Projects are still coming our way,” Dimassi says. “Here this week, we just picked up two large projects from two new customers. So, we’re doing well.”

Back at the AtCoMedia booth, Brion Palmer is optimistic that the price of oil is stabilizing. But he recognizes the mood of the industry is still serious. He’s hoping his version of Monopoly will help take the edge off.

“You know, at this time of economic uncertainty for the industry, it provides a little levity,” Palmer says.

He’s aiming to help with more than laughs. He’s donating a portion of the games’ sales to Oilfield Helping Hands, a charity to help oilfield families who’ve hit hard times.

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Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media’s business reporter, covering the oil...

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