The oil and gas industry trade show rolled into town this week. For three days conference delegates sat through strategy sessions, chatted with exhibitors and attended networking coffee sessions, lunches, gala cocktail parties and dinners. The halls of the Accra conference center were filled with exhibitors stands: from Tullow Oil, lead partner in Ghana’s Jubilee Field, to distributors of work boots and catering services, everyone wanting in on Ghana’s oil business was here.
The strategy sessions I sat in on were for the most part company sales pitches. Speaking on “Macroeconomic Trends and Global Crude Oil Flows,” Shell’s global leader for crude trading, Mike Muller, spent 20 minutes extolling the virtues of working with Shell. Stuart Wheaton, Global Development Manager for Tullow Ghana, whetted delegates appetites with his vision of Ghana’s future as a major African oil producer – with Tullow very well positioned, of course.
Like lots of trade shows the Ghana Summit was a mixture of money and technical talk. I marveled at all the machinery and saw just how much deepwater exploration and drilling resembles space travel. There were amazing remote-controlled robots, cameras able to withstand the pressure in water thousands of meters deep (remember the “spill cam”) and all kinds of wild-looking tools that would look good on the set of any science fiction space movie.
The Civil Society Platform, the organization that put out the Ghana readiness report card, had a stand, too. As one of their members told me they’re just trying to introduce a reality check to what is otherwise an industry love fest.
The Summit seemed a million miles removed from Takoradi and peoples’ concerns about Ghana’s fledgling oil business, but I imagine that’s how oil industry shows must be the world over. Oil runs virtually everything yet there’s a total disconnect between the oil industry and the public.
With my work I’m trying to bring more attention to oil, to make oil stories more pertinent. I would like to believe that if we – i.e., the general public – knew more about the oil industry, how it works, how our laws facilitate certain practices, how our tax dollars subsidize multinational oil development projects, we could press for changes that will make the industry more responsible and accountable to local communities. Naïve? Perhaps, but someone’s got to do it.
I picked up business cards and managed to chat with a few company reps. Considering how many of my emails and phone calls go unanswered, this alone made the event worthwhile. See you in 2012!