Energy Executives Adjust To Price Swings

Oil and gas executives are meeting this week in Houston to discuss how to survive falling demand, $40-a-barrel oil and evaporating investment in new projects. Most of the company chiefs who are attending the annual conference organized by Cambridge Energy Research Associates have been through some of these cycles before, but not at this dizzying pace.

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And with oil prices below $40 a barrel, the titans of the global oil industry are gathering in Houston this week to figure out how to survive those falling prices and shrinking demand. NPR's John Burnett has more.

JOHN BURNETT: Most of the oil and gas executives meeting in Houston for the annual conference held by Cambridge Energy Research Associates have been through this cycle before. Price swings are the nature of the business, but no one had ever seen anything like this. Crude fell a dizzying 70 percent, from a high of a $147 a barrel last summer to around $40 today. Now many oil companies have shelved development projects until the price rises. Nariman Behravesh is chief economist at IHS Global Insight, an economic forecasting service.

Mr. NARIMAN BEHRAVESH (Chief Executive and Executive Vice President, IHS Global Insight): We are having incredible volatility in the price of all kinds of energy, and that makes any kind of planning, any kind of investment, anything that looks to the future very, very difficult. And I think that's the thing that probably is almost overwhelming everybody at this conference.

BURNETT: What's more, the industry has a hangover after eight years of fossil fuel friendly policy makers in Washington. Today, the talk coming out of the Obama administration is a lot more about alternative energy, like wind and solar, than traditional energy. Saudi Arabia's oil minister Ali Ibrahim Al-Naimi summed up the sentiments of the gloomy gathering in his speech last night. He said: In the world's rush to embrace renewable energy, investors must not overlook the central role that fossil fuels will continue to play in the global energy diet.

John Burnett, NPR news, Houston.

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