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Energy Conference in Houston Includes Focus on Climate Change, US Housing Woes


Around 1,900 people have gathered in Houston, Texas for the annual conference sponsored by Cambridge Energy Research Associates, or CERA, a Massachusetts-based firm that brings major energy players together every year to examine the world's energy picture. This year's focus includes some issues that are not strictly energy related such as climate change and the US housing crisis. VOA's Greg Flakus has more from Houston.

This year's CERA week participants are examining a wide range of issues affecting the world economy, demand for oil and the prospects of suppliers to keep up with demand. Three of the world's top economists are here this week: Former US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Harvard University Economics Professor Kenneth Rogoff and Yale University's Robert Shiller.

One session examines the mortgage and housing problems in the United States and the impact it could have on the overall slowdown in the economy. Another focus is climate change. R.K. Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is on hand and there are a number of sessions devoted to examining alternative fuels.

CERA's Senior Director of Cost Research Richard Ward tells VOA that the idea of the weeklong conference is to examine all issues affecting energy demand and production so that planners can move forward with a clear view of what's ahead.

"One of the things that is important about CERA week is that we bring together people with diverse views of the future, we debate them and we try to find the strengths and weaknesses of things and help people make better decisions about where they are going to build the energy infrastructure of tomorrow," said Richard Ward.

One key player in the world's oil market is Saudi Arabia, the nation considered to have the largest reserves. Abdallah Jumah, president of the Saudi state oil company, Saudi Aramco, told participants Tuesday that his company plans to expand production capacity to 12 million barrels a day by the end of 2009. He rejected claims by Houston analyst Matt Simmons and others that Saudi Arabia's main fields are in decline and that the country will not be able to continue expanding its production.

Such discussions are what draw many participants to Houston from halfway around the world. The state of the energy market is of critical importance to countries like India where rapid economic expansion is based on availability of oil.

Sunjoy Joshi came to the CERA conference from a New Delhi research organization to learn more about the world energy situation.

"Energy security is one of the key areas we are looking at and, as a focus area, we are looking at energy security for India, in particular, and the new, emerging global order," said Sunjoy Joshi.

Demand for energy in both India and China have driven up the price of oil from around $10 a barrel in 1998 to a recent record high of just over $100 a barrel. The price has since fallen back, but Sunjoy Joshi says he sees nothing on the horizon, not even a possible recession in the United States, that would significantly slow growth in the two Asian nations.

"The surprise is that both India and China have been able to maintain their very high rates of growth," he said. "Oil prices started spiking about 2002 and they just kept on going up. People started looking at $30 and $40 and $50 and said that now the slowdown was going to come. But these countries did not slow down."

Joshi says neither India nor China have been big consumers of natural gas compared to other nations, but that both nations are now looking to modernize their energy infrastructure and reduce pollution by using more gas. This could put more pressure on the natural gas market in the years to come.

The CERA week conference continues through Friday.

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