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Technology Draws Oil Companies to Houston

High energy prices, coupled with rising demand, are putting pressure on the oil and gas industry worldwide. Many companies are finding and developing new, underwater fields. More than 67,000 representatives of the industry from 110 countries gathered recently in Houston, Texas for the annual Offshore Technology Conference. VOA's Greg Flakus was there and has this report.

This is where experts on offshore drilling and resource development gathered to find new ideas and new technology. Companies that provide that technology, as well as oil production services, were also here, ready to show what they have, and what they can do.

Canrig, a company based in Magnolia, Texas, had several tons of drilling equipment on hand. Canrig's vice president of marketing, Gregory Kostiuk, said communicating with visitors is a primary challenge. "There are people here from every corner of the globe and our three primary languages that we run into here are Russian, Chinese and Spanish."

To answer that challenge, Canrig had personnel on hand who could speak Russian, Ukrainian, Chinese, French, Spanish and Arabic. Foreign participants, like their North American counterparts, are looking for every possible piece of equipment that can improve their efficiency and the quality of the oil they produce.

Steve Dale, of the Brookfield Engineering Company, came to show off his viscometers. They measure the viscosity, or thickness, of oil as it comes out of the ground. "We measure the viscosity of crude oil real time because just a tenth of a percent variation in viscosity can mean millions of dollars a year in extra money for the oil companies," he explained.

With so many competing booths in the exhibit hall, some companies resorted to enticements outside the oil industry. Others offered video displays to demonstrate what they can do. One such company is U.S. Underwater Services of Burleson, Texas. It sends divers around the world to make underwater repairs on oil rigs.

Demand for these services has been especially high in the Gulf of Mexico, following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita nearly two years ago. Company president Michael Erinakes says some platforms are still in need of repair.

"The hurricane, when it came through, it damaged a lot of platform structures, causing bending of the braces and what we have done is go in underwater, at a variety of depths, re-engineer or repair, and put the rig back to a permanent status," said Erinakes.

He says U.S. Underwater Services has a method of isolating sections of an underwater structure to allow divers to weld deep underwater, on site. "It allows us to install a habitat over an effected area, where we seal into that area. We first pump air into it to diffuse the air and get all the water out and then we send in heated argon or helium down and what this does is prepare the seal, heat the seal to about 120 degrees and then we effectively weld it through a series of boots that are installed on it."

By doing such work on site, companies avoid the expense of dismantling rigs and bringing them ashore for repairs. Experts say that by the year 2030, the world will consume 50 percent more oil than it is consuming today. That increasing demand fuels the growth of energy technology and services companies and keeps people coming back to the Offshore Technology Conference every year.

Some footage provided by U.S. Underwater Services