With the price of oil at near-record levels, there?s a new focus on efforts to find more of what powers the global economy. Experts on oil and natural gas exploration and production gather every year at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston.

If you are in the market for anything having to do with finding, developing and transporting oil and gas from offshore locations, this is the place to be. 

The Offshore Technology Conference drew 51,000 people to Houston this year. More than 8,000 of them came from other countries.

Here they could see everything from drilling equipment to special kits for fixing leaky pipes.

Much of the work done offshore is carried out by so-called oil service companies, like Houston-based Halliburton.

Halliburton's Director of Strategic Marketing Eric Johnson says there is little expectation of making major new oil or gas discoveries on land now, so the real action is offshore.  "We know that about 70 percent of the known reserves are already locked up in fields that are 30 years old or older. That is what we call mature assets.  The exploration that is taking place around the world is primarily taking place in offshore areas."

Eric Johnson says companies are now making major investments in deepwater drilling--going down 3,000 meters below the surface in many cases before reaching the bedrock into which they drill. He describes the process, "As you go deeper into the offshore area, you are dealing with much higher pressure, you are also dealing with higher temperature down in the hole and the enormous pressure on the well itself down-hole in a deepwater situation is terrific."

To make matters worse, the farther platforms are from shore, the more dangers they face from pirates or terrorists.

The head of the San Diego-based Sidus Solutions Company, Leonard Pool, came here to sell hi-tech security cameras that work in tandem with radar installed on oilrigs. He explains, "What this device will allow you to do is actually tie that radar information into a computer and that computer will then direct our camera equipment to the exact same location and we get to look at it in two methods. One will get a standard video image of it and, if it is a nighttime situation, we also have a thermal image of it."

Offshore operations are expensive and technologically demanding, so Mr. Pool says protecting them is a top priority. "These are major concerns for the oil companies. They want to make sure that this multi-million-dollar-asset that is sitting out there all by itself is as safe as they can make it."

The annual conference also offers an opportunity for companies to explore ways of helping each other.

This year, China's largest manufacturer of oil field machinery, known as BOMCO, announced the formation of a joint venture with Houston's M and I Electric Industries and another company to produce oil rig equipment for sale in Asia.

M and I Electric's Art Dauber says his company's electronic expertise fits well with the Chinese company's manufacturing capabilities. "The Chinese bring to the table a large market, a cost-effective place to manufacture, good quality products and good volume.  My guess is that, in a normal year, the Chinese market is probably half of the whole world's demand for rigs."

BOMCO representative Jin-Quan Wang is equally enthusiastic. He says his company will benefit from the expertise in electronics of the American company and he sees growing opportunities for the partnership in Asia and elsewhere.