Around 1,800 oil and gas company executives, government energy ministers and other players in the world energy sector have gathered in Houston for the annual Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) conference, known as CERAWeek. This year's meeting will have a special emphasis on developing new sources of energy.

The theme for this year's conference is "The New Prize: Energy's Next Era," and that encompasses everything from extraction of oil from Canada's extensive tar sands to development of solar power and ethanol.

CERA Senior Advisor James Rosenfield is one of the three men who founded the conference in 1983. He tells VOA that many of the big oil companies represented here are already investing a lot of money in alternative energy programs.

"A lot of the new economy of energy is going to be driven by the international oil companies such as Shell, BP and Exxon, who are really investing billions and billions of dollars in R and D (Research and Development) for new sources of supply, solar alternatives, fuel cells, distributed generation, really across the spectrum," Rosenfield said. "In the case of BP, their focus has been on electric power, actually, using a lot of their technology to look at alternative and renewable sources of electric power generation."

Rosenfield says using CERAWeek to focus on such issues as alternative energy, non-conventional oil sources and conservation could have important consequences worldwide because participants represent every aspect of the international energy business.

"We will have exploration and production companies, national oil companies, integrated oil companies, but also utilities, energy end users, consumers such as Dow and Boeing and some of the automotive companies as well and then the financial institutions that provide the capital, in many cases, for the industry," he said.

Included in the mix of participants are representatives from several member nations of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, known as OPEC. One of the chief speakers at the opening ceremony Tuesday will be Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister, Ali Naimi.

OPEC leaders have at times expressed concern over US and European efforts to develop alternative energy because it could divert investment from development of conventional energy sources. In an appearance here in Houston last year, the head of the Saudi oil company, Aramco, said his nation's vast oil reserves represent a reliable supply of energy that alternative energy programs are not likely to equal any time soon.

But Rosenfield says he does not believe the Saudis are against development of other energy sources.

"I think that the Saudis actually take a view that we are in this together, that we need to build the world's oil and energy supply, to build a stable and diversified supply base," he added. "We will hear from Mr. Naimi and what he has to say, but, while they are committed to an oil and hydrocarbon economy, they also recognize that over multi-decades we are going to be looking towards a lot of different sources of supply as well."

In his state of the union address last week, President Bush called for programs that would lessen U.S. dependence on foreign sources of oil and gave special emphasis to the development of biofuels like ethanol. Brazil, which has a successful ethanol program based on fuel from sugar cane, is also represented at CERAWeek and Rosenfield says he expects a lot of discussion among participants about such programs.

The conference wraps up on Friday.