Offshore Techngology Conference offers optimism to workers in hard-hit oil industry

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It's no secret the oil patch has hit a rough patch, but at the Offshore Technology Conference there is optimism, given that struggle brings innovation.

It's no secret the oil patch has hit a rough patch. Low prices forced by a demand far beneath supply. But at the Offshore Technology Conference there is optimism, given that struggle brings innovation.

"We are as interested as everybody else in seeing a correction as soon as possible back to a higher level of production," said Karen Burquest with 3M Oil & Gas. "We're really looking at this as an opportunity to support the industry right now in the current state that it's in."

At 3M, they're displaying everything from fire suppression fluids and single person evacuation harness to sanding equipment and first aid supplies.

Across the vast hallway, with some 2,100 vendors, Caterpillar is playing up its new "Smart Iron," by which clients can monitor heavy equipment remotely on desktops and cell phone apps.

"Customers don't want to have any downtime because they might be running less equipment or they might be trying to meet the needs because of the lower cost," said Caterpillar's Martin Baehr.

There are also job opportunities, even in a down market, for those already in the industry and those looking to get in that aren't necessarily traditional energy jobs.

"People who understand big data analytics," said Jon Mainwaring with industry analyst RigZone, "who can do engineering, and work with networks, worth with technologies, that kind of thing."

As for the news everybody, and nobody, is talking about -- the failed Baker Hughes/Halliburton merger -- neither company would talk about it at the conference. However, longtime industry analysts suggest it could save jobs on the administrative side of both firms.

"It could be quite good for the workers in the industry," said Mainwaring, "because generally what happens when you have any kind of merger and acquisition, opportunity companies are looking for synergies, and most synergies are achieved through job cuts."

Still, Baker Hughes announced it would reduce its costs by $500 million by the end of the year -- another sign that the low price of energy hasn't finished making things rough on Houston's bread and butter industry.
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