On a shockingly humid June day in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I walked through one of the 2012 World Gas Conference’s 10 thankfully well-cooled exhibit halls in the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. Although I was nearly 10,000 miles from home, many of the 220 exhibitors were instantly recognizable – Chevron, BP, Shell, ExxonMobil. Their exhibits, however, were closer in size to small homes than the human-scale booths you often see in exhibit halls, even at other heavy-industry shows. And although I couldn’t even begin to comprehend some of the new and emerging technologies artfully displayed on supersized LCD flat screens and touchscreens, one thing was already very clear: With the plethora of countries represented by the attendees and exhibiting companies around me, natural gas’ rising prominence in the energy marketplace isn’t limited to just one country, or even a few.
This is a global concern that spans from the United States to Europe to the Middle East to Asia and even Antarctica, and the World Gas Conference (WGC) is the Olympics of an industry on the brink of becoming the world’s main supplier of energy.
Eyes and Ears
According to the International Gas Union (IGU), the organization behind WGC, by 2030 the world will need at least 60 percent more energy than it needed in 2000. Citing the volatile pricing and politics of oil and last year’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, speakers at WGC201 2 reiterated over and over that natural gas can be a main ingredient in a diversified, stable energy mix.
Indeed, the resource is quickly rising in popularity. IGU estimates that soon natural gas will surpass coal as the world’s second most popular energy source (behind oil ), ushering in a “golden age of gas” in the coming years. Natural gas is considered by many industry experts to be more afford- able than other energy resources, cleaner burning than coal, and safer than nuclear power, but some reports show t hat extraction methods can have harmful effects on the environment. Thanks to this less-than-perfect media image, an ever- increasing output of new technologies and discoveries in the field, and a constantly changing energy landscape, WGC has expanded beyond the borders of its own industry and i s now a subject for the eyes and ears of a world waiting for solutions.
One step into WGC2012’s media center and it was immediately apparent that those eyes and ears are many and eager. More than 350 journalists from Bloomberg Businessweek, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and a long list of industry trade journals packed the room. “With the theme ‘Gas: Sustaining Future Global Growth,’ [the conference] is a platform to spark off strategic directions, policies, and competencies for the growth of the industry,” Datuk Anuar Ahmad, chairman Ceremonious and Serious The 2012 World Gas Conference attracted more than 5,299 delegates from 90 countries and addressed the world’s exploding energy needs. of the conference’s National Organizing Committee and executive vice president of gas and power business for Malaysia-based Petronas, told the room full of media on WGC2012’s opening day.
Even on day one, Ahmad continued, WGC2012 – which ran from June 4–8 – had already surpassed expectations. A record-breaking 712 abstracts were submitted, and more than 900 industry professionals contributed their expertise to three special task forces and 10 committees that helped define the conference. While IGU expected the number of delegates to top out close to 3,500, more than 5,299 from 90 countries showed up, along with nearly 14,000 trade visitors. There were also 220 exhibiting companies on the 122,709-square-foot show floor – spread over 10 halls in the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre – and more than 575 speakers in a variety of formats, from keynote addresses headed by industry CEOs to Interactive Expert Showcases allowing attendees to speak one-on-one with presenters.
WGC is a triennial show, so preparations for WGC2012 started more than three years ago, when IGU set up three special task forces to explore the industry’s most pressing issues. The Geopolitics of Gas task force, for example, addressed the political role of natural gas on a global scale. “Natural gas will play a more prominent role in the energy mix,” Ahmad said, “as economies pursue less carbon-intensive energy options.”
Young at Heart
The other two task forces – Building Strategic Human Capital and Nurturing Future Generations – focused on the industry’s unique challenge of finding and attracting a bright young workforce. The results were obvious at WGC2012. Of the five days I spent at the conference, it didn’t seem that a session went by without someone mentioning the pressing need to attract new talent.
As a result, this year a youth conference was held alongside WGC’s regular program for the first time, drawing 250 students from around the world to participate in their own program in Petronas Tower 3, next door to the convention center. In addition to a four-day “Fun With Natural Gas Carnival” for children ages 5 to 17, the five-day program had students ages 18 to 30 participating in discussion sessions with speakers, attending keynotes given by industry CEOs, and — the pièce de résistance — fighting it out in the NRG Battle: World Edition, a competition that challenges teams of the world’s best and brightest students to come up with practical solutions for some of the industry’s biggest challenges.
The final round of the NRG Battle was held in the convention center’s 500-seat Plenary Theatre. The room was packed, the air buzzing, as four teams of five students each –narrowed down from the original field of 100 participants — presented their solutions to a jury made up of vice presidents and CEOs from GasTerra and Royal Dutch Shell, as well as IGU President Datuk Abdul Rahim Hashim.
The students’ ideas -and their enthusiasm for them — were impressive. Because the four teams had just three minutes to present their case (and catch the attention of possible future employers watching in the crowd), each found a way to stand out. Team One asked the crowd to get up and bellow their “team yell” with them, while Team Four, from the Netherlands, wore Dutch clogs as a nod to their home country. Every team got a stirring ovation, but it was Team Four’s idea for boosting biogas development in energy-deficient areas of the world through an “Adopt-a-Cow” crowdfunding program that won the competition – and four around-the-world air- line tickets for each team member.
Ask attendees why they’re spending their hard-earned time and money at a conference, and most likely you’ll hear “the speakers” as one of the top answers. WGC2012 was no exception. Rex W. Tillerson, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil Corporation; Peter Voser, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell; and Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak were just a few of the speakers leading the conference’s keynotes, luncheon addresses, technical sessions, and strategic panels.
But WGC2012 also found a new, more innovative way to capitalize on its wealth of experts and educational content. IGU created the Interactive Expert Showcase (IES) as a way for attendees to get up close with 123 specially selected posters — presentations on the latest research and studies — and their authors. Conveniently tucked away in a quiet corner of Exhibition Hall 6, the IES featured an informal setup conducive to casual conversation and browsing, not unlike an oversized science-fair exhibit. Attendees could explore the presentations through giant interactive touchscreen displays or sit in on quick, 10-minute chats with the authors. Presentations were also kept up throughout the day, allowing for attendees to come by at their convenience.
“The interaction allowed me to meet other experts that will be helpful to my future work,” said Jim Drago, P.E., senior manager of market intelligence for GPT (formerly PSI/ Pikotek), who presented two posters in the IES. “Allowing experts 10 minutes to present was a first for me. All other poster events I have been involved with don’t allow that. The fact that there was an opportunity to speak helped to justify the trip.”
Keeping up with KL
For the first time in its 25-year history, WGC met in Southeast Asia; and this was just the second time that the conference was held in Asia. With some of the world’s most popular meeting destinations nearby — Singapore, the fifth most popular, according to the International Congress and Convention Association, is less than an hour flight away — why did IGU choose Kuala Lumpur?
For several reasons. Malaysia is the world’s 15th-largest natural-gas producer, and many industry leaders are touting Asia as a key region for the development of natural gas. Zhou Jiping, president of China National Petroleum Corporation, told delegates during his keynote speech that it’s likely that the “Asia Pacific will surpass the U.S. and Europe to become the largest natural-gas consumer in the world.” Petronas, Malaysia’s state-owned oil and gas company and WGC2012’s main sponsor, is in a race to build the world’s first floating Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility, and offered conference delegates half-day tours of its current on-shore LNG Complex in nearby Sarawak, the world’s second-largest LNG production facility in a single location.
The company also played a large role in hooking the organizers during the bid process. Petronas financed a new air-conditioned pedestrian bridge that now links the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre to the popular 1.37-million- square-foot Pavilion Kuala Lumpur shopping mall and a number of area hotels.
“It took the personal involvement of senior officials from Petronas as well as government and airline representatives,” Datuk Peter Brokenshire, the convention center’s general manager, said of the bid that Malaysia made for WGC2012 more than seven years ago. “It was a large, formidable delegation that presented a case very forcibly that Malaysia was the right place for the event. It was important that WGC come to Southeast Asia for the first time.”
Malaysia is centrally located in Southeast Asia, with Kuala Lumpur (locals call the city KL for short) as its bustling, multicultural hub, making it an easy gateway to the rest of Asia, India, the Middle East, and Europe. With large populations of native Malay, Indians, and Chinese, both KL and the rest of the country are commonly seen as a cultural melting pot of the Asian continent.
“We are strategically located in the heart of Southeast Asia, between the two booming economies of China and India. With its neighbors, Southeast Asia accounts for over 50 percent of the world’s population,” said Ho Yoke Ping, general manager of sales and marketing for the Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau. “Malaysia is ranked as one of the best value destinations in the world, making it very affordable for delegates to visit. It’s an easy place to stage international conventions.”
The destination’s ability to draw high attendance from numerous regions plays a major role with events like WGC, for which attendees come from around the world to connect with companies with which they might never get face-to-face time otherwise. “My favorite part [of the conference] was the opportunity to network with people from all around the world,” said Pedro Henrique Moura Quintela Ribeiro, Rio de Janeiro–based process engineer with PETROBRAS’s Research and Development Center. “Globalized conferences like the WGC are important because they are opportunities for companies and nations to discuss all the industry’s issues, like partnerships, technologies, markets, and best practices.”
Beyond the destination providing a convenient gateway for WGC2012’s array of international attendees as well as a relevant backdrop to the conference’s content, the convention center’s flexibility also played a major role in attracting the event. For example, security was tight — even members of the press had to go through screenings just to come in and out of the media center — so the convention center’s staff was required to hand over the venue’s security management to the WGC team during the conference. Three marquee structures were also added specifically to contain WGC2012’s exhibition and other events.
“Because of the success of the events since we opened [the convention center] in 2005,” Brokenshire said, “Malaysia as a business-tourism destination has gained momentum.” Indeed, the destination and the convention center have become so popular that an expansion is in the works after only seven years of operation. The details are still being finalized, but “in our initial business plan, we thought we’d do 13 exhibitions a year,” Brokenshire said, “but now we’re averaging 62 to 64. And many of our existing exhibitions have outgrown the center.”
Fortunately for IGU, WGC2012 wasn’t one of them.
‘One Big Convention City’
To house WGC2012’s 220 exhibits, 47 technical sessions, media center, daily luncheons, and a long list of other programs, WGC’s National Organizing Committee created a self- contained concept village that extended well beyond the walls of the 215,913-square-foot Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. Three new marquee structures specifically built for WGC – one of which became a permanent addition – and the adjacent Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur, formed the conference campus.
“The size and complexity of the conference was of a very different dimension,” said Datuk Peter Brokenshire, the convention center’s general manager. “We created one big convention city.”
To seamlessly connect the marquee structures to the convention center, and keep attendees out of Kuala Lumpur’s high humidity and temperatures, the team also added air-conditioned, enclosed walkways. “Attendees could walk from one to the other,” Brokenshire said, “and not realize they’ve left the convention center.”