El Dorado News-Times

Breakfast for two: $105

- RicHard mason Local columnist

That’s just a bit of what turned out to be a trip to Hou — Hell.

We go to Houston every year to take part in a trade show called NAPE (National Associatio­n of Petroleum Explorers). Everyone just calls it NAPE or The Deal Show, and basically that’s what it is. Companies rent space in the George R. Brown Convention Center, hang their geologic maps on the wall and stand there smiling for a couple of days.

I’ll give you a few details later in this column, but first let me tell you about a simple five-hour trip to get there and back.

Vertis and I left El Dorado at around 6:30 on Feb. 1, and yes, that was right in the middle of the ice storm that hit Arkansas.

Well, instead of heading for Shreveport and then down Highway 59 to Houston, we decided to drive away from the freezing rain and head due south into Louisiana, hit Interstate 10 in southern Louisiana and then drive west to Houston.

We did miss the freezing rain in East Texas, but so did all the truckers who usually drive cross-country on Interstate­s 20 and 30. You guessed it, they decided to dodge the ice, so they drove south too, and now it was truck city in the blinding rain on probable one of the worst Interstate highways in the nation.

Yes, they have been working on I-10 for as long as anyone can remember, and the concrete barriers — sometimes on both sides of the road — in blinding rain, along with solid trucks, made for driving hell, but we made the little five-hour trip in just over seven hours.

Now a little relief: we pulled into Nina’s, which I think is Tex-Mex heaven, and a bright spot in our day.

Then it was on to the Convention Center, which is so huge I think El Dorado’s downtown could easily fit in there. There were over 8,000 attendees and several hundred companies who set up row after row of booths with felt boards where they hung their exhibits.

NAPE started 30 years ago in a ballroom of the Galleria Mall with less than 1,000 attendees.

I have attended every show, and after some, had some real questions as to why geologists and geophysici­sts would post their confidenti­al informatio­n for everyone to see, and then give them the same data in a brochure to take with them. It didn’t seem logical, but money overcame the doubters, and when the attendees came away from the show with partners to drill their wells, the show grew.

Before COVID, there were over 15,000 attendees annually. It’s on its way back now, and as they plan for 2024, the attendance will probably be back up over 10,000.

This is how the two-day event runs. What is attractive to exploratio­n companies — which drill wells looking for new oil and natural gas — are the profession­al oil men who come to NAPE, not to just show their oil and gas drilling proposals, but to buy into deals. These investors put up most of the money to drill the wells. The selling exploratio­n companies present their ideas, and if another company or a qualified investor would like to buy into the drilling of the well, the price of the working interest partnershi­p is promoted.

If you want to buy 25% of the deal, you pay 33% percent of the cost. That is the promotion, and it pays for overhead, etc. to the seller of the well. Almost all small- to medium-size companies sell interest in their drilling wells, no matter how attractive the drilling proposal looks. They go for the old adage: “Hogs get stuck!”

After that grueling drive and a stop at Nina’s, we spent a couple of hours hanging our maps on the wall boards. The trade show was set to start at nine the next morning.

Of course, not all the booths are taken by oil and gas exploratio­n companies. Banks, legal teams and just about anybody who has an interest in oil and gas exploratio­n are there. Many universiti­es send geology students to help them understand how the oil and gas exploratio­n companies work. Other buyers come to buy the producing properties or the mineral rights. By about 10:30 a.m., the huge convention center is packed with almost all the 8,000-plus attendees.

The show has changed over the years, with special attention now being paid to alternativ­e energy sources, which in many ways link to the oil and gas industries.

Another change is a special area and presentati­on of women in the industry. Up until the last few years, the attendees were mostly men with only a few ladies. Now there is a special section which recognizes the women in the oil and gas industry.

This year, the show had a feature section recognizin­g the new Bitcoin craze. For some reason, the mining of bitcoin takes a lot of energy, and of course natural gas is energy in the ground. Now, don’t ask me how you mine bitcoin, because even though I have had it explained a couple of times, I still can’t tell you.

After we got our booth ready, we headed to our hotel and we had been upgraded (because we couldn’t get in our less expensive, first choice hotel) to the Houston Four Seasons Hotel. Yes, even with the convention special price, it hit our pocket book a pretty good lick. However, it is just a couple of blocks from the Convention Center, and even with the cold weather, it wasn’t much of a walk to get there.

The area in front of the Convention Center has been

transforme­d into to a large parklike setting with a forest of trees and plants together with park amenities. Naturally, with the huge convention center, the park is surround by hotels. The overall setting is one of the most attractive areas in the city.

Several years back when the Super Bowl was played in Houston, the city spent millions giving the whole area an upgrade of sidewalks, bike lanes and trees. They just didn’t plant a sapling or two; they planted full grown trees.

Now to the $105 breakfast for two. Our first breakfast was just a menu of eggs, etc, but on the second day, we decided on the large buffet, which turned out to be rather ordinary in substance, but the $104 ticket with tip made me flinch.

However, the overall stay at the Four Seasons was wonderful. It is a great hotel.

Then, Friday morning, we packed up everything in the Convention­s Center and pulled out, heading back on Highway 59 and expecting a fivehour drive with dry four-lane roads.

However, roadwork on 59 stopped us twice for an hour, and then, as we approached Shreveport, an accident ahead slowed us down, and cost us another thirty minutes.

Finally we were heading for Junction City, just north of Homer, when “Detour - Bridge Out” costs us another thirty minutes, and our five-hour drive took seven hours. Boy, did our winding tree-lined driveway look good.

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