By Stephanie Kelly and Marianna Parraga
HOUSTON (Reuters) – Coronavirus concerns prompted organizers on Sunday to cancel one of the world’s most prestigious gatherings of oil ministers and top executives from the energy and financial industries scheduled for this month in Houston.
The fast-spreading virus has infected around 85,000 and killed almost 3,000 people around the world. About 70 cases have been diagnosed in the United States, which recorded its first fatality from the virus over the weekend.
The CERAWeek energy conference is the latest event to be scrapped due to the disease, which triggered the biggest weekly stock market rout since 2008 last week. Stock markets continue to fall on Monday, but oil prices edged higher in trading in Asia on expectations OPEC will cut output. Oil fell around 15% last week.
In its decision to cancel CERAWeek, consultancy IHS Markit noted that border health checks are becoming more restrictive and companies have begun barring non-essential travel to protect workers. In addition, several countries have sidelined events likely to draw large crowds.
IHS Markit separately canceled two other international conferences scheduled this month in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Long Beach, California.
CERAWeek, first held in 1981, has in the past drawn thousands of attendees to Houston and its energy panels and technology forums. Some 5,500 delegates from 85 countries took part last year at the week-long event, according to the event’s website.
The loss of this year’s event will remove one chance for oil and gas executives “to discuss how to deal with declining demand caused by the virus epidemic” as it bears down on the industry, said Francisco Monad, a fellow in Latin American energy policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.
The oil and gas industry is already battling a sharp slowdown because of the virus. The International Energy Agency last month said in an updated outlook that it was expecting global oil demand growth this year to fall to its lowest level in a decade.
Global oil prices have plummeted more than 25% this year as investors fear demand destruction from the virus. Brent oil
In previous years, CERAWeek has been a major economic boost to the city of Houston, filling hotels and driving business at restaurants and shops.
“It’s the most important yearly gathering of the industry, in which many significant deals and conversations take place,” Monad said.
There were no incidents in Houston that led to the decision to cancel the event, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and IHS Markit Vice Chairman Daniel Yergin said in a joint statement.
IHS Markit estimated that the cancellation of the conferences, including CERAWeek, would have a financial impact of about $50 million of non-recurring revenue, its website said.
This year’s CERAWeek was expected to draw delegates from more than 80 countries, the company had said, although visitors from some countries were already unable to attend. Coronavirus precautions by the United States include barring visitors to the country who had been China within 14 days of arrival.
Among the speakers who were scheduled to attend CERAWeek was Elliott Abrams, the U.S. special envoy for Venezuela, who was expected to address tightening sanctions on the Latin American country’s oil exports. Other speakers on the agenda included the chief executives of Saudi Aramco, BP
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries this week is expected to consider sharp cuts in members’ crude oil output. OPEC and allies are scheduled to meet March 5 and 6 in person in Vienna.
Bob Dudley, a former BP chief who is chairman of the industry’s Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, was also due to speak in Houston. The Initiative said in a statement it fully supports “what must have been a difficult decision by the organizers.”
Saudi Arabia, the biggest OPEC producer, and some other members are considering an output cut of 1 million barrels per day (bpd) for the second quarter of 2020, more than an initially proposed cut of 600,000 bpd.
(Reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston, Marianna Parraga in Mexico City and Stephanie Kelly in New York; Editing by Will Dunham, Lisa Shumaker, Daniel Wallis and Michael Perry)