By Jacob Kamaras
Given Israel’s well-documented penchant for innovation, it was only a matter of time before the “start-up nation” established a robust presence at the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC), one of the world’s largest annual trade shows for the oil and gas industry.
“The people in Israel are entrepreneurs in their souls, so as soon as they see an opportunity, they take it,” said Michal Niddam-Wachsman, head of the Israeli government’s Economic Mission in the U.S. Southern Region. “When we discovered the natural gas (in the Tamar and Leviathan fields off Israel’s coast), they immediately saw the opportunity of developing the technology that would be related to the natural gas and the oil market. We have today over 100 Israeli companies working on unique technologies that can give solutions to the oil and gas industry.”
Fourteen of those companies were on display in Houston from May 4-7 at the OTC, which was attended by 94,700 people from 130 countries. It was the Israeli Ministry of Economy’s third year with a pavilion at the trade show. U.S. Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas) —who represents a district with five ports, more than any other district in Congress — visited with the Israeli companies.
“Energy is huge in our area,” Weber told JNS.org. “It’s what drives America, it’s what makes America great. It’s what’s going to help drive Israel. It not only will make Israel stronger and more prosperous, but safer. … Israel is under attack from all around, and they need that energy. As I tell people, ‘It’s hard to power a tank with a solar panel.’ So oil and gas are huge for Israel, for America. We’ve got the technology over here. Israel is arguably our best, strongest ally, anywhere — especially in the Middle East. We want them to be safe, secure, prosperous. … To do anything less, in my opinion, is unfathomable.”
Niddam-Wachsman explained that before having a presence at the OTC, Israel was already a significant player in areas of technology including water (such as desalination and purification), telecommunication, and security. Israel eventually saw that its existing technological expertise had “a very strong connection” to the oil and gas industry, she said, making the OTC a natural fit for the Jewish state — especially given Israel’s discovery of offshore gas fields in 2009 and 2010.
US companies take notice
“Eventually, we saw that the interests of the American companies in the Israeli technology was very high, as well as the satisfaction of the Israeli companies to be able to reach those companies and penetrate this huge market,” Niddam-Wachsman told JNS.org.
“Here, you can find the connections between the needs of the American companies and what Israel can provide,” she added.
Eric Peterson, director of industrial/municipal sales for Amiad Water Systems—which is based in Israel but has 10 subsidiary offices around the world—said the company took a few years off from attending the OTC before returning last year as part of the Israeli delegation. He said that exhibiting with the Israeli Economic Mission’s group is no small benefit, considering that the waiting list for companies seeking to present at the OTC is seven years long for those trying to enter on their own, without being part of a delegation.
Haim Greenberg, vice president for product and co-founder of Harbo Technologies, which works to prevent the hazardous consequences of oil spills, said the company’s goal at the OTC was “to raise funds for the next stage of our business plan,” and to look for “distributors from around the world” as well as “seasoned experts to join our advisory board.”
At the trade show, Greenberg said Harbo received interest from companies in Holland, Norway, Spain, Nigeria, Brazil, Mexico, America, Canada, Singapore, India — and even Saudi Arabia.
“The truth is, a lot of business is being done between Israel and Saudi Arabia or other Arab countries, but it’s under the radar,” Greenberg told JNS.org.
Thawing of relations?
Asked if the Saudi interest in doing business with Israeli companies signaled a general thawing of relations between those two countries, Greenberg said, “I’m not too sure about that, but busi-ness is business, that’s the truth. And because of our uniqueness, because we have the only and the first immediate oil-spill response solution, everybody’s interested in this.”
Roni Levy, marketing manager for Tel Aviv-based Hop Engineering Ltd., said his company has existing export relationships in Asia, South Africa, and Europe, and is now trying to break into the U.S. market.
“We think that if we can get contact with some small or medium American companies, it can be a very good platform for us… We have installed oil fields in Indonesia and Azerbaijan, but we think if we could make good contacts here (in the U.S.) and do a good job, it will help us a lot in the local market as well as the international market,” Levy told JNS.org.
Gilad Norman, marketing and sales manager for Egmo, an Israeli producer of stainless steel fittings and flow products, called the American oil and gas industry “a huge market, a very sophisticated market, dealing with end-users, engineering companies, equipment manufacturers, and the supply chains… and all of them are here (at the OTC).”
“It’s quite nice to see all these players in the market, in one location,” Norman said.
Bill Hardy — sales manager of government accounts for Texas-based Thrustmaster, a producer of marine propulsion thruster machines — was impressed by what he saw at the Israeli pavilion.
“It was interesting to see that you had a host of individuals that are both in the (oil and gas) industry and manufacture different products,” Hardy told JNS.org. “We were able to see that it was well-presented, and (the companies) were forthcoming with all kinds of good publications. I took all of them and I plan to sit down once I’m done with the show here and go over it, and see how we would meld with the potential of doing business with the Israeli oil and gas community.”
The casual observer of the U.S.-Israel energy relationship might know that Noble Energy, which is based in Houston, operates both of Israel’s offshore gas fields. But Noble is currently the only foreign company that drills in the Jewish state, and “there is a need for more oil and gas companies to come and work in Israel,” said the Ministry of Economy’s Niddam-Wachsman. The OTC should help solve that need, as Israeli companies had more than 400 meetings with major oil and gas companies at and around the trade show last year, Niddam-Wachsman said.
Recalling that he has been through two oil crises in his lifetime, in 1973 and 1981-82, Rep. We-ber described the OTC as an indispensable networking opportunity for the companies in attendance.
“The fact that these companies are here and focused on this is huge,” Weber said. “These are the innovators, these are the job-creators. They’re committed for the long-haul.”