In just a few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced all of us to re-evaluate our priorities, from how we work to where we shop for essentials. Literally no family, business, organization, or association hasn’t been impacted by the virus, which has caused the delay or outright cancelation of massive conferences, conventions and seminars worldwide.
For the Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA) — organizers of the popular annual event The Energy Summit — the pandemic compelled them to react decisively and turn a potential crisis into an opportunity, with the popular event going virtual for the first time in history.
Kicking off with an in-person golf tournament on August 17, this year’s online conference runs from August 18 to 19 and will replicate the Summit experience in an online forum. Featuring informative panel discussions with industry experts and stakeholders, live discussions, networking opportunities, a unique sponsor area and much more, COGA representatives are excited about the upcoming event.
“It’s a real opportunity for us to showcase that we are responding to the times and still meeting the needs of our members by providing this great experience and doing so in a very unconventional way,” says Sara Reynolds of the positive attention surrounding this year’s Summit. As COGA’s Vice President of Operations and Conference Director, Reynolds is responsible for the daily operations of COGA and other areas including programs and events, membership development, and financial management.
Reaching a wide audience
Formed in 1984, COGA started off small as the Denver Julesburg Petroleum Association. With an initial focus on oil and gas issues in Greeley and Weld counties, the organization soon grew its staff numbers and membership. A statewide trade association, COGA’s membership – which has reached about 300 member companies – represents many players in Colorado’s oil and natural gas sector, including upstream producers, big multinational corporations, smaller Colorado-based companies, midstream, downstream, related service providers through the production process, and professional services including the lending, investment and private equity community, legal services, regulatory specialists, and professional services groups.
“COGA is not only a full-service trade association, but we also represent the entire value chain of oil and gas in Colorado,” says President and Chief Executive Officer Dan Haley, who leads the industry on matters ranging from regulatory issues to public relations and Colorado legislature, supporting members though advocacy, education, stakeholder engagement and other initiatives.
The organization was founded on the vision of individuals including Fred Julander, one of the first to recognize the abundant supply of dry, clean-burning natural gas in Colorado and the need for greater exploration. Four years after COGA was created, the Association launched the Gas Conference. Changing its name over time to the Rocky Mountain Energy Summit and known today as The Energy Summit, the event is highly diversified, attended not only by industry professional, but also policy- and decision-makers, elected leaders, agriculture representatives, homebuilders, and a host of other individuals.
“We want all these people in the room, because this is where we are discussing the important issues of our time, namely what our members are doing in Colorado and how we are trying to move forward,” comments Haley. “We want to make sure all those people are hearing these messages and are part of the discussion. Our goal is to be an advocate for our members and to be a voice for them, through public relations and media relations or working with our state’s regulatory body on rulemakings… being an important arm of outreach and education in our community. This is what the conference really does so well – that outreach and education component.”
Although this year’s Summit will be different because of the pandemic, event organizers are optimistic, hoping to capture 30 to 40 percent of attendees from past in-person events. However, they are hearing from other organizations that virtual attendance is actually rivaling in-person conferences. “People want to receive professional development this year and for the foreseeable future, and virtual events are really the only option,” says Reynolds.
Keeping a pulse on the pandemic, Reynolds, Haley and the team at COGA realized by mid-March that with schools closing in Colorado and nationwide, COVID-19 would not be over by the time of the Summit in August. Soon, COGA was renegotiating contracts with its conference venues and vendors, and reimagining the 2020 Summit as an online event.
“Before we even made the decision, we felt we needed to be in touch with all of our stakeholders and sponsors,” says Haley, “and some were already committed to sponsor the conference. This is a large event; we get upwards of a thousand people attending, and there are a lot of stakeholders who come for different reasons, and before we made any decision, we really needed to evaluate what our stakeholders had to say.” Using its time to make advance preparations to pivot to the virtual platform, COGA announced in early June that the Summit would be online.
Featuring topics such as “Oil & Gas Employment Trends – Riding Through Market Disruptions,” “Turning Conflict Into Opportunity – Resolving Oil and Gas Conflicts Between Local, State and Federal Governments,” and “Impacts of the Crude Price War and COVID-19 –Who Survives in an Oversupplied, Low Commodity Price Environment?”, this year’s Summit will see speakers record panel discussions close to the August 18 start date. The format will simulate an in-person event familiar for speakers and attendees alike, replicating the experience of being in the audience and watching panelists on stage.
Providing the opportunity for facilitated conversations, moderators will be on hand during sessions to keep discussion flowing and focused. Following discussions, there will be a 15-minute window with real-time live Q&A. “It was our solution to really replicate that conference experience for the attendees, that what they were viewing was similar to what they would see on stage, but they would also have that dynamic and live interaction piece as well,” explains Reynolds. “For sponsors this is also a really unique opportunity because they can have a live interaction with attendees but don’t have to make the time commitment, incur expenses, travel, and all those aspects that make traditional tradeshows more of a burden for exhibitors.”
With sponsorship a key component of all such large events, The Energy Summit will feature a sponsor hall, an interactive version of the platform where sponsors have their own customizable and brandable exhibition booths where they can feature PowerPoint presentations, air informational videos, or perform live interactions with attendees via chat or video conferencing. Sponsors can also sponsor specific general sessions, showcase their logos, and do a brief 30-second introduction if they choose. “It’s different, but we’ve done our best to replicate those opportunities that you would typically have at an in-person conference, but in a virtual platform,” says Reynolds.
Facing the future
A tremendous platform for information and education about oil and gas in the state, The Energy Summit provides attendees the opportunity to learn about key issues affecting the industry not only in Colorado, but across America, such as regulatory processes. As technology continues advancing, there have been shifts in the regulatory process referring to specific technologies, and the Summit will provide opportunities to have meaningful conversations about technology, innovation, and ways operators can innovate to achieve positive outcomes. And with 2020 being an election year, Colorado is one of the few states with a citizen initiative process, where voters can propose initiatives and petition their way onto the statewide ballot. These political factors and others will influence the oil and gas sector, and the Colorado Oil & Gas Association will be there on behalf of its members.
“We will have political strategists from both sides of the aisle talking about what they see happening this November,” says Haley, “the trends that are out there among the electorate on the left and the right, bring it back into Colorado and see how they will impact important industries like oil and gas.”
The fifth largest natural gas producer in the country and the sixth largest producer of crude oil, Colorado is key to the future of oil and gas. “This conference really represents what so many of us are having to do, which is adapt,” says Reynolds. “We are all part of a larger community and impacted by things in a rapidly changing world that come at us that we can’t always anticipate, but we need to respond to. Rather than spending our time wishing for things to be different or hoping for the good old days, we need to embrace it. Change is inevitable, and we need to be able to pivot and accept things in a different way. We are able to offer things in a way we haven’t been able to offer in the past, and it’s a really great lesson for all of us – to be adaptable, embrace change and seek opportunities when that change comes.”