Oil & Money: Sonangol’s Extravagant Conference in London

Some of the most powerful players in the global oil and gas industry will be meeting in London on October 18-19, for the Oil & Money annual conference.

Hosted jointly by the New York Times and Energy Intelligence, the conference is described as a “must attend” – a gathering of “over 450 of the most influential senior decision-makers from the industry, along with government ministers and representatives, financiers and bankers, consultants and legal experts.”

The conference agenda boasts of hours of “effective network opportunities…in a crowd large enough to be powerful, small enough to be intimate.” Tickets for the conference cost £2,490 (544,000 Kz), not including attendance at the Petroleum Executive of the Year Dinner which will set you back an extra £525 (115,000 Kz).

Who are the sponsors of this lavish affair? The list of donors includes big-hitters like Chevron, ExxonMobil and Dow Chemical but also a host of other firms like Sonangol (Angola’s state oil company), Rosneft and Saudi Aramco which have been linked to corruption and human rights abuses.

At a time when Sonangol is on the brink of bankruptcy, having made no contributions to the Angolan state budget since January, why is it still helping to fund luxury conferences for oil executives in London?

The reason is simple: access. London is the centre of international oil markets, the global hub for the financing and management of extractive ventures. Oil and Money, now in its 37th year, is a precious opportunity for company executives to schmooze, negotiate and find backing for projects.

The conference also offers a platform for much-needed prestige. Take the case of Igor Sechin, CEO of conference sponsor Rosneft and former right-hand man to President Putin. In 2014 the United States froze Sechin’s assets and handed him a travel ban. This year, Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta linked Sechin to one of the world’s most expensive yachts, whose annual operating costs exceed his salary. But the questions surrounding Sechin’s integrity have not deterred the conference’s organisers: Sechin will be giving a keynote speech.

The over-arching theme of this year’s conference is “Strategies for Survival”. Sonangol, and the rest of the oil industry face uneasy times. Prices have tumbled. ExxonMobil, one of the conference’s co-sponsors, is being investigated in the United States for potential fraud. Sonangol has been starved of credit lines. Reports have found that the oil industry’s plans for expansion are incompatible with global agreements to tackle climate change. In the face of these trends, multinational oil companies are doing everything possible to withstand the pressures they face while evading real reform.

Whose survival is really at stake at a time of falling oil prices? The communities devastated by corruption and environmental destruction? Or the fraudulent fortunes of the elites who have enriched themselves? Draw your own conclusions.