© Reuters. Protesters stand outside the CERAWeek energy conference in Houston, Texas, U.S., March 10, 2022. REUTERS/David Gaffen.
By David Gaffen
HOUSTON (Reuters) – Oil industry conferences usually feature protesters of some kind, but the small group holding signs all week just a block away from the CERAWeek energy gathering aren’t championing the environment – their cause is Ukraine.
The group of roughly a dozen people gather not far from the Hilton Americas Houston, where several thousand energy industry officials are meeting as growing sanctions against Russia, after its invasion of Ukraine, threw oil and gas markets into turmoil.
“We’re here to call out people in power who are attending CERAWeek this week to remind them there are people dying, children dying, mercilessly, needlessly,” said Iryna Petrovska Marchiano, who was born in Ukraine and lives in Houston, where she works in the oil industry.
Petrovska Marchiano and other Houston-based Ukrainians and Ukrainian-Americans formed HTX4Ukraine shortly after Russia’s invasion. She said she supported President Joseph Biden’s move to ban Russian oil and gas imports, but said the United States and its allies need to move faster to provide military support to Ukraine.
Russia, which calls its actions in Uktraine a “special operation”, is the world’s largest exporter of and fuel products at roughly 7 million to 8 million barrels a day. Numerous companies have moved to cut off purchases of Russian supplies, though few countries besides the United States and Canada have banned imports outright.
Several million barrels of Russian oil are now stranded at sea without destinations. Prices have skyrocketed, with crude oil hitting $139 a barrel earlier this week and gasoline prices reaching record highs in numerous nations including the United States.
Four out of five Americans said they support a ban on buying Russian oil in a Reuters/Ipsos poll this week. They also said they would pay more for gasoline, even though many are concerned about the rising costs of goods.
“The prices will go up but people are starting to recognise that a potential temporary inconvenience for countries around the world is worthy of actual human life that is actually being saved by taking these drastic actions,” Petrovska Marchiano said.
Unlike other protests targeting energy industry events, attendees leaving the conference were supportive. One convention-goer walked by saying, “If I had a horn, I would honk it.”
Charles Valceschini, chairman of Ukrainian energy producer JKX Oil & Gas, said earlier this week at the conference that employees have taken refugees into their homes.
“There’s potential for artillery shells and acts of war arriving on their doorstep,” Valceschini said. “(I) can’t overstate the horrors of this situation.”
Petrovska Marchiano, who moved to Houston to work in the oil industry, said companies could use the profits they will make off higher prices to aid Ukraine.
She also called on energy services companies and other majors still doing business in Russia to divest after some others said they would leave.
Her most pressing concern were family members, including her brother, who still live in Ivanovo-Frankivsk, located in western Ukraine, where she was born.
“My main goal is to keep them alive,” she said.