Europe's Downstream Decision-Makers to Gather in Milan

As European refiners grapple with falling demand, growing regulatory burdens and unfavorable operating costs compared to their peers in regions such as Asia and North America, the pressure is on to find ways to compete in an increasingly difficult economic and political climate. A high-level group of Europe's downstream industry leaders will investigate how to help their businesses survive amid these challenging times when they gather Oct. 14-16 in Milan, Italy for GDS International's Next Generation Downstream Summit Europe.

"The most important change during the last year is the evidence that all these trends are not temporary and not only a result of the 2008 financial crises, but a long term tendency whereas the industry has to find a long-lasting solution," said Lajos Alács, a veteran Central European oil and gas trader and executive who owns the Budapest-based investment and asset management firm Allabel Ltd.

European refiners have turned to consolidation in recent years, but they will need to pursue cost-efficiency and supply chain optimization at unprecedented levels in order to survive an environment with continually shrinking margins, continued Alács. Implementing a more flexible refining and distribution system that relieves companies of the need to allocate certain volumes of their products to support national energy security goals would ease the pressure felt among Europe's downstream players, he added.

Lars Thorstholm, manager for strategy with Statoil ASA, is attending the summit in part to gain a clearer perspective on how Europe's downstream players may implement further consolidation. Notwithstanding pressures from within Europe such as overcapacity from falling demand, declining North Sea oil production and strict EU environmental rules, the U.S. shale revolution is having an increasingly pronounced effect on downstream operations on both sides of the North Atlantic, he added.

"Low energy prices in the U.S. will revitalize the petrochemical and refining industry in the U.S., and the U.S. could become an exporter of products to Europe," Thorstholm explained. "The European refining sector will face low margins, and a re-structuring will be necessary, but how," he asked. "Large refineries with high complexity, or small niche plants serving local markets at the refinery gate, etc.?"

Alács and Thorstholm will join more than 60 other senior- and C-level delegates at the summit. The invitation-only event will feature delegates from operating companies such as BP plc, Eni S.p.A., Royal Dutch Shell plc, Saras S.p.A. and Grupa Lotos S.A. and sponsors including NALCO Energy Services, Invensys and M-I SWACO. In addition to offering delegates and sponsors unparalleled networking opportunities, the Milan summit will provide a venue for discussing innovative solutions to make Europe's refineries more globally competitive. The 2 ½-day event at Milan's Melia Milano hotel will consist of high-level working lunches, roundtable discussions and intimate one-on-one meetings. DownstreamToday is the summit's official media partner for the third consecutive year.

"New for 2013 we are delighted to introduce some additional benefits into our already proven format," said Rob McCabe, EMEA Product Director for Summits and Events with GDS International. "The summit begins with three opening roundtables, each focusing on a different core theme. These new sessions provide the chance to gain candid access to discussions between the most senior executives. From case studies that lift the lid on operations inside industry-leading organizations, to workshops and collaborative sessions that focus on real challenges and future technology innovations, our new-look program provides plenty of additional engagement opportunities while on-site."

In addition to gaining insights on how EU legislation will affect European refining, Thorstholm said that he is eager to investigate new technologies at the summit that could help to mitigate the effects of crude quality changes and keep maintenance costs low at aging plants while keeping the facilities operating safely and reliably. Summit attendees likely will pay particularly close attention to a scheduled presentation by ENI executive Giacomo Rispoli, who will present initial results of the Italian company's deployment of its ENI Slurry Technology (EST) at Sannazzarro Refinery.

"The valuable role of events like the NG Downstream Summit is to clarify the main trends and to quantify its consequences to the European refining industry," concluded Alács. "I hope to hear some good news about the innovative potential of our industry, some positive news on European political responses and of course the exchange of best ideas."

A limited number of delegate and sponsorship opportunities remain for this year's Next Generation Downstream Summit Europe. For more information, visit the event's official website.

Matthew V. Veazey has written about the oil and gas industry since 2000. Email Matthew at mveazey@rigzone.com

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