LONGVIEW/GREGG COUNTY (KYTX) - With news of the death of Hugo Chavez, KYTX CBS 19 stopped by the opening day of the East Texas Oilfield Expo to get a sense of what people who work in the oil and gas industry think about the future of energy prices.
Richard Hernandez sells oil and gas wellheads and valves. He's worked in Latin America, including Venezuela, and he knows how the economic policies of Hugo Chavez kept many U.S.. drillers out of the country for 14 years.
"The oil and gas industry is state-run, it's run by the government, so they control everything about it," Hernandez said.
Nicholas Maduro is temporarily in charge-- but an election in 30 days could mean a new leader who could change that. A British Petroleum review of world energy ranks Venezuela's oil export potential as the world's largest, at nearly 300 billion barrels.
But as Hernandez says, "For right now, it's just lot a harder, and people are trying to find ways to make business easier and not harder."
Jason Peterson is regional president for Jacksonville-based Austin Bank. He says regardless of what Venezuela's new president chooses to do -- the East Texas oil industry is doing fine on its own. He says the bank is showing lots of growth in its loans to oil and oilfield service companies.
"What we've seen is that the new technology they're using to drill - the fracking, the horizontal drilling - it's a little cheaper now to get that oil than what it was before," Peterson said.
Keith Thompson who manages Lonestar Forklift's Longview branch says the oil and gas industry is sustaining an economic boom in East Texas, and it's been a great start for his business.
"I haven't heard of any companies having layoffs," Thompson says. "In fact, I've seen more companies around Longview and Kilgore hiring technicians and hiring oilfield workers."
Experts say all signs point to a bright future for the East Texas oil industry.
"There's a lot of opportunity here in the United States, and we're here to take advantage of that opportunity," Hernandez says.
They're expecting seven-to-eight thousand people who work in the oil and gas industry - executives on down - here at this expo over the next two days, so clearly, the industry is doing quite well at this time.