As I am writing this column, AAPG has just completed its first fully virtual annual meeting – ACE 2020. By most accounts it was very successful. The technical program committee provided a great slate of talks, posters and core studies. The staff placed it on a platform that was easy and fun to use. The whole meeting was a unique virtual experience.
Significant, Incredible Content
The 2020 AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition kicked-off with an excellent welcome by General Chair Cindy Yeilding. This was followed by a great talk in the opening session by Rebekah Keinenberger, the Foundation Teacher of the Year. If you have not heard this talk, then I suggest you view it online (http://aapg.to/ace2020os). Next, Bernard Duval, retired Total, talked about his lessons and wisdom on exploration and the future of the petroleum industry. Mike Party finished with a powerful AAPG presidential speech introducing everyone to the virtual conference (this was Mike Party’s presidential meeting).
The opening session was followed by more than 600 talks, posters, etc. over three days. In special sessions like Mega Plays, Discovery Thinking, and sustainable energy presenters talk about unconventional plays, technology-geodata, geochemistry, carbon capture, carbonates, evaporites, deep water sedimentary systems, business, etc. (see accompanying chart). In addition, the divisions – the Division of Professional Affairs, the Division of Environmental Geosciences, the Energy Mineral Division and the new Women’s Network Division – made major contributions to the technical program. One of the most popular sessions is presented by DPA on “Energy in The Twenty First Century and the Role of Hydrocarbons.” Plus, there is a special session that was a tribute to Dr. Albert Bally on the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and Gondwana Continental Margins.
Here is the great news! ACE 2020 is not in the past tense. It’s not too late to join and attend the whole convention from beginning to end. Think about it. At a face-to-face convention, if you are efficient, you might be able to see 20-40 talks and posters. Now you can view all of the content over the next 60 days for just one-half of the cost of a normal registration. You can even hear some of the discussions. You don’t have to travel or pay expenses for hotels and food. You can attend right now, anywhere in the world!
A Rough Road
When the COVID-19 Pandemic first hit we had no idea about the impact to AAPG and other societies. One by one, the various event partnerships that provide additional income to AAPG were postponed or canceled – Middle East Geosciences Conference and Exhibition, Offshore Technology Conference, etc. AAPG had to decide what to do about ACE 2020. A few members were highly critical of AAPG for not canceling immediately, but they did not understand the financial situation. When you schedule a large face-to face conference, you sign a lot of agreements for convention facilities, hotel rooms and catering that the society must honor unless there is a force majeure. During that critical period, cities and states were closely monitoring the virus situation and extending gathering bans and travel restrictions one month at a time. If we had canceled immediately, AAPG would have been in default and owed close to $1,000,000 in penalties. By waiting, we were able to renegotiate most of these agreements without significant loss to the Association.
Once we were free of the financial liabilities, we only had a couple of months to re-start the technical program and contact all of the presenters. The organizing committee and staff did a great job in a very short time. We appreciate all of you who stayed with us and were able to present. Some companies/presenters had to cancel because of confidentiality issues and the uncontrollable ability of viewers to capture information and images online. AAPG is working to find virtual solutions that will allow more confidential presentations.
A New Model
So AAPG was faced with a new model for its financial engine: the virtual meeting. In the past, conferences and partnership meetings have supplied up to 74 percent of the Association’s annual income to help run all of the other AAPG programs. Although the AAPG ACE 2020 was very successful as an experience and in disseminating science, the bottom line is that we covered all direct costs and a significant amount of labor and overhead expenses, but fell well short of the surpluses typically derived from in-person events. A challenge all online events face is delivering good value for exhibiting companies. We need vendor support and engagement to sustain our programs and I encourage you to visit these important customers online – and perhaps send them a note of thanks. Our next step is to find virtual event software that we can develop and use at lower cost and gain back advertisers and exhibitors online. We still have a lot of work to do.
Congratulations to all the conference organizers, presenters, and attendees to AAPG 2020. Thanks especially to all of the sponsors who stayed with us for ACE 2020. Remember, you still have time to enjoy the benefits of this great program. Register at ace.aapg.org.