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Story by The Casper Star Tribune

In the convention business, the allure of the Tetons is strong. And, for the past 18 years, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Fair has used the appeal of Jackson’s mountains, restaurants and shops to great effect. The annual energy confab regularly draws in excess of 600 people, including executives from the likes of Anadarko Petroleum, Marathon Oil and British Petroleum.

Now, for its 19th edition, the fair is swapping the Grand Teton for Casper Mountain, in what organizers and local planners say is a chance to showcase Oil City’s potential as a major conference destination.

“We’re tickled pink to be able to host their event here,” said Bud Dovala, general manager of the Casper Events Center, which will host the fair Sept. 16 and 17.

The move was prompted by the rising cost of staging the event in Jackson and Teton County’s anti-energy attitude, said Dave Hutton, the fair’s general manager. Casper is Wyoming’s oil and gas capital and offers proximity to many of the firms drilling in the state, along with recreational opportunities popular with the conference’s attendees. The fishing on the North Platte River more than rivals the Snake River, Hutton said, adding that excitement is already building around the Wyoming Society of Petroleum Engineers’ annual golf game at the Three Crowns Golf Club.

“We don’t have the picturesque environment Jackson does and the picturesque village, but I think Casper can stand on its own. People will realize that it is a great place to be,” he said. “A lot of the industry is already here in Casper, and they want to wine and dine those people.”

The move does not come without risks, he acknowledged. Not only is Jackson a popular destination, but it remains unclear if depressed crude prices will affect attendance.

Still, Hutton remains optimistic. Of the 121 booths at this year’s event, all but six have been spoken for. The support of local energy companies, meanwhile, has been strong.

The first fair was held in 1997, the result of a push by former Wyoming Oil and Gas Supervisor Donald Basko to bring drilling and pipeline companies together. The state at the time faced a lack of pipeline capacity, and the idea was to get everyone in the same room to talk about potential projects, Hutton said. That first year drew roughly 120 people. By 2007, that number had grown to around 1,000 people while the conference had expanded beyond talk of pipeline capacity to the oil industry. Over the last five years the fair has averaged about 685 people, he said.

“The thing we want is to get some different ideas and make sure the focus is on the oil and gas industry of Wyoming, and encourage companies to come here and drill holes,” Hutton said.

Casper officials have long sought to capture a greater share of the meeting and events market, which in Wyoming has been dominated by Jackson and Cheyenne. New hotels and improvements to downtown Casper have made the city a more attractive place for business gatherings, they said.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes that are very positive,” said Dovala. “Downtown is changing. It is a nicer place to be.”

The oil and gas fair is larger than the average Casper conference, said Darlene Matz, director of group services at the Casper Area Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. She noted the city is growing more popular as a conference destination.

“We have the facilities here and we just have to bring the people here,” she said. Of the Wyoming Oil and Gas Fair, she added: “It is a big deal. It’s a lot of people.”