Eight energy ministers from Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Qatar, Argentina, Equatorial Guinea, Greece, Turkey and Romania have opted to remain absent, organisers of World Petroleum Congress say.
Several countries have decide to stay away from the World Petroleum Congress (WPC) that will kick off this week in the Houston city of United States, organisers have said.
Eight energy ministers – from Saudi, Kazakhstan, Qatar, Argentina, Equatorial Guinea, Greece, Turkey and Romania – bowed out, WPC officials said on Sunday.
The chief executives of oil companies BP, Sonatrach and Qatar Energy also withdrew.
This year's four-day event, rescheduled from 2020 due to the pandemic, brings together the industry's main players about every three years.
It was expected to feature officials from countries including Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, India and the United States discussing the role of new technologies and low-carbon strategies.
But travel restrictions and worries over the new variant had organisers scrambling on Sunday to fill gaps in the agenda.
The high-level absences resulted from "travel restrictions and concerns" about the new variant, organisers said.
The conference will proceed and replacements for some speakers are being sought, a spokesperson said.
Climate crisis and virus
The impact of the virus comes as the industry struggles with shortages of natural gas and power in Asia and Europe from output losses prompted by the pandemic. Multi-year-high energy prices recently retraced gains with new lockdowns.
Oil futures fell for the last six weeks, settling on Friday at $69.88 a barrel, down 19 percent from the year's peak in late October.
OPEC, the oil producing nations group, last week agreed to continue its gradual relaxation of oil production curbs, but cautioned it could reverse itself if the coronavirus reduces fuel demand.
The discovery of the new, fast-spreading variant is overshadowing another pressing topic for those who are gathering in Houston.
Faced with growing pressure over climate crisis concerns, oil producers must contend with government demands for lower-carbon emissions and a shift to cleaner fuels.
Monday's conference session is scheduled to begin with executives from Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Saudi Aramco, Equinor and Total Energies laying out their approaches to the world's transition away from fossil fuels.
On Tuesday, OPEC General Secretary Mohammad Barkindo is due to deliver his remarks remotely due to travel restrictions.