I've been going to the North American Prospect Expo (NAPE) on and off since 1996. Back then it was held at a couple of hotels in the Galleria, and for a claustrophobic like me it was really a rather terrifying experience -- so many people, so little room. Since its move to the George R. Brown convention center, the show has had plenty of room to grow, and it truly has become one of the most vibrant shows in the industry. It's one of those shows where you can feel the energy vibrating through the hall. NAPE visits recall the wildcatter foundation of the oil industry -- empty booths with "sold out" signs because the company sold its prospects during the icebreaker the previous night; booths titled things like "Three Guys and a Prospect" or "Mom & Pop Oil Co." It's a curious mix of investment banks, analysts, majors, independents, and a single geologist with a neat idea to share. The last time there was a downturn, you'd not know it for the crowds and energy at NAPE. This year was different. While attendance on the first day was good, about 16,000, it was not up to usual NAPE standards. According to the Simmons Morning Energy Note distributed by Bill Herbert of Simmons & Co., "there was definitely less of a 'buzz' compared to the last few years." Herbert noted that most private operators are taking a wait-and-see approach because the current cost structure is too high. "They are seeing costs come down, but not fast enough to encourage putting the drill bit back to work," he wrote. From a merger and acquisition standpoint, "the bid/ask spread remains too wide to drive transactions at this point." About the only play that really created any buzz was the Marcellus shale play, mostly, Herbert wrote, because of its extent and early development stage. Simmons counted about 25 Marcellus deals as well as other Appalachian properties. It will be interesting to get final numbers and see how much genuine activity took place as opposed to a lot of tire kicking. Watch this space.