Oil exec pushes greener energy

Oil exec pushes greener energy

The president of Shell Oil, in Miami for a speech, says it’s time to embrace new energy sources.

In the wake of last year’s hurricanes, the United States narrowly averted a major disruption to its fuel supply on a scale ”inconceivable in recent memory,” says Shell Oil Co. president John Hofmeister.

A year later, Hofmeister says he is disappointed that there has been ”not one single policy change” to address the country’s energy supply system. Even so, he’s not discouraged, he told attendees of a luncheon at the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce on Friday.

While the United States is still rich in natural resources to develop conventional and newer forms of oil and gas, Hofmeister said greener alternative sources of energy also have potential to augment traditional fossil fuels.

U.S. oil and gas companies have long argued for the need to open new areas both onshore and offshore for drilling. While Hofmeister urged the case for drilling, he surprised many in the audience by taking a strong stand in favor of energy efficiency and the environment, including federal action to deal with global warming and curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

His comments included a dig at less-progressive minds in the industry. ”I’m not sure that the oil industry is together on this, therefore I would rely on political leadership to take the initiative and to take it forward, which is the way it has happened in the rest of the world,” he said. ”Some other companies would say it’s unwanted, unnecessary and unhelpful.”

Energy experts, included some attending the luncheon, say Hofmeister’s national tour was a sign that the big oil and gas companies, especially Shell and British Petroleum, have awakened to the threat of global warming.

”They think it’s impossible to fight against this because there’s too much evidence of global warming,” said Edward Glab, director of the College of Business Administration at Florida International University. ”Clearly there is not an industry consensus. But it basically hurts the industry.”

Hofmeister’s speech was part of a 50-city tour by Shell executives designed to educate the public about energy challenges facing the country.

Miami is the ninth stop so far. Although a visit to the Tampa Bay area is not currently scheduled, Shell says it is considering adding it to the list.

Hofmeister chose to embark on the tour and meet the public face-to-face, rather than address the issue though an advertising campaign. A political scientist and able speaker, it’s not hard to see why he chose this route.

Most of his speech was a run through of the energy options currently available. While conventional oil and gas deposits in the United States have been sufficient to supply the country for several decades, they are almost all on federal land and require government approval before they can be tapped.

The country also possesses as much as 1-trillion barrels of new oil deposits in the form of oil shale in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah, which are being developed by Shell. Plus, there’s the lure of Canada’s rich deposits of oil sands which could produce another 1.3-trillion barrels.

Alternative sources of energy ”” including biofuels such as ethanol, wind and hydrogen ”” could also play a useful role, he said. Shell is a major investor in wind energy, second in the United States to FPL Energy, a subsidiary of Florida’s FPL Group.

New technology to produce ethanol from plant stalks, rather than corn or sugar cane sap, could make it the ”biofuel of choice far out into the future,” Hofmeister said. E10, or gasoline blended with 10 percent ethanol, was likely a better bet than the E85 blend, with only 15 percent gasoline.

But even after adding up all the available forms of energy, plus the potential for future development of newer technologies, such as hydrogen fuel cells, it won’t meet our energy needs, Hofmeister said. Instead he called for a national commitment to deal with the issue of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and particularly carbon dioxide.

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