At CERAWeek Conference, Oil and Gas Are the Future
Tuesday was “oil day” at the CERAWeek 2010 energy conference, sponsored by the energy research firm IHS CERA, and leading figures from the energy industry and from the Obama administration gathered to speak about the future of oil and gas. The dominant tone was one of confidence, as most speakers insisted that fossil fuels would remain the key energy sources far into the future, reported the Houston Chronicle.
While a positive assessment of the future of oil and gas might be expected from energy insiders, some of the oil and gas industry’s central claims about the continuing potential and relevance of fossil fuels were confirmed by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. He talked about the promise of natural gas, which can be used for power generation and burns cleaner than coal, as a “bridge” fuel that can play a role in the “transition to other fuels” in the future. Oil, too, will retain its place in the energy mix, according to Chu: “Oil is an ideal transportation fuel, so it will be with us for decades.”
Chu’s guarded endorsement of oil and gas relieved some conference attendees in the oil and gas industry, who were worried that US energy policy might find no room for the continued use of fossil fuels, but other speakers took a more skeptical note on the possibility of an energy transition that would replace fossil fuels with alternative energy sources, whether in a few decades or longer. Saudi Aramco’s chief executive, Khalid Al-Falih, warned of the tendency for renewable energy technology to “overpromise but then underdeliver,” reported the Wall Street Journal. A cycle of overenthusiastic investment could spawn “green bubbles,” he said, though Aramco is planning to invest in solar power technology.
James Mulva, CEO of ConocoPhillips, may have gotten the most applause when he criticized Chu’s characterization of natural gas as a “bridge” fuel. Contrary to claims of what he called “hydrocarbon deniers” who think alternative energy can support the world’s energy needs, he stated: “natural gas is more than a bridge fuel. It is part of the long-term energy solution.”
Disagreement persists on the exact role that oil and gas may play in supplying energy demand in the future, but some consensus emerged on “oil day.” Mulva echoed Chu’s sentiment that “oil. . . will be with us for decades” during an interview after his presentation, when he said, “we know that oil and gas and coal, there’s not going to be an alternative to them for decades to come.” Just as the oil and gas industry doesn’t deny that renewable energy has its place, nor does Chu, the leading figure in US energy policy, deny that oil and gas will continue to be necessary. The question is how much renewable energy can and should be used, and how quickly it can begin to replace some (but not all) consumption of fossil fuels.