In­dus­try exec: Us­ing nat­u­ral gas the only ‘good news story’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

The path to a national en­ergy pol­icy based largely on nat­u­ral gas is be­com­ing clearer as eco­nomic tur­moil and ris­ing oil prices cause law­mak­ers to take a sec­ond look at the clean-burn­ing fuel trapped in un­der­ground rock, Amer­i­can Gas As­so­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent and CEO Dave Mc­Curdy said Sept. 20.

In a wide-rang­ing in­ter­view, the one-time Demo­cratic con­gress­man from Ok­la­homa ar­gued that the na­tion needs an “all-in” ap­proach to break its ad­dic­tion to for­eign oil. He also de­cried the “fuel wars” that some­times erupt be­tween those who fa­vor re­new­able en­ergy sources, such as wind and so­lar power, and oth­ers who be­lieve nat­u­ral gas, nu­clear power and coal have a big role to play in the fu­ture.

“If you have a grow­ing econ­omy, this doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game,” Mr. Mc­Curdy told ed­i­tors and re­porters at The Washington Times. “The pie is go­ing to get larger. Consumer de­mand is go­ing to in­crease.”

With the dis­cov­ery of vast quan­ti­ties of nat­u­ral gas in the Mar­cel­lus Shale re­gion, which stretches from up­state New York south into Ken­tucky, Mr. Mc­Curdy said the fuel has the po­ten­tial to be­come the “foun­da­tion” of Amer­i­can en­ergy. Crit­ics con­tend hy­draulic frac­tur­ing, the use of water, sand and chem­i­cals to free gas in the Mar­cel­lus Shale, is a threat to water sup­plies and will pol­lute nearby water­ways.

But what those op­po­nents truly fear, he said, is a free mar­ket com­pe­ti­tion be­tween gas and re­new­able fu­els.

“I think a lot of their con­cern, or their op­po­si­tion, is a lit­tle less about the risk of the ac­tual pro­duc­tion [of nat­u­ral gas] than it is the po­ten­tial dis­ad­van­tage that re­new­ables have from a cost stand­point,” he said.

Now that re­sources have been iden­ti­fied and meth­ods de­vel­oped to ac­cess them, Mr. Mc­Curdy said the busi­ness needs “pre­dictabil­ity and cer­tainty.” National en­ergy pol­icy, he said, is di­vorced from the eco­nomic re­al­ity that nat­u­ral gas can com­pete and win in the mar­ket­place while help­ing move the U.S. away from de­pen­dence on Mid­dle East­ern oil.

Switch­ing the mil­lions of trac­tor-trail­ers on the na­tion’s roads to nat­u­ral gas, for ex­am­ple, could save as much as 3 mil­lion bar­rels of oil each day and re­duce car­bon emis­sions, he said. De­spite such prom­ise, gas re­mains on the back burner in Washington and in­vest­ment con­tin­ues to flow to fla­vor-of-the-week in­dus­tries that con­trib­ute lit­tle to long-term en­ergy se­cu­rity.

“We’re los­ing our ca­pac­ity to think strate­gi­cally,” Mr. Mc­Curdy said. “[I]t’s all short term. It’s all in­stan­ta­neous. As an in- dus­try, we’re just ask­ing govern­ment to take a lit­tle bit longer of an ap­proach like we do and help us make de­ci­sions that can en­dure.”

At the state level, how­ever, that short-term think­ing is be­ing re­placed by the re­al­iza­tion that nat­u­ral gas of­fers not only an al­ter­na­tive to for­eign oil but also the cre­ation of thou­sands of jobs.

In states such as Penn­syl­va­nia, where Mar­cel­lus Shale drilling re­vi­tal­ized dy­ing towns and kept the un­em­ploy­ment rate be­low the national av­er­age, the po­lit­i­cal dy­namic is be­gin­ning to change, Mr. Mc­Curdy said. There al­ways will be crit­ics, but he said they’re hav­ing an in­creas­ingly hard time de­mo­niz­ing the nat­u­ral gas in­dus­try and the eco­nomic boom it of­ten brings.

“There’s re­ally only one good news story out there, and that’s nat­u­ral gas,” he said.

While Repub­li­cans and Democrats in Penn­syl­va­nia and other states largely have reached a con­sen­sus on the im­por­tance of nat­u­ral gas, other cities and states haven’t fol­lowed suit. Pittsburgh and Buf­falo, N.Y., for ex­am­ple, have out­lawed hy­draulic frac­tur­ing, or “frack­ing.”

Last month, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie im­posed a oneyear mora­to­rium on frack­ing, re­ject­ing a per­ma­nent ban that had been over­whelm­ingly ap­proved by the state Leg­is­la­ture. En­vi­ron­men­tal groups called the move “an in­sult,” while the Mar­cel­lus Shale Coali­tion, con­sist­ing of gas-drilling com­pa­nies, said it was a “purely po­lit­i­cal state­ment,” be­cause the shale doesn’t stretch into the Gar­den State.

But Mr. Mc­Curdy said he be­lieves Mr. Christie, a Repub­li­can, made a “po­lit­i­cally as­tute” move, calm­ing op­po­nents by tak­ing 12 months to study the is­sue be­fore com­ing to a fi­nal de­ci­sion next year.

“We ap­plauded him for what he did,” he said.

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