Engineering News

Hofmeister Predicts 'Energy Abyss' for US
June 03, 2010

America is "headed for an energy abyss" within the next 10 years, complete with paralyzing blackouts and long lines at service stations selling gasoline at sky-high prices unless the nation adopts a workable energy policy, former oil company executive John Hofmeister said at an energy conference Wednesday.

Hofmeister said "partisan paralysis" plagues Congress and Washington in general, keeping Democrats and Republicans from successfully working together to craft effective energy and environmental policies.

But he also excoriated the oil and gas industry for doing a "pretty miserable" job in terms of marketing and public relations.

He also said the industry's already-poor image has been significantly worsened by the massive, still-uncontained oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that resulted from an April 20 well blowout.

Hofmeister, the former president of Shell Oil's U.S. operations, is the author of a new book, Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk From an Energy Insider.

"We hate the oil companies because government officials teach us to," he said, citing politicians who love to hold hearings criticizing Big Oil while ignoring what he called Washington's own shortsighted failure to think beyond the next election when considering energy issues.

The "structural dysfunction" regarding energy policy is likely to result in an insufficient number of new power plants being built and restrictions on drilling that will result in inadequate supplies of electricity and motor fuel "by the end of this decade," Hofmeister said at the Gas Shales Summit.

The "energy abyss" could include "blackouts and brownouts that make us look like a Third World country" and lines for gas selling at perhaps $6 to $7 a gallon, Hofmeister said. Gas is now selling at roughly $2.50 to $2.75 a gallon, compared with record U.S. prices in summer 2008 topping $4 a gallon.

"I think it's time for an intervention," Hofmeister said, calling for the nation to create an independent board of experts with the authority to guide the nation's long-term energy and environmental policies, much as the Federal Reserve Board oversees U.S. monetary policy.

Experts guided by "science, knowledge, facts" must decide important long-term politics, Hofmeister said.

He said energy executives often have to look 30 years ahead in making major decisions, such as whether to lease 1 million acres for drilling in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, but their jobs are made more difficult by fluctuating policy positions in Washington.

Hofmeister expressed support for expanding energy efficiency and renewable energy but said the U.S. must continue to rely on oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear power for a considerable time to come.

"Wind and solar and biofuels aren't going to make it for us," he said.

Source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas.

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