I took part in a conference call today for bloggers hosted by the American Petroleum Institute, the main trade group for oil and natural gas producers, refiners, suppliers, etc. The topic: Energy and the Environment. Given the frequency with which we maintain this energy blog it may be a stretch to really call myself a blogger, but API was willing to pretend I am, so why not?
This is the second such blogger forum API has hosted and it seems to be part of the wider information campaign the oil industry has been doing since the November elections.
The participants were a mix: bloggers from mainstream outlets like the Wall Street Journal and Fortune Magazine, to more independent bloggers like www.ecogeek.org, www.treehugger.com and www.theoildrum.com.
A link to a podcast of the call will be posted here soon.
My question was about API’s stance on efforts to promote energy efficiency, such as auto fuel economy standards or rebate programs like we have in Texas to encourage homeowners and businesses to invest in energy saving technologies. Yes, a bit of a softball.
API President Red Cavaney said efficiency needed to be a cornerstone of any energy policy but that API wasn’t going to suggest how other industries, such as the auto industry, should handle those programs.
“The easiest way to add additional capacity, be it the barrel of oil or bcf of natural gas, is the one you don’t use,” Cavaney said.
Cavaney said the refining industry has made its own commitments to efficiency, including a pledge in 2002 to reduce the “energy intensity” of its operations by 10 percent in 10 years, and to increase the use of cogeneration — using steam or other energy usually expended as waste at a refinery to produce power either for onsite use or sale back to the grid. Cavaney said there were about 150 such units at refineries.
He also said he thought with the exception of California, consumers in most states probably weren’t aware of conservation programs and what they could do personally. I found that interesting since I feel like I see lots of “ways to save” web sites, fliers, articles etc. everywhere I look, but that may be just because I’m tuned into such things because of my job.
Another question was about claims the oil industry has made it difficult for ethanol to make it to gas stations. Cavaney said people who made such claims against the industry “have their own agenda,” but he pointed out the lower energy yield of ethanol (you need to burn more to make your car go as far as an equal amount of gasoline) and the limits of corn supplies when making corn-based ethanol.
Cavaney’s optimism about cellulosic ethanol reminded me of a comment from a former CIA director-turned-Booz Allen-consultant James Woolsey at a University of Houston conference earlier this year.
“The Wright brothers have already flown in the world of cellulosic ethanol,” Woolsey said. “It’s not a world of people standing around in white coats trying to create something like the Manhattan Project. It’s a matter of developing the industrial-level efficiency.”