WASHINGTON — Keeping America’s energy future bright depends, in part, on oil and gas companies convincing the public that their drilling methods are safe, former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will tell landowners and industry representatives gathered in Houston on Wednesday.
Salazar is set to speak at the North American Prospect Expo, a conference marked by a frenzy of wheeling and dealing, as landowners from around the globe look to make deals with oil, gas and pipeline companies. Similar land swaps now take place in Pittsburgh and Denver, too, but the “winter expo” held at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center is the biggest of them all, drawing an estimated 16,000 attendees this year.
The enthusiasm is inspired by a surge in domestic oil and gas development as well as the prospect of new activity in Mexico and other countries.
“We have become a nation that is moving toward energy independence,” Salazar said in an interview with FuelFix ahead of his keyonte speech at 8:50 a.m.
But “this new energy reality” brings formidable challenges, Salazar says, and the biggest may be quelling continued fears about the hydraulic fracturing process that is the root of today’s boom. The technique involves pumping water, sand and chemicals underground to free oil and gas from dense rock formations.
There are now local bans on the practice across the nation, most notably in New York state, where dozens of municipalities block the activity. But stringent restrictions on the practice also have been imposed in Dallas and parts of Salazar’s home state of Colorado.
“Hydraulic fracturing is a central technology that has gotten us to where we are today,” Salazar said. “We know how it is that you construct a well and do hydraulic fracturing without creating environmental concerns and problems.”
But the American public doesn’t share that same confidence, Salazar said.
“The citizens who are in these belts of development need to be fully informed about what is going on,” Salazar added. “The average American citizen needs to be well informed about what hydraulic fracking is, and the fact that it can be done safely.”
Salazar, who left his post atop the Interior Department last April after four years as secretary, also will stress the need to balance energy development with conservation, including protections for endangered species. He has since been working for the law firm WilmerHale, after launching its Denver office last summer.
Salazar’s speech kicks off NAPE’s day-long business conference, a day after early conference activities got underway.
During the traditional marketplace on Thursday and Friday, oil companies big and small will be looking to buy, sell and trade properties. Private equity firms, investment banks and law firms also will be on hand during the dealmaking.
The frenzy on the convention floor has been described as part farmer’s market, part Wall Street. While some deals are inked on the spot, many negotiations end with informal handshake agreements and multi-billion-dollar transactions on the horizon.
This year’s marketplace comes against the backdrop of potential new foreign markets for American oil and gas.
The Energy Department has approved five applications to export liquefied natural gas to countries that don’t have free-trade agreements with the United States. And policymakers in the nation’s capital are debating whether to relax a 39-year ban on exporting U.S. crude.
Energy producers also are excited about the recent climb in natural gas prices, which moved past $5 per million British thermal units on Jan. 24 for the first time in nearly four years. On Tuesday, futures contracts for next month’s delivery were trading at $5.375 per million BTUs on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
This year, more than 900 exhibiting companies are expected at the conference, which is put on by the American Association of Professional Landmen, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the Society of Exploration Geophysicists and the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.
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