Oil industry to power Houston economy for decades

Deep oil industry roots will keep Houston’s energy-driven economy powering forward over the next half century as the world continues to demand hydrocarbons, a University of Houston professor said during remarks at the Houston Chronicle.

Speaking to journalists during the latest in a series of Chronicle editorial lectures with Houston experts, UH History Prof. Joe Pratt said there was no question where the energy capital has been or will be in decades to come.

“It is still us,” Pratt said, citing the expected dominance of oil and gas in the world energy market through much of the next century.

The industry’s layers in Houston, from oil production and exploration expertise to massive refineries and petrochemical complexes that continue to expand, will ensure that the city remains at the center of the energy world, he said.

“We have the oldest, the largest, and what I’ve come to call the thickest amount of oil and gas activity in the world,” Pratt said.

Pratt said efforts to translate Houston’s oil and gas expertise toward other energy resources – attempts at positioning the city as a center of renewable energy knowledge and technology – have not been effective.

“The things that make you really good in oil and gas aren’t transferable almost at all to solar, for example,” Pratt said.

He said oil and gas expertise could translate to renewable energy in the area of increasing the energy efficiency of petroleum products and perhaps in alternative fuels.

On the recent abundance of domestic natural gas supplies, Pratt said that it was likely that the government would permit exports of liquefied natural gas, which could bring higher prices for energy companies. Natural gas prices in the United States hit their lowest levels in a decade this year because of a massive oversupply, while world prices are much higher.

“I don’t think, politically, we can stop exports of natural gas,” he said.

Pratt is chairman of history at UH. He has written ten books, including Voice of the Marketplace, a history of the National Petroleum Council, and Prelude to Merger, on the history of Amoco Corporation from 1973 to 1998.