Quotable CERAWeek: Memorable lines from energy industry leaders

Dozens of executives from the biggest energy companies in the world descended on Houston this week for the 2015 IHS Energy CERAWeek conference, turning the downtown Hilton-Americas hotel into a forum for the biggest issues facing the oil and gas industry and utilities.

The new reality of oil, with commodity prices still hovering below $60 after a historic crash, was the biggest topic, and the executives who took the stage focused on detailing how their companies would survive.

With several prominent regulators in attendance, like EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the annual event has also served as a soapbox for some domestic oil and gas producers to push forward their public policy goals.

Below are a few of the most quotable lines from the week so far.

“Sanctions regime”

Three oil and gas CEOs and a U.S. senator all slammed the continuing federal ban on crude oil exports in discussion sessions at the conference this week, drawing comparisons of its effects to the Western sanctions on the Iranian oil industry that could soon be lifted.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska got things started with her keynote speech on Monday calling the ban “a sanctions regime against ourselves.”

“We shouldn’t lift sanctions on Iranian oil while we are keeping sanctions on American oil,” Murkowski said. “It makes no sense.”

Murkowski has been among the most visible opponents in the Senate of the 40-year-old crude oil ban. U.S. oil producers have been vocal about ending the ban as a way to help address the growing supply glut that has resulted from the boom in North American tight oil production.

On Tuesday, every member of a panel of oil CEOs called for the ban to be lifted, with two using similar language as Murkowski.

Harold Hamm, the CEO of Continental Resources, criticized the ban in a televised interview with CNBC before the afternoon talk:

Here we are thinking about lifting the sanctions on Iran and letting them export, and yet here we have sanctions in America that we can’t export our oil. What’s going on?

And John Hess, CEO of Hess Corp., in a speech just before the panel:

At a time when the U.S. government on Iranian crude oil exports, its high time that we lift the self imposed sanctions on U.S. crude exports. It’s time to the give the green light to U.S. crude exports.

In the same panel session, Pioneer Natural Resources CEO Scott Sheffield called for an end to the ban, though he didn’t mention Iran.

Don’t blame OPEC

Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon Mobil, also turned to talk of the Middle East during an interview with CERAWeek Chairman Daniel Yergin.

But instead of playing to the frequently repeated theory that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries refused to cut its production because the cartel wanted to kill U.S. shale production with a price crash, Tillerson said he didn’t believe OPEC was in a price war with North American producers.

Many people have written and opined on what OPEC’s actions are about. I don’t take the view that they are in any way trying to threaten other suppliers. I think they’re really kind of on a classic price-discovery exercise, which is important for all of us as investors to know.

Instead, Tillerson noted that the crash in commodity prices was mostly due to bad timing, stressing that oil prices initially started to tank because global demand was falling “at the same time that this freight train of North American tight oil just kept delivering supply that no one in the market foresaw.”

Selling cigarettes

Several oil and gas CEOs at the conference spoke about how the industry must fight back against charges of bad environmental stewardship, but Richard Kinder, CEO of pipeline giant Kinder Morgan, had the best line.

We don’t do a great job of selling how important what we do really is. Sometimes I think we hide behind it like we’re selling cigarettes.

Much of Kinder’s talk on Wednesday was devoted to the recent high-profile public policy and legal challenges to new pipeline construction. Though the biggest pipeline fight, over TransCanada’s constroversial Keystone XL pipeline, didn’t involve Kinder Morgan, the company has gotten push back from residents in New England against its pipeline construction there.