Shell chief finds ‘frightening’ energy ignorance

14 February 2008 22:43  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US consumer ignorance about energy production and consumption is both overwhelming and frightening, and the energy industry must do a better job of communication, Shell Oil President John Hofmeister said on Thursday.


Hofmeister, presenting the report of a two-year, 50-city tour of the US by company officials, also said the results of scores of town hall meetings across the country were heartening because Americans are “taking energy issues seriously”.


However, Hofmeister said the most frightening aspect of Shell’s grass roots research effort was “the overwhelming disconnect between the perceptions of many consumers and the hard realities of the energy picture”.


“This is the crux of our dilemma in determining an energy path forward - the belief [among consumers] that there are easy answers that are readily available, when in reality the choices we have to make will not come easily or swiftly,” he said.


He said that Shell executives found widely held and unrealistic expectations that the US can abandon fossil fuels in favour of solar, wind and biomass sources.  In addition, “We also found a strong streak of visceral anger and zero sympathy toward the oil industry,” he said.


“Anger also was directed against those perceived as using excessive energy,” he said, such as those who drive low-mileage sport utility vehicles (SUVs).  Some consumers at the town hall meetings urged punitive taxes on SUV owners and rules forcing commuters to use bicycles.


“There was a sense of righteousness around this issue that was sometimes disturbing,” Hofmeister said.


He said the town hall meetings uncovered a range of popularly held myths about energy.


Among other things, he said, many consumers believe that oil prices are arbitrarily set by oil companies, that the world is running out of fossil fuels, that conventional energy development is incompatible with environmental interests and that the country can achieve energy security with conservation and more production of biofuels such as corn ethanol.


In speeches at the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Press Club, Hofmeister said “People we spoke with on the tour were shocked to discover the perverse nature of our public policy restricting domestic development”.  He said many people were surprised to learn that the US bars oil and gas drilling in 85% of the nation’s outer continental shelf regions but that Cuba is drilling for oil within 45 miles of Florida’s shore.


The tour, he said, showed that “As an industry, we have not done a good job of building public awareness of energy issues”.


He urged a 12-point plan to raise consumer and policymakers’ awareness of the need for more access to domestic US oil and gas supplies, development of oil sands and shale, clean coal technology, increased imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and research to make cellulosic ethanol production a commercial reality.

By: Joe Kamalick
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