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Questar CEO Says Energy Bill Needs Dose of 'Reality, Not Wishful Thinking'

Questar CEO Says Energy Bill Needs Dose of 'Reality, Not Wishful Thinking'

The United States may have a natural gas supply "problem" on the horizon, but the biggest dilemma now is how consumers will reconcile their growing demand for gas with their environmental beliefs, Questar Corp. CEO Keith O. Rattie said Wednesday.

Rattie, keynote speaker for Platts Natural Gas Outlook 2005 conference in Houston, told attendees that America's "quality of life" depends on energy, "but our energy policy disdains the things we have to do to have it." He noted that offshore drilling is banned in areas of California and Florida, and "we don't like coal, we don't like nuclear power...no one wants pipes on the beach."

Consumer and environmental groups criticize all of the energy options available, but Rattie said the opposition to natural gas is "particularly puzzling." And even though environmentalists have "rolled out the red carpet for alternative energy," in the "real world, alternative energy is not economic today, and it won't be economic for the next few decades."

In any case, he said, Congress has to pass an energy policy that will, among other things, open access to more offshore and onshore areas now banned from drilling. Without more access, "I'll tell you, I don't know of anyone who thinks we'll get to 30 Tcf with the current policy."

With the 109th Congress now underway, Rattie urged legislators to completely rewrite the energy bill that failed to pass the last session and become more educated on the problems ahead. "The energy bill in the last Congress had something for everyone but supply," he said. "We need to have a bill rooted in reality, not wishful thinking."

The "realities" that need to be addressed, he said, should note that the country does not have the resources to "blacklist" any type of energy, nor are there any near-term alternatives to oil and gas. The bill should also address the fact that U.S. gas needs are growing. "While we're not running out of natural gas, we've hit the wall on adding 2% a year. We must come to grips with the need to grow areas for drilling." Increased liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports also are important, but "they may not be a panacea."

Rattie suggested that the new energy bill rest on four "pillars." First, he said, is to let the markets work. "The good news is, the markets are working for new pipelines, LNG, the huge conservation response...more renewables."

The second pillar, and the most difficult, he acknowledged, is to reform the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). "The process today is in desperate need of adult supervision. NEPA abuse is the biggest impediment...the folks in the trenches, in the Rockies, know that the words 'conduct another study' takes days, weeks, months, years. Common sense has given way to CYA," which leads to "delay, delay, delay."

Another pillar, which faces "intense opposition and a fight to keep the public in the dark" is for Congress to order a thorough assessment of the natural gas reserve base offshore and onshore. Finally, Rattie advocated expedited approval of new gas infrastructure, including pipelines and LNG terminals, and reaffirmation of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as the "lead" agency.

"Let's hope Congress is serious this time" in implementing an energy policy, he said. "They will have to act as if the future depends on it...because it does."

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