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Executives Fault Politicians, Express Access, Conservation Worries

A survey of oil and gas executives finds that the majority blame politicians for short-range decision-making they say is an obstacle to securing the country's energy future. They also blame "public attitudes" but said "poor communications by the energy industry" had little to do with a lack of energy progress.

Nearly four out of five industry leaders surveyed by Deloitte & Touche USA LLP said government energy policies were not headed in the right direction. Fully two out of three respondents said policy concerns, notably environmental and other restrictive policies that block access to new energy projects and supplies, are the No. 1 energy issue facing America today.

"Geopolitical challenges to accessing critical oil and gas reserves are a top concern for the industry," said Richard Woodward, Deloitte Consulting U.S. oil and gas practice leader. "This inability to access reserves, combined with growing global demand, are ultimately responsible for high and rising oil prices.

"Still, "the lack of energy conservation" followed closely behind environmental policies as a major concern, with about 23% of Deloitte's respondents ranking conservation as their No. 1 energy issue. Next, at about 20%, was "restrictive government policies that limit development of new energy," followed by "too little reliance on coal, nuclear and other energy," and "diminishing domestic oil and gas supplies."

The survey identified two main obstacles to energy supply growth: geopolitical turmoil and access restrictions, including both blocked access to oil reserves exploration in America and limitations in foreign jurisdictions where significant oil and gas reserves are known to be present.

Of the nonnuclear energy alternatives, more than half of survey respondents believe unconventional liquids (tar sands, oil shale, coal liquefaction) hold the most promise for making a meaningful impact on U.S. energy supply and pricing in the next 10 years. Survey respondents saw ethanol as likely to be most important after unconventional resources.

More than 80% of those polled predict West Texas Intermediate oil prices between $60 and $70 for December 2007. For natural gas, a similarly wide majority gave a broader band for pricing in the $5-10/MMBtu range by the end of 2007. Only 10% thought natural gas prices would fall below $5. However, about 45% said gas prices in December 2007 would be $5-7/MMBtu. About 39% said gas would be $8-10/MMBtu. And just under 10% predicted gas prices greater than $11/MMBtu.

More than half believe the industry can withstand oil prices up to $90/bbl before triggering a worldwide recession. Just over one-quarter believe the price can go up to $100 per barrel before a global economic impact is felt.

On the demand side, the majority of those surveyed believe a worldwide economic recession is the single factor that could drive oil prices down. Only a global economic recession would be able to slow energy demand enough to enable supply growth to catch up. Without a global economic recession, world energy prices are unlikely to fall much in the foreseeable future.

Deloitte surveyed more than 100 executives and managers in the U.S. oil and gas industry in November with an email questionnaire.

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