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Industrial Exec Warns of Groundswell of Discontent for High Gas Prices

The debate over how to stabilize natural gas prices "needs to be elevated, not isolated," because concern about higher prices is coming not only from industrial customers but also commercial and residential consumers and eventually could grow into a groundswell of discontent, the chairman of the Process Gas Consumers Group said Thursday.

Alex E. Strawn, who also is the senior purchasing manager for Procter & Gamble, spoke at the 19th Annual GasMart in New Orleans. His group represents 15-20 of the largest industrial gas customers in the United States. Membership, which is voluntary, includes Procter & Gamble, General Motors, Alcoa and Ford Motor Co.

Gas prices have been high for so long that Strawn said industrial gas users are "just glad to be hanging on. We're just glad to stay in the game. We're still trying to increase production, despite prices. And for the first time, conservation has become one of the ways we are managing. Now it is a viable strategy."

Strawn charged the gas producers and suppliers with not having enough "passion for what needs to be done to keep all of us in the race. We're always in the game, but we're kind of the odd man out," he said of industrial users.

"Who courts the industrial user?" Strawn asked the audience. "We are the ones that provide many of the jobs for people who pay gas bills when they go home." Using humor, Strawn said, "We're not feeling the love! Don't get me wrong. I believe in the free market system. There are plenty of you willing to sell to us at the market price, but the price is too high. We hit one big price bump three years ago, and it hasn't been taken down."

Strawn acknowledged that "domestic ankle weights" push up the price of gas, including lack of access, regulatory issues, and the "continuing debate" about responsible access versus environmental responsibility. However, Strawn encouraged the audience to put all of the issues on the table to affect a solution. "We're in a race, and we have to talk about the overall solutions."

Using anecdotal incidents about residents in his hometown of Tyler, TX, Strawn said he knows people who are worried about their gas bills, and he knows they have begun to complain to regulatory officials about not being able to pay their bills. The consumers, he said, have to be brought into the debate about gas supply.

"There's a lot of grumbling out there...gasoline and gas prices are higher, and eventually, it could grow into a groundswell," he warned.

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