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FERC Alumnus: Natgas Industry Should Act Like A Winner

Natural gas is winning the battle to become America's fuel for now and the future thanks to energy industry ingenuity, speakers at a Houston pipeline conference said last week. However, one said the industry should now be confident in taking more of a leadership roll in shaping the country's energy future.

Author and frequent speaker on energy Robert Bryce told attendees at Pipeline & Gas Journal's Pipeline Opportunities Conference the United States has become the envy of the world when it comes to energy, thanks to abundant gas and coal reserves. "Other countries would die to be in the position that the United States is in today...We don't have an abundance of gas; we have a super-abundance of gas. We're in the top of the second inning of the shale gas revolution...

"In terms of macroeconomics, the U.S. is in the catbird seat. We're doing really well."

At home, natural gas has already won the battle among the country's viable sources of energy, said URS Corp. consultant J. Mark Robinson, a former director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) Office of Energy Projects and longtime staffer at the Commission.

Coal-fired power generation "is basically toast," he said, thanks to tighter emissions regulations now in the making. Nuclear takes time and money -- and subsidies in an era when subsidies are ripe for cutting in Washington, DC. Ditto for wind energy and its 2.2 cent/kWh tax credit, which expires again at the end of this year. But as for natural gas, "You've got your own issues that you need to focus on here," Robinson told the roomful of gas pipeliners.

Gas production is climbing; demand isn't keeping up, and prices are falling, he said. The Sierra Club, after accepting tens of millions of dollars from the gas industry, has now become its "mortal enemy" by virtue of its anti-hydraulic fracturing activities.

"The thing that the natural gas industry has not recognized yet is you have won..." Robinson said. "The die is cast. Natural gas is going to be increasingly used, and yet the natural gas industry has not taken that position."

Robinson cited a recent appeal from the Natural Gas Supply Association (NGSA) to FERC to resolve coordination issues between the gas and power industries (see related story. It wasn't the kind of move a winner makes, he suggested.

"If you have the concept that we won and we know what we're doing, one of the things you want to do is go to your customers..." meaning the power industry, and not to regulators, Robinson said. He asserted that the mindset in the industry is still on how things were handled in the past.

Robinson called on the industry to market natural gas, not just to power generators but for export as liquefied natural gas and as a transportation fuel. While the ultimate amount of natural gas that could be exported is really a drop in the bucket compared to production and reserves, "...you've got to support it; you've got to make people understand that it's important for the industry."

On the transportation side of the demand picture, local distribution companies should be out talking to gasoline companies about creating more locations where consumers can fuel their vehicles with natural gas, he said.

"If you're the natural gas industry, you should be marketing natural gas," Robinson said. "Everybody benefits when you burn more natural gas."

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