The debate about where producers may or may not drill in the United States "seems to be stuck in a time warp of the 1960s" that fails to take into account the energy industry's ability to drill with precision and with a minimal environmental footprint, ExxonMobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson said Tuesday. "It is time the public debate on access in this country moves forward."

Tillerson, speaking at Cambridge Energy Research Associates CERAWeek 2007 in Houston, said the energy industry has to do a better job of explaining itself to the public.

"The challenge of meeting future demand is broader than recognizing that the resources are available," he said. "They must also be accessible."

The ExxonMobil CEO noted that in the United States, an estimated 31 billion bbl of recoverable oil and 105 Tcf of natural gas are currently ruled off-limits.

"Many of these restrictions are driven by concerns about the environmental impact of offshore production. But many fail to appreciate the tremendous strides our industry has made toward reducing our environmental footprint and improving safety and reliability of our operations...Technology is the lifeblood of our industry; it always has been."

An "enormous challenge" is explaining what it takes to deliver energy, said Tillerson.

"For example, products that we make don't always convey the same challenges as plasma TVs [or] cell phones, but [oil and gas products] are enormously technologically driven. Gas looks like the same thing we've bought all of our lives, but what's required to deliver it, the technological in and day out, that's a conundrum. The public doesn't see what's required. That's what has been influencing policy."

Tillerson also warned policymakers against trying to achieve "energy independence" for the country. "It is simply not achievable. I'll go even farther and say...I'm not even sure it's even desirable."

In the same way investors manage their portfolios, the best way to manage energy security is through diversity, he said.

"This ties back into having strong trade relationships from multiple sources. If you look at the track record of the energy system, our energy supply is quite good. Even in times of civil disorder, a strong, global energy system has been able to respond quite resiliently, and the consumers have been served." Tillerson said hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2006 "were really a very vivid test of how resilient the energy supply system is for the United States. In a matter of hours, the system adjusted globally."

Instead of focusing on energy independence, Tillerson suggested that the public and policymakers have to talk more about energy efficiency. "An emphasis on energy efficiency gives you immediate action. You don't have to mandate a lot of that. People should want to make that choice."

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