Natural gas use has to be part of any climate-friendly policy, but the industry so far has done a poor job of convincing a skeptical public that it can find, develop and deliver gas at a reasonable price without harming the environment, Questar Corp. CEO Keith O. Rattie said last week.

The question the gas industry has to answer, Rattie said, is not “why” greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced but “how.” The outspoken CEO was the opening keynote speaker at the Rocky Mountain Natural Gas Strategy Conference & Investment Forum presented by the Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA) in Denver.

Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd in downtown Denver, Rattie said that whether the COGA participants were convinced about global warming science or not, “the political science is settled. The train’s leaving the station. The folks we elect and send to Congress and state houses across the country have decided it’s time to do something. Carbon dioxide [CO2] regulation is coming, whether it’s needed or not. And that ought to be good for natural gas.”

However, high costs and tight supply have led to more “scorn” from the public for the energy industry than at any time Rattie can remember in his 31-year career. He thinks it’s a case of misunderstanding.

“High prices and related concerns about supply are not the consequence of a shortage of natural gas,” he said. “America, this region, and the world are swimming in natural gas. Instead, high prices are the consequence of policy. America is the only developed country in the world that deliberately chooses not to develop its domestic natural gas resources.”

He said “the lesson that we should’ve learned from the 1970s is that when it comes to deciding how much energy gets used, what types of energy get used, and where, how and by whom energy gets used — that job is too important not to be left to markets.”

Rattie told the crowd, “We — the natural gas industry — need to get our act together.” COGA participants should begin to “take action” on several fronts.

“First, we’ve got to advocate a market-based approach. We’ve got to fight mandates like [the] Kyoto [Protocol] and renewable portfolio standards. We need to resist the temptation to let politicians substitute their judgment for that of the market, and let the market determine the price of carbon,” Rattie said.

The Questar CEO also urged participants to “reach out to responsible environmental groups and ask them to rethink their sometimes reflex opposition to natural gas development on public lands. Hey guys, we’re on your side! The truth is that the natural gas industry has every right to claim the moral high ground. We find, produce and deliver a clean, safe, environmentally friendly fuel to 65 million American homes and businesses.”

Policymakers and the public also have to be assured that the United States and the world are not running out of natural gas, the Questar chief said.

“Today we’re producing gas from formations that a decade ago we dismissed as uneconomic and unproducible,” and technology will eventually produce gas from formations that today are unproducible.

“We’ve got to go the extra mile to reach out to the communities impacted by our development activities” and “distinguish between legitimate local concerns — which must be addressed — and the opposition of well organized, well funded national groups — which must be fought. We’ve got to prove to a skeptical public that we can do our job without harming the environment.”

Rattie urged the crowd “to get organized and fight back.”

“You know that the rhetorical jihad against energy companies have gone too far when a third-rate radical like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. can attract prime-time coverage by calling for those who oppose radical new laws and regulations to be tried for treason.

“When you ‘follow the money,’ you find that the groups that oppose natural gas development on public lands are well-organized and well funded by hundreds of millions of dollars from foundations like Gordon Moore Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trust, the Ted Turner Foundation, George Soros, the Rockefeller Foundation, The Energy Foundation — the list is long.

“Incredibly — and contrary to media myth — the natural gas industry offers virtually no organized opposition.”

The industry needs to change that by enlisting a natural ally — consumers — in the fight, Rattie said.

“Consumers are also voters. Politicians may not listen to us, but they’ll listen to consumers, particularly when consumers hold them accountable for policies that drive up energy costs. We need to help consumers do just that.”

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