Panel addresses clean energy's market and policy challenges

As natural gas prices continue to drop, can renewable energy technologies stay competitive? During today's E&ETV Event Coverage of a George Washington University panel discussion, "Renewables: Boom or Bust," industry experts address the financial hurdles facing the solar and wind energy industries. Panelists include Ronald Smith, co-founder and president, Verdant Power; Andrew Revkin, blogger, The New York Times; retired Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn, president, American Council on Renewable Energy; Reed Hundt, CEO of the Coalition for Green Capital; and Robert Hefner, founder and CEO of GHK Cos.


Andrew Revkin: So I'm going to keep this fast paced. It's been a long day. You've all been patient, including those who are visiting online. And, as a journalist, I always feel like there's great material here to work with in terms of I could just sit here taking notes and then blogging later, but we're going to, this issue of renewables, boom or bust, is such an interesting question right now for so many reasons. You had what's happened with the economy, then you have our politics that's so polarized, and you have this thing called natural gas, which wasn't really on the radar as a game changing, fundamental new nudge to the global energy mix and here it is now in a big way. So, I'm really glad that we have someone here who I think in a way can lay down the challenge that the other panelists can then chip away at in terms of how do you push forward on renewable technologies in an era of abundance? Especially a fuel that, compared to coal, for sure is a boon environmentally. It has issues like any other technology. So why don't you just start in with your vision of this transition we're underway, that you've written about and that you're, you know, essentially invested in as well.

Robert Hefner: Thank you, I'll do my best to do that. So that's why you put me on this side, isn't it? As the challenger, isn't that it?

Andrew Revkin: Well, yeah, but it's ...

Robert Hefner: OK, anyway, natural gas, it's a godsend I believe. America today is drowning in it. You're right that no one paid attention, however, I've been studying natural gas all my life and I testified before the Carter administration that the country had huge resources of natural gas. But regardless of that, today we've finally proven it. And everyone, I do believe, now will accept the fact that the resource is abundant. And the price is terrific for the United States. Today it's selling at plus or minus $2.00 an MCF, which is the equivalent of $12 oil, $12 compared to Europeans who are paying $120 a barrel for oil in Asia. And that natural gas is giving the United States a terrific advantage over and above our competitors. The price of natural gas over the last, since about 2007 and 2008, has dropped over $10 an MCF. And so that means that we're paying, as we consume about 23 trillion a year, we're paying $230 billion less for the natural gas that runs 25 percent of our energy system here in the United States than we were then. And I'll add one final thing, because I know you want to move this on quickly, but the final thing is that gives us incredible competitive advantage over Asia and Europe as the Europeans today are paying somewhere around plus or minus $12 an MCF for gas. And the Asians are paying 14, 15 and $16 per MCF. And so that boost, I believe, is one of the significant things that's driving our economy forward and keeping us going when there's so much other, so many other problems with the economies in Europe and Asia.

Andrew Revkin: So Ron, from your perspective, with this technology you've built, the suite of technologies to harvest energy from water, running water and/or water temperature differences, what do you see? When you think about what's happening with natural gas and just today in the news Reuters had another article about the U.K. They now estimate their offshore shale gas resource, where you're not going to have an anti-fracking fight, because it's not in anyone's backyard, is a huge resource as well. So, what does that do to you?

Ron Smith: Well, certainly it's a competitor, but the world needs energy sources and tidal energy and river energy systems are renewable energy, which is predictable and there are tremendous resources all over the world for these technologies. So, my mission, my task is to commercialize this and get the price competitive with other renewables, but also, for energy deployment, it sites all over the world.

Andrew Revkin: Is it possible, do you foresee a way to have it competitive on a cost basis in a world without subsidies? Actually, there was a question that came in from Mike Casey on Twitter, ScalingGreen is his Twitter tag, why not kick the mature, highly profitable fossil fuels off of all government support and use half of the debt for renewable development? I mean would you, will you always need a prop and/or does natural gas have any subsidies at this point? Or would that really matter to your competitors?

Ron Smith: Well, my technology right now is pretty commercial. So, we certainly will need the incentives to get the price down so that it can be deployed around the world. We're a decade or a decade and a half beyond solar and wind. So, for me, it's critical to kind of lead the commercialization and begin the scaling of the technologies so that the cost can be competitive, but it's a decade or so until we're actually competitive with the other sources.

Andrew Revkin: How much of that decade is the R in R&DDD versus the deployment scale ...

Ron Smith: Well, we're pretty close. I mean we've been doing this for-this was actually begun at New York University in the early 1980s. So we're 20 years into it, so we're pretty far, we're getting close to commercialization. We just got a license in New York City to deploy grid connected power and collect commercial revenue for the first time. On the backside of that, we'll be scaling. We believe we can get some commercial projects started in the next 3 to 5 years and then, from there, it's the scaling.

Andrew Revkin: So, Admiral McGinn, again, the same question comes to you in the sense of can you see kind of a mix of policies and/or other actions, investments that can take you, take the renewables that are in your, that's on your to-do list to become a real big chunk of what we get our energy from?

Dennis McGinn: Sure, let me start by saying that my renewables list is everything. Its tidal energy, hydro, solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, the whole spectrum, as well as energy efficiency and recycled energy or waste energy recovery. I agree with Robert, we've got a tremendous blessing here in the United States with our ability to access reserves of natural gas that have been there for millennia. And now we, through a whole bunch of public and private investment, have the ability to extract it. I also agree with Ron, that this isn't a showstopper or it shouldn't be viewed as simply a competitor to the scale of any form of renewable energy. In fact, when you start talking about forms of renewable energy that are intermittent, when the sun doesn't shine or the wind doesn't blow, natural gas has a tremendous firming capability, unlike things that you have to boil water for like nuclear and coal.

Andrew Revkin: Can you spell out what firming is, for ...

Dennis McGinn: Yeah, firming is like if the electric meter starts going, drooping if you will, because demand is staying relatively steady or even growing, and because the wind isn't blowing or the sun isn't shining as hot, your ability to generate it strictly with one form of renewable starts going down. So, that creates a lot of headaches with power companies and with customers. So the ability to have, in a given area, natural gas-fired power plants that can either provide baseload, steady electrical power 24/7, or natural gas that you can turn on quickly, relatively quickly compared to boiling water in these large power plants that rely on coal and nuclear, and bring in the necessary additional generating capacity to firm up that intermittency. The other key point I think that really goes to the synergy of natural gas and renewables is that while the value of natural gas helping renewables be more viable if you will, because of that firming capability, renewables have a wonderful price of fuel, essentially zero. I mean there's a little bit if you amortize operating costs. But no one can guarantee that we're going to be at two dollars or less per MCF for the duration of a power purchase agreement of 20 or 30 years. So the whole point is diversification of an energy portfolio that takes into consideration there are price fluctuations, so there's going to be a lot of eventual upward pressure on the price of natural gas or really any energy commodity over time. And it's really, really good to have a little resiliency that is brought to you by a diverse energy portfolio.

Andrew Revkin: So, Reed, the last decade or more was focused on developing some kind of price for carbon, meaning you put enough of a price on these bad fuels or on the externalities, that you would drive this shift toward renewables. In our politics, not just in the politics, but the pure economics and in a global world, where if you care about carbon dioxide, you realize that most of the growth is going to come in China and India and not here, how do you see a path forward for policy or whatever else there might be to drive this shift? What's the financial background here?

Reed Hundt: So, let me say something about natural gas by way of answering your question. I certainly don't disagree with any of these statements. I think that they lead, and maybe my colleagues in the panel would agree with this, they lead to some extremely hard questions. I think that natural gas is to the political debate about energy as the atomic bomb was to World War II. Meaning it brings a sudden end to the conflicts. It totally reshapes the geopolitical alignment of power and also it leads to the following question. We have no idea what's going to happen next. Now, how to we get from this area of shock and awe at the nature of the discovery to asking all over again the following question. Where do we want energy to come from to fuel a huge, growing global economy? What's the answer for China? What's the answer for India? What's the answer for the United States? But when I say we, I mean how does everyone on the planet feel about this, since everyone on the planet, at least, let's put it this way, everybody in this room is willing to concede, I'm absolutely sure, that there are tremendous impacts on the climate from burning carbon. That's true whether it's natural gas or whether it's coal. We like natural gas better because it doesn't produce as many greenhouse gases per unit of energy, but it still is adding to greenhouse gases. So, now we have to ask this question all over again in an environment in which natural gas in the United States is cheaper than coal. So let's ask the hard questions. Is there any reason at all to burn any coal in the United States? This firming you're talking about, natural gas does a better job than coal. Coal is incredibly destructive of the environment in the ways that natural gas can actually be extracted without doing it. So why do we have any commitment to coal? That's a question for the U.S. Here's a question too that we need to be honest about asking. If it's a blessing for the United States, then why should we export it? The price for natural gas in Europe is six times higher than it is here. It's seven times higher in Asia. You just told us that. So if you're somebody who has the natural gas, you definitely want to export it and sell it for 600 percent higher price. But why is it in the best interest of the United States to export it? If this is a blessing for the United States, shouldn't it be a blessing for the United States? These are the hard questions that have to be asked. And here's the third and the last of the questions that I'm struggling over and I'm inviting all of you to struggle over. What is the argument for government support of any renewable at all with natural gas at these prices? There's no question there's not any renewable, solar, wind, there's not any renewable that can survive without a set of tax breaks from Congress and a set of financing breaks from the green banks that our group has been creating. Any other, without those supports, natural gas is at a price where it will replace basically all electricity generation in the United States. And if it could make inroads in transportation, it would do that too. So, what is the argument for supporting renewables? Why should we have tax breaks? Why should we have spending by taxpayers or electricity ratepayers? I think there are answers, but you cannot assume that everyone agrees. Oh, no problem, let's continue to support renewables.

Andrew Revkin: Before you all jump in with responses, one thing that this brings to mind for me is something I try to write about occasionally. I think there's this perception that innovation is restricted to widgets, photovoltaic chemistry. Innovation is needed here at policy, if anything, more than in the widgetry. And I think that's the point you're making, that we can-are there new models for, and actually, there was a tweet that came in from Beth Elliott, essentially for the floor, saying any chance the natural gas and renewable lobbies will get together to push a national clean energy standard because of that compatibility?

Reed Hundt: I'll tell you what I hear, that lobbyists are something we have a lot of them Washington and so you meet them everywhere. Again, what I hear is that they believe that all the requirements in the states that generate investment in solar and wind and tidal and other forms of "true" renewables, they believe they should be altered to allow natural gas to be counted. If that's the case, then you can forget about investment in solar and wind for years and years and years.

Andrew Revkin: By the way, and I would love to have you respond on the point that you raised, which was so important about the political context. Coal is very influential and you were saying that, well, the shock and awe, the sense that natural gas is a surprise now. It was never a surprise to you. You were on 60 Minutes in 1980, saying the same thing.

Robert Hefner: Saying the same thing. (Inaudible).

Andrew Revkin: But there were legislative moves pushed by other energy sources that basically tamped down natural gas. So, could you, let's talk about politics here briefly of energy.

Robert Hefner: Yeah, I think that there's an important thing to say about the politics of energy, particularly understanding natural gas's lack really of political effectiveness. Coal has always been a powerful lobby and it's teamed up tightly with the electric companies. So you've got the utilities and the coal companies and it's all, from production to distribution, they have the same agenda. And in the past, oil, multinational oil companies, including those based in the United States, were not a part of the natural gas effort at all. They were around the world exploring for oil, but they're an integrated industry also, from upstream to downstream, from production to putting gasoline in your tank. But not so natural gas. It's really not one industry and that's why we've never had, ever, an effective lobby. You've got a lot of independent producers who have a hard time getting along with themselves.

Andrew Revkin: I've noticed.

Robert Hefner: Trying to come together to talk about policy issues in Washington. Then we have the companies that gather and transport the gas, all with different issues and different regulations. And then, significantly, enormous difference is there's utilities that distribute the natural gas and they have a different agenda. So, natural gas has kind of been left out of the politics of energy and maybe we, as an industry, can come together now. But natural gas has got to where it's gotten, really, without an effective lobby. We're doing it on our own.

Dennis McGinn: The point that, and perhaps there is an inverse proportionality or an inverse relationship between the inherent goodness of an energy commodity and the amount of lobbying you have to do to preserve it.

Robert Hefner: That's certainly has been the case with natural gas. And I think that energy transitions are so monumental, they have so much force behind them because they result from everything every one of us does every single day. I mean it's really hundreds of billions of energy decisions that the 7 billion people on earth are making or those in the United States are making. Everything we do is what, there's such momentum to that, that natural gas will continue to be able to ride that momentum track forward, unless something is done as they did in the Carter administration, which actually banned natural gas from its two fastest-growing markets.

Andrew Revkin: Are we, President Obama used a very, he deployed a very useful term a couple of years ago when oil prices spiked and he talked about we have to avoid a shock and trance approach to energy policy. Now, is it possible that natural gas is going to put us into a trance, a decades long trance in terms of the need for R&D and for keeping the push up on the frontiers of all the different energy technologies, including nuclear? Does that ...

Dennis McGinn: I don't think so. I think that there are so many different energy interests shall we say, including in the renewable energy area. Nuclear is not to be completely discounted. And I think that if we start looking at some of the global market dynamics Reed mentioned this differential, huge differential in natural gas prices between here and Europe, here and Asia, those are going to be really, really playing out. There's also a lot of demand that is going to be created. Obviously, the first great need for natural gas is the replacement of coal-fired power plants, especially the older and dirtier ones. The second one is going to be with a very, very high and probably continuing for the foreseeable future, price of oil, the displacement of oil in our transportation sector, especially for commercial fleets, by compressed natural gas probably. Home heating oil, going the way of the, pardon the expression, the dinosaur, in the Northeast. Replaced by natural gas. But I think probably the other real pressure if you will, upward pressure on price is going to be this global dynamic demand. It isn't quite as fungible a commodity in the since of transporting it because of the need to liquefy it and really get energy density, as oil is for example, but there is going to be that pressure. In fact, there are gas producing companies, like ConocoPhillips right now, that are making preliminary plans and doing some good analysis about how could we get an LNG capability out of the Gulf area to export to South America or perhaps to Europe?

Reed Hundt: So that's what we should do? And that would double the (inaudible) here or quadruple the price.

Dennis McGinn: I'm not saying no, I'm not saying we should do it. I'm saying that we could do it. And given the pressures of the free market, we probably will. I think it would be naïve to say we're going to pass some law that's going to keep natural gas within the confines of the United States.

Reed Hundt: Well, then we could double the price of natural gas and then it would be competitive with coal and we could continue to burn coal.

Reed Hundt: So this is the point. We've really got to be, don't you agree with this admiral? We really have to be straightforward with ourselves about the choices, so when they, when we ...

Dennis McGinn: I don't think it's that stark a choice between exporting and..

Reed Hundt: Well, right now it isn't, right now there's almost no capability to export natural gas in the U.S., you agree? There are no license granted.

Dennis McGinn: Very limited, right.

Reed Hundt: There is no facility.

Dennis McGinn: Sure.

Reed Hundt: It will take hundreds of billions of dollars to turn the United States into a natural gas exporting country. If we took that same amount of money and committed that to subsidizing renewables, we could easily, you've done the math on this, we could easily cause renewables to be 25 or 30 percent of our energy source in less than a decade. That's not what the lobbies want to do. They want to invest all of the money in exporting natural gas to double the price in the U.S., discourage manufacturers from building in the United States and make coal costs competitive so we can still burn coal. I'm not making this up. They're writing these memos to Congress right now and no one will talk about it in the election, but you know exactly which party will support this outcome.

Dennis McGinn: There are three tools basically the government has ...

Reed Hundt: No, you're right about this, you should be applauding. We have to talk the truth about this in this kind of room. We can't get it on the airwaves, but we need to (inaudible). I'm sorry, go on, I'll be quiet.

Robert Hefner: Well, but are you saying hundreds of billions of dollars going into the building facilities ...

Reed Hundt: What do you think the pipeline debates are about? They're not about bringing oil in. They're about bringing natural gas to export facilities that have to be built and the licenses have to be obtained.

Robert Hefner: But it's all going to be-all of the financing is going to be by private industry, because it's a commercial thing to do.

Reed Hundt: I didn't say that it would be by the public. I am saying that that is a policy shift that is of the same nature of those that you've watched over the last 30 years. The reason we don't have export facilities for natural gas is partly because the lobbies haven't been very powerful.

Robert Hefner: No, not really.

Reed Hundt: But it's also because ...

Robert Hefner: Maybe it's because nobody believed we had any natural gas in the country, so they built import facilities.

Reed Hundt: That's what I was going to say, because we built our system to be the import country, to make that change is a staggering investment.

Robert Hefner: The government can't get in the business of saying that we should either export or not export. I mean we're a free-trade nation, that's ...

Reed Hundt: Wait a minute. The government can't get in the business of regulating energy? That's all the government has been doing in energy for years. We just haven't liked the regulation.

Robert Hefner: Well, true. I didn't like Carter passing the Fuel Use Act that prohibited the use of natural gas and that set this nation back 50 years, because we went back to the coal that you don't like.

Reed Hundt: I'm not defending those decisions and if he had known then that it would drop 90 percent in price, he might've made a different decision. He should've listened to you. You said it back then.

Robert Hefner: And it did drop 90% in price.

Reed Hundt: I was just moving to answer that.

Dennis McGinn: This notion, Reed, of being truthful with ourselves I think starts asking the hard questions and you've done that. But it doesn't presuppose that we've got the definitive answer and so what we're saying is that it's a very complex world. There could be dynamics, say going forward in the future, that would be absolutely the right thing to do for the United States considering energy security, economic security and environmental security, to export it. So, I think that these are excellent questions and I think that having a discussion like this, beyond throwing political bumper stickers at one another across the extreme ends of the spectrum, is real important.

Reed Hundt: So, this is not a political bumper sticker to say what the parties stand for, is it?

Dennis McGinn: I didn't realize we were talking about parties.

Reed Hundt: Well, I thought you were saying let's not throw political bumper stickers. I don't call it a bumper sticker to say one party stands for a total commitment to drilling and exporting America's carbon-based natural resources, right? But if you sat Ed Markey here, who's a leading Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, he would say the exact opposite is best for America's economic security. I'm only saying that's what the debates are about. You've got this view, you've got the opposite view. You can't find it on television because neither view has $100 million that's buying the ads and we can't expect it to be at the presidential level, given the way that the, well, let's just say the debates are going.

Andrew Revkin: The level of certainty.

Reed Hundt: All right? So at least in this room we can say, well, which is the view that we're going to adopt? That's all I'm saying.

Andrew Revkin: One thing I want to inject here is, and it relates to a question that's come in, which is about the politics, is Jesse Ausubel, who halfway between when you knew natural gas was abundant and now, in the early 1990s, he's at Rockefeller University. He was writing about the inevitability of a gas age. And one thing he's also told me over the years is that most policymaking related to energy is pulling on disconnected levers. In other words, I keep hearing that the one thing that's missing, and I've actually written this, is that we don't have an energy policy in this country. But then I wonder when I hear that and I see how the fundamentals of the dynamics of the economy, the gas impact on economies and stuff, I wonder, are we in a post-policy world when it comes to ...

Reed Hundt: You outlined the policy just, you know, in your opening remarks.

Dennis McGinn: Well, I was getting ready to say that we have basically three policy levers at the federal and state level. One is tax policy, another is direct or indirect investment of government funds and a third is mandates. And all three of those operate at some level in just about every aspect of our economy, indeed our society. And I think that as we move forward trying to achieve an energy strategy that makes sense, not just for the next election cycle, but for the next 5, 10, 20 years, we need to carefully consider what are the best ways to employ those. Now, if we've got one party that saying mandates are bad, I would like to have them fly with me and we can discuss mandates about safe separation of airplanes or have them go out to dinner and we'll discuss mandates about safe food and water. Mandates have a tremendous, tremendously important place and they are good. I would not let my granddaughters ride in the automobile that the free market would give to us without mandates related to CAFE standards, antilock brakes, seatbelts, catalytic converters, airbags, the list goes on. All of those were opposed by the free market and the special interest people in elective office said "No, you know, the data is really powerful. We need to have a mandate." And, oh, by the way, we have much safer roads, much safer cars. Now, unfortunately, many of them are gridlocked in traffic around the Beltway here, but they're safe or safer. My point is we need to have mandates. We need to have investments by the government, either in the form of a loan guarantee or direct investment, especially in the early stages of the innovation cycle and R&D. And we need to have the ability to incentivize through tax breaks the kinds of industries that produce good. That good can be jobs. It could be local, regional, and environmental good. You mentioned the great example, Reed, of the devastation from mine to final burning of coal. That is a cost that we don't pay directly when we pay our utility bill. We don't pay the cost of deploying tens of thousands of young Americans in uniform and tens of billions of equipment around the world. That is not reflected in the price of gas at the pump, which we're complaining about growing towards four dollars. So, this idea of government exercising, especially at the federal level, these levers of nudging, if you will, or shaping the private sector, I think are very, very important to do.

Andrew Revkin: There are two Twitter contributors, David Sondie and Scott Spielberger have said what about the environmental impacts of gas extraction? Now, I'm going to hold off on getting your answer because I know we know your answer. But I'd like, I mean you guys are ...

Reed Hundt: No, no, you don't know his answer.

Andrew Revkin: Well, we'll get to it in a second, but I'd like, you know, as intelligent people who have studied the landscape of energy, what's your take on fracking? Each of you, quickly, do you have a sense of this is something that could be done responsibly, you know, hydraulic fracturing?

Dennis McGinn: It can be, but it's not presently being done universally in a responsible way. It's kind of the wild West in a sense out there, with independent wildcatters, but there are some very, very responsible organizations and companies that know how to do fracking right and to do it in a way that has minimum impact on the environment. It isn't zero impact though I'll tell you that, but it's much better if we have some level of regulation at the state and, where necessary, at the federal level to be able to extract this great source of energy in a way that doesn't do a lot of damage.

Ron Smith: And I'm in the state of New York ...

Reed Hundt: There's only three big problems based on what I've read. The groundwater can be poisoned, earthquakes can happen, and there can be methane bombs that are released that produce somewhere between 10 to 25 times more global warming. So that by 50 years from now, the temperature in the world will be on average 5 degrees Celsius hotter. Those are the only three problems.

Andrew Revkin: There you go, OK.

Reed Hundt: Those are the only three problems. I agree completely with Denny, but, again, this is a fundamental choice. We do not have an effective, well thought through national regulatory scheme and you can be certain that most other countries in the world where fracking is taking place don't even have something as good as what we have in place.

Reed Hundt: That doesn't mean we can't do it, but if you'll let the best and longest advocate here speak to this, I'll bet you that you have thought this through as well and have a good idea of what we need to do in terms of regulation.

Robert Hefner: Well, the entire problem with fracking has been drilling up fear by those who are opposed of it, without much scientific basis. And you just added to that by talking about some kind of methane bomb or something, I don't know exactly what you meant. But the fact is that the states where drilling has gone on and let's, I'll principally talk about Oklahoma and Texas. One of the things that everyone is worried about is groundwater and it's a really good worry. We should be worried about the aquifers, but the largest aquifer in North America is located under those states. It's called the Ogallala and it is still pristine and there's been 800,000 wells drilled through that aquifer, without significant problems. So that we in Oklahoma and Texas and Kansas do drink pristine water. So it can indeed be done and we've proven that the regulation there works. There's a lot of other fear that's being drummed up, saying that when natural gas is produced there's fugitive emissions. Indeed there are, but at least, and it's been compared to coal and it's been compared to oil and I've seen so-called studies that are not very well fact-based, that say natural gas, because it's a more potent greenhouse gas, although it only lasts 10 or 15 years in the atmosphere, is actually worse than coal. That's not true. Coal also has fugitive methane emissions. Every coal mine is a great big large islet. All coal mines leak natural gas, but have these been taken into account? No, they've never been measured. There isn't any study I've, and I've done a lot of research on it. As far as I know, it's never been measured. All oil wells leak and there's no incentive to catch it. So, take the whole oil industry and you've got methane emissions and those fugitive emissions have never yet been counted. Our science, in the United States and around the world, is horrible about methane, because there just hasn't been the work done. Now, one thing I can tell you, because you've seen and you've watched some of the films that are opposed and it's drumming up fear, you've seen people turning on their faucet and lighting the faucet. And, boy, everybody jumps back and it's a big deal. Well, it is a big deal and it would scare you, but let me tell you, I've been all over the world measuring methane emissions and I've never yet been to any place that isn't leaking. Methane is lighter than air and it's coming out of the earth continuously. I've been in the Alvin submarine and seen methane leaking out of the bottom of the oceans. We don't know how much is coming out, but you see steady streams of bubbles of methane emissions. You see the pock marks from methane emissions around the whole ocean basins. I was in Sweden before any well has ever been drilled in Sweden, there's been two dry holes drilled subsequently. And up in the higher regions of Sweden we measured methane across large swaths of an area because there was a meteorite impact, and we wanted to see if there was more methane leaking out of the old meteorite impact than there was outside of it. Indeed there was, 5 to 7 times and in there farmers had recorded, throughout history, in the wintertime when they lit their fires flames leaping out 30 to 75 feet. There was a well there. We covered it with plastic and we ran some of the water and then we pricked the plastic with a little hole and we lit it and there's methane emissions. So, there's methane, what I'm saying is there's methane emissions all around the world. We don't know how much the earth is leaking and we need to know that. And also every natural gas field limits some of the methane emissions that have been over that gas field. Those have shut down, now we do know about that, so there's offsetting fugitive emissions.

Andrew Revkin: Just, again, I've written extensively about what can be done by companies to stanch emissions from Wells and other oil and gas facilities. This is way before BP had its Gulf incident. Actually, that company was a leader on stanching methane emissions from its wells. I was in New Mexico and I saw, and the difference was culture, believe it or not. Again, setting aside the oil culture and what happened in the Deepwater Horizon, on gas at any rate, that company had incredible culture that I saw in the field of people circling back and saying did you cut emissions? Yes. Well, why didn't you cut them more? And I wanted to get this quickly at the culture question, how much of this has, how much progress can we have on energy frontiers, both within the fossil realm and moving forward, that how much of this has to do with the culture of the way a company is led? And then I wanted to close out with Ron on the frontiers of renewables. Like, you know, again, five years from now what do you see as your dream? But is there, have you all seen the power of culture within a company to change things?

Dennis McGinn: Yeah, absolutely. I mean the culture of companies that produce renewable energy, the culture of companies that use renewable energy and they're increasingly seeing this greening effect. I'm not talking about green washing for, you know, political advantage or appealing to customers, but really true commitments by very, very large, responsible companies, international companies to increasingly improve their energy efficiency, which is job one. And increasingly increase their use of forms of energy that are less harmful to the environment. Sometimes, at least right now, being willing to pay a slightly higher premium, that is disappearing very quickly as the cost of renewable energy and energy efficiency and technology comes down. And we're seeing returns on investment in the deployment of clean energy that are coming down to, in some cases, especially for energy efficiency, one year. So culture is absolutely a powerful effect. And I would also add in observing the oil and gas industry in the United States, for the most part, the big guys have very, very good standards for safety and for trying to minimize the environmental impact. It doesn't eliminate it and I do think that to Robert's point we really need to measure, because you manage what you measure. So if we know where there are methane leaks, if there's natural methane going up into the atmosphere, and there is, OK, great. We can't do a whole lot about that, but what we can control is the stuff where we are poking holes in the earth and we can measure there. We can measure pipelines, we can measure large gas storage areas.

Andrew Revkin: So, Ron, let's circle back and close out with these things called renewables. And geothermal is theoretically in there too, although in the end you're still harvesting resource. What do you see five or 10 years from now as the path forward that can ...

Ron Smith: Well, I think basically globally energy is a global business. I mean I think that's what we're talking about here. And as you look at the future of the globe, we need all forms of energy. Certainly, we need renewables and there are resources all over the world that can be tapped that we don't even know exist right now. We need to kind of keep on this path of getting renewables integrated and deployed around the world. And, you know, whatever approaches we can do we ought to. Certainly ...

Andrew Revkin: It's kind of the right tool for the right job in the right place?

Ron Smith: Yeah, because there are tremendous resources that we can tap and I think it's going to be important, you know, for future generations that we're able to deliver that energy.

Dennis McGinn: I'd like to just go back 30 years to the island of Hispaniola and that part of it called Haiti. Imagine if we had the deployment of compressed natural gas or propane cylinders or something that would provide the necessary cooking energy that the Haitians had come to rely on from the charcoal that was taken from rainforests all along the island, creating unbelievable, on land and in the fisheries, devastation. It's an example in my mind that illustrates that the demand for energy is constant in terms of being universal and it is growing and we need to figure out ways to, in a long-range view, supply that energy, especially in a developing world, in whatever form it makes sense to do so. We would have an entirely different situation there in that very, very impoverished and challenged country if somehow we could have waved a magic wand and provided, in this case, natural gas or propane to those folks.

Andrew Revkin: So, we're at the point of wrapping this session. I hope you all will continue to visit the blog and the Twitter feed from here. And for the young people in the audience, I think, I hope you leave this conversation with the understanding that there is immense opportunities for innovation and for engagement at every step of all of these different arenas, from making natural gas safer and cleaner to helping propel what needs to happen in the river, in the Hudson River with the screw shaped-making that system better and better. So there's just immense opportunities and the energy future of the world needs more and-for now and then we're going to transition to something durable in the long haul, if young people particularly get engaged. So, thank you all for your time.

[End of Audio]



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