This article is reposted from charlotteobserver.com. To see the original article, please visit:
‘Why we hate the oil companies’
By Christina Rexrode
Posted: Wednesday, Jun. 30, 2010
Who will fix the problem of energy supply?
It’s not the oil companies. They’re only worried about making money.
It’s not the government. Lawmakers care too much about getting re-elected. And the executive agencies are tripping all over each other.
John Hofmeister sees a grass-roots movement instead. “Time is ticking, energy is disappearing,” he told a receptive audience at Queens University of Charlotte on Wednesday morning. “We need an intervention.”
Hofmeister, 62, is an insider in the industry he’s trying to change. The former president of Shell Oil, he retired two years ago to found Citizens for Affordable Energy, which he hopes will grow into a groundswell to transform how Americans think about and consume energy. Unlike some other energy advocates, he doesn’t think the U.S. needs to wean itself completely off oil. Nor does he believe that the supply is running low. “We have more energy in this country than we will ever need,” he said. “We’re just not harnessing it.”
But at any rate, Hofmeister said, the U.S. can’t keep coasting along and hoping the coming crisis in energy supply will work itself out. Without some major changes, “we’ll be standing in gas lines on a continuing regular basis” and suffering through blackouts “as if we’re a Third World country” within 10 years, he said.
Among his proposals: Hofmeister wants to get rid of the internal combustion engine. “A dreaded 100-year-old device,” he called it. “Eighty percent of your gas dollar is wasted as heat.”
He also wants to radically reshape how Americans think about land-use management, moving from sprawling suburbs to walkable, European-style communities.
“If we want to believe that we can live anywhere, all over God’s green earth, and expect the wires to find us wherever we build our house, that’s a very inefficient use of energy,” Hofmeister said. But, he added, “It’s controversial, because who wants to tell a developer that there are limits on development?”
Hofmeister also proposes that the nation’s energy policy be set by an independent, apolitical board of governors, in line with what the Federal Reserve does for the monetary system. Their terms should be long, like the Fed governors’ 14-year terms, to insulate them from political pressures and because energy projects are not short-term deals. Hofmeister said he’s taken the idea to government bodies, but it was “dead on arrival.”
Hofmeister expounds on his ideas in his new book, “Why We Hate the Oil Companies.” He said he picked the title because it’s a feeling that everyone can relate to.
He talked to the Observer after his speech at Queens. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Q. You said that “We have more energy in this country than we will ever need.” Really?
Most of what we have is geothermal, which never runs out – wind, solar, biofuels never run out. We have a finite amount of fuel, coal, oil and natural gas, but there are huge, huge quantities. We know we have more coal than any other country in the world. We know that in the intercontinental shelf there are about 100-plus billion barrels of conventional oil that remains to be produced, and whenever we get into big oil fields there’s always more than we expected. That’s been the history for 100 years.”
Q. So the problem isn’t the supply itself, but figuring out how to harness it?
We could harness every bit of it. It might not be inexpensive, but we could learn better over time how to bring the costs down. Uranium is expensive because of man-made rules that we apply to building nuclear plants that we could simplify and streamline. If we approached it as a massive building project, we could achieve economies of scale.
Q. You’ve come out in defense of BP’s chief executive, Tony Hayward. Why?
I think Tony Hayward is a traumatized individual who (was) doing a good job of leading a crisis team until he handed it over to (BP managing director) Bob Dudley. He got 1,000 people together, he got the best minds in the world together – it hasn’t all worked, but that happens. … I think he has not handled the communications well at all, but there’s more to a crisis than communications. When he’s compared to the professional communicators in Congress, he doesn’t add up, (but) you (should) judge him by his mind and decisions.
Q. Do you know Tony Hayward?
I’ve met him but just once, briefly.
Q. Well, maybe he needed a better PR team? To tell him not to take that yacht trip?
Yeah, I think there were some judgment issues there. But the way the president trashed Mr. Hayward publicly – the president has never run a major company that has normal operations to look after as well as a crisis. I think that’s below the dignity of what a president should do. It’s not his job to decide who should be hired.
Q. OK, but you also said that the BP oil spill was due to “gross human incompetence, if not negligence.” Doesn’t that mean there’s been some wrongdoing on BP’s part?
I don’t know about wrongdoing – I’m dealing with the competence issue. I think there were poor decisions made which unfortunately led to this tragedy. The decision to stay with an incompetent blowout protector was a bad decision, there was an inadequate set of choices about the design of the well, the decision to accelerate the cementing process – all of these were decisions that should have been made differently. They did not take the proper risk management approach to the security of the operations.
Q. Who does your message appeal to? Democrats or Republicans?
You know, I don’t really care. I make it my business to talk to both sides of the aisle. I want this to succeed with bi-party support. I happen to be a Democrat, I voted for Obama, (but) I’m critical of his energy policy. I don’t think it’s adequate to the nation’s needs. I believe the president has a long way to go to make some of the hard decisions that need to be made in respect to our energy future.
Q. You’re pretty critical of the oil companies. Like, you said that they’re only worried about making profits for their shareholders, not preserving the energy supply.
That’s nothing to be embarrassed about, that’s what companies do. What I’m critical of is the lack of public outreach, the lack of concern, the lack of compassion, for the issues the public faces as consumers and frankly as voters. When they don’t know what they need to know about energy, I believe it’s the company’s energy and duty to teach them. Also the government. I’m critical of both because they don’t do the job they should be doing.
Q. Well, you also said the oil companies have stymied energy innovation. And the point is, you’re criticizing the oil industry but you come from an oil company. So do you see yourself as a rebel or what?
Too many companies are too narrow in how they approach energy. … I’m proud of what my former company did. (And) Exxon is putting a huge amount of money into algae research for biofuels. So while I’m critical in general, there are good things being done.
Check here often for more interviews and media appearance information for John Hofmeister…