Oklahoma Environmentalists, Execs Ponder Paths of America's Energy Policy

Article excerpt

Energy executives say their industry is paralyzed; environmentalists wonder what happened to policies promising alternative energy. The next four years could shape the American energy landscape for decades.

On Friday, five of the best minds in energy in Oklahoma sat down to discuss how the election will affect our nation's energy policy for generations to come.

Miles Tolbert, energy and environmental attorney and director at Crowe and Dunlevy law firm, joined Harold Hamm, chairman and CEO of Continental Resources; J. Larry Nichols, executive chairman of Devon Energy; Oklahoma Secretary of Energy Michael Ming; and environmental and energy attorney Jim Roth.

For those in the energy industry, the next four years are the best of times and the worst of times, Tolbert said.

Hamm said, and Nichols agreed, that for the first time in their lives, North America could achieve energy independence. That accomplishment is not just technologically remarkable; both consider it a patriotic feat.

If America stopped importing oil, U.S. troops would no longer have to die to protect energy resources in the Middle East, Hamm said.

But an increase in federal regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Fish and Wildlife Service stands in the way of drilling our way to freedom from Middle Eastern petroleum, the energy executives said. To add insult to injury, these executives believe some Americans are opposed to all fossil fuels at any cost. This future of solar and wind energy only isn't realistic. All five experts want the administration to be realistic in developing an energy policy that won't forsake the economy on behalf of the environment.

Not all regulations are bad, Nichols said. But the state has the most experience and the best ability to control environmental damage and safety hazards, he said, and while the president seems to be reluctantly embracing natural gas as a cleaner fuel, his actions and the actions of his administrative agencies will tell the true story.

At a crossroads

Part of the problem President Barack Obama has is that his political base is in favor of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. Keeping that political base happy when there's a newfound abundance of fossil fuels available in the United States is a challenge, said Roth, an attorney with Phillips Murrah.

The Keystone XL pipeline controversy is a perfect example of that crossroads, Nichols said. Labor unions were in favor of building the pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, but environmentalists put pressure on the administration to delay the permit to cross international borders.

"He punted on that," Nichols said. "He endangered our relationship with China, and now Canada is actively working with China to build a pipeline (to supply that market)."

The next four years will show how sincere Obama is about the all- of-the-above approach to energy policy, Ming said. As new supplies of oil and gas came on-line in the last few years, producers helped keep the Oklahoma economy above water, he said.

"Our policy is that the greenest thing we can do is take the energy we have and make it better," Ming said.

Drilling a single well deeper and longer can tap more resources underground with less effects to the surface, he said.

State knows best

Energy executives and state officials see new federal regulations as unnecessary and burdensome. New air quality rules will limit smog- forming pollution and hazardous chemicals emitted by power plants, drilling operations and oil tank farms.

Roth said that the EPA doesn't have the resources to regulate Oklahoma operations to the level of that by state agencies.

Nichols said the federal agency doesn't have the decades of expertise, either. Hamm agreed, saying the first state rules on underground injection in oil and gas drilling were created in 1913.

In the absence of environmental harm or safety risks, more regulations only hinder the oil and gas industry, Nichols said. …