Energy Initiative Focuses on Natural Gas Industry
H. Josef Hebert, THE JOURNAL RECORD
WASHINGTON _ The Clinton administration made clear Thursday its fuel of choice is natural gas and promised to find ways to build more pipelines and erase marketing barriers to help the industry.
The administration's long-awaited oil and gas initiative focused heavily on shifting the nation's energy policy away from oil _ especially imports that comprise about half of the petroleum used in the United States.
Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary said the administration wants to help U.S. oil and gas producers reduce costs by giving them access to federal weapons labs to develop the latest technologies for exploration and drilling.
But the 36-page document emphasized the benefits of natural gas as the primary domestic source of fuel and reiterated the need to conserve energy and "reduce (the nation's) dependence on fossil fuels."
The energy blueprint fell short of the demands of independent oil producers who have been clamoring in recent weeks for the government to intervene and halt the downward spiral of world oil prices. The low prices have been particularly hard on small producers.
In announcing the long-term strategy, O'Leary sympathized with the industry, noting that it has lost 450,000 jobs in the last decade, but rejected suggestions of short-term intervention on prices.
"I think some of us are of the impression that short-term fixes don't work anyway," she said. ". . .The problems (of the industry) didn't occur overnight, nor will the solutions."
The Clinton blueprint said a top priority would be to "stimulate markets for natural gas" by expanding the construction of pipelines, stabilizing gas prices through long-term contracts, and developing new products _ cars, refrigerators and air conditioners _ that use natural gas.
At the White House, meanwhile, President Clinton promised to expand the use of natural gas-fueled cars in the government's fleet of vehicles. He said it will help the economy and "reduce our reliance on foreign oil."
"There's no question that we have to shift, as rapidly as we can, to alternative fuels," added Vice President Al Gore. …