In a remarkable shift in tone from her appearance at the annual CERAWeek conference in Houston just one year ago, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told a packed house at the same gathering Wednesday that “we know that oil and gas is going to remain a part of our energy mix for years to come.”
She then added, “Even the boldest projections for clean energy deployment suggest that in the middle of the century we are going to be using abated fossil fuels.” Well, yes. That truth becomes increasingly obvious with every passing day – no credible projection exists that even bothers to argue the point anymore.
The welcome news that the current administration’s understanding of energy reality vs. the popular energy transition narrative may be evolving comes just a month after President Joe Biden himself had expressed his belief that the industry’s shelf life had only “another decade” to run during his State of the Union address. The President’s remark then was met with guffaws from the Republican side of the House Chamber, but no one present in Houston was laughing at Granholm’s admission the industry would be needed for far longer than another 10 years or so.
We can only hope Sec. Granholm wasn’t going rogue from official administration talking points in her speech, in which she also praised America’s oil and gas producers for stepping up to the plate in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February. “The US has become, in this year, an indispensable energy partner to our allies and a global energy powerhouse,” she told the audience made up of executives and officials not just from oil and gas, but all sectors of the energy space, to loud applause.
This sudden recognition of the value of what has been one of the country’s most indispensable industries for more than a century, after two years of demonization and unjustified permitting delays, must have come to many in the audience as a pure shock. No one should suddenly forget that senior oil and gas executives have struggled mightily even to get a meeting in the halls of the Departments of Energy and Interior, at the EPA or at the White House during the 26 months of this presidency.
It was just a little over a year ago that Occidential CEO Vicki Hollub, during a discussion about carbon capture, said she had no relationships with Biden or his officials, a common complaint across all my own industry contacts. “One thing I applaud this administration for is they do believe in carbon capture,” Hollub told an audience last January at the Argus Americas Crude Summit. “The negative thing is, I’ve never really had a conversation one-on-one with anyone in the administration.”
Sec. Granholm also spoke about the need for streamlined permitting of energy projects, a focus area for more than a year now of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “It should not take over a decade to get permitting for a transmission project on federal lands,” Granholm properly noted.
Though she didn’t mention it, federal regulators should also not hold up permits for much-needed natural gas pipeline projects like the Mountain Valley Pipeline for years based on specious grounds. Nor should a much-needed lithium mine like Ioneer’s Rhyolite Ridge project be held up for years as regulators obsess over revision after revision of a plan to protect 10 acres of buckwheat that lies adjacent to its operation. But here we are, and the logjam in congress over legislation that would ease the energy permitting pain shows no signs of breaking.
“We can make our country more energy independent,” Granholm told CERAWeek. “We can make our allies more energy secure. We can make our world and our future safer in the face of climate change, all by growing the pie, for all to share.”
Yes, we can, but we can’t do that without these crucial permits for energy projects of all varieties being issued in a reasonable and timely fashion. Nor can the U.S. ever hope to do these things with a government that weaponizes its regulatory agencies and processes against a vital national energy resource whose contributions are so vital to the country’s energy security.
We can hope – we must hope – that the more positive tone struck by Sec. Granholm in Houston this week reflects a shifting posture towards the oil and gas industry within the administration in general. Only time – and real progress – will tell.