Those who believe the world economy can be sustained with a quick switch to renewable energy sources are engaged in pipe dreams. Ditto for those who believe the world is quickly running out of fossil fuels — or for those who actually believed President Obama’s State of the Union speech pledge to make America more energy independent.
"Pipe dreams” is an apt term because the fossil fuel commodity with the most promising future is moved chiefly by pipeline. It’s natural gas. Jim Mulva, chief executive officer of ConocoPhillips, used the term "pipe dreams” in a remarkable speech last week at an energy conference in Houston. He also used the term "hydrocarbon deniers.” This is apt in light of the derision of climate change skeptics. They’re called "global warming deniers.” Mulva isn’t out to debunk global warming. In fact, he believes U.S. energy policy should be coordinated with environmental policy, meshing economic realities with the encouragement of cleaner fuels. One economic reality is that world population will rise 35 percent to 9.2 billion by 2050. "It will need more energy, not less, despite higher efficiency and conservation,” Mulva said, "And tomorrow’s energy must remain affordable.” Carbon-based fuels, he said, "must keep carrying the load.” But those fuels can be cleaner. Natural gas needs to be increasingly part of an energy mix that includes wind, solar, nuclear, oil and — at least in the short term — coal. Obama made a commitment to nuclear energy as well as opening up offshore tracts for oil and gas exploration.