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Energy independence: Public support is needed to meet future energy needs

Rapid oil and gas development in new areas of the country has bred mistrust and misunderstanding of many energy companies. Finding common ground and getting past hyperbole will be the key to future development, energy executives and environmentalists agree.
by Paul Monies Modified: October 6, 2012 at 12:17 am •  Published: October 8, 2012
/articleid/3716515/1/pictures/1850912">Photo - Bill WhitsittExecutive vice president of public affairs at Devon Energy Corp.
Bill WhitsittExecutive vice president of public affairs at Devon Energy Corp.

Whitsitt said the political fights over the planned Keystone XL pipeline and many protests against hydraulic fracturing can be traced to activists who want to stop the future use of fossil fuels.

“There are a lot of folks in the middle who are in agreement that we need a better and more economic energy future for this country,” Whitsitt said last month. “Every now and then, they hear from those folks who don't want fossil fuels that the world is going to come to an end if we continue to produce.”

In the end, most consumers want affordable energy, Price said.

“I never, ever hear a suggestion of what a viable economic solution is if we're going to eliminate coal, oil and natural gas,” Price said.

Brownstein said communities where there is oil and gas development want more information about exactly what is going on in their backyards. Industry officials citing studies from other states isn't enough, he said.

“The only way you're going to convince the general public that this is in fact safe is if you're able to demonstrate with real numbers that this is safe,” Brownstein said.

Whitsitt said the industry and state regulators already do some air and water quality testing. More states are requiring disclosure of hydraulic fracturing fluids through the website.

Meanwhile, operators have been able to use longer drilling laterals to develop larger areas from fewer well sites.

“We're talking about how do you manage risk and what is the risk of the emissions, versus what makes sense and what is economic to do,” Whitsitt said last week.

“We think we do a pretty good job; not that we can't always do better. … We've provided more and more data, and it still doesn't seem to be enough for people to be satisfied that we're not somehow causing harm.”

Brownstein said in other parts of the country there is a great degree of skepticism of both the industry and state regulators.

“Look, this is an industrial process,” Brownstein said. “There's no way around it. It's like any other homeowner if a factory were suddenly just set up next door, even temporarily; you'd have a lot of questions about what's going on over that fence line: ‘Is that process safe? Will my environment be safe once you're gone? Are there legacy issues there that I have to worry about?' These things are completely understandable. You don't have to be a rabid environmentalist to feel that.”

by Paul Monies
Energy Reporter
Paul Monies is an energy reporter for The Oklahoman. He has worked at newspapers in Texas and Missouri and most recently was a data journalist for USA Today in the Washington D.C. area. Monies also spent nine years as a business reporter and...
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