How will we fuel the economy in the age of climate disruption? Most Americans recognize the connection between fossil fuels and severe weather, but they disagree about how to fix the problem and who will pay the cost.
According to Rhonda Zygocki, vice president of Policy & Planning at Chevron, the link between energy and the economy is undeniable. Looking back 50 years, she said, the greatest progress in living standards in recorded history was made possible because we had abundant, affordable energy. “And today in America we are undergoing a fundamental shift in our energy landscape that has the potential to keep energy affordable, keep economic growth going, and address our greenhouse gas emissions for years to come.” Zygocki referred to it as an energy renaissance, adding that this renaissance is not driven by policy, regulation, incentives, subsidies, or mandates. “This renaissance is driven by innovation, and this rock, shale.”
Zygocki went on to say, “In less than 10 years, we have reversed 20 years of domestic decline in the country. We have created 1.7M jobs already with the potential to create a million more before the decade is done.” She suggested that American energy independence is within sight through a combination of natural gas, renewables, and energy efficiency. “We have to get this right,” she cautioned. “It’s not very often that a white swan comes along that can offer the combination of societal benefits at a scale that can be felt across the nation, if not the world, in energy development from shale. It’s that type of opportunity. Clearly our energy conversation has changed from one of gas imports to exports, peak oil and resource scarcity to energy abundance and opportunity. How we in the nation take advantage of this opportunity to benefit America is the choice before us.” She spoke of commitment toward responsible development by energy players and “strong regulation and the enforcement of that regulation by the states. “It’s going to take community trust and support. But we know if we work together we can make this happen for the country.”
Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund, agreed that shale represents a big economic opportunity for the country and has created a lot of jobs. But, he added, “there is also no question that if you visit the shale gas fields, as I have, there have been more than a few instances where people who live around these operations have been harmed.” He recalled an incident of a family that had to abandon their home because of the noxious fumes. While the economic benefits are obvious, the environmental implications of not doing this right are equally obvious, he said, and while some operators are doing it right, many others are not. It’s such a fragmented industry. Krupp explained that the controversy has been misdirected. “For too long, too many in industry said there aren’t any chemicals escaping from the fractures. And while that is largely true, there have been thousands of cases of the chemicals going into groundwater because of surface spills, and because the well casings lacked integrity.” He suggests that we’re at a pivotal moment where we need to do all we can to accelerate the deployment of truly clean energy. We need to get the rules right to protect communities from impacts; guard against fugitive emissions; and prevent the lock-in of new natural gas plants by doing a lot of other things to promote renewables and energy efficiency. He sees the importance of regulations on all levels – federal, state, and local.