Sheila McNulty Salazar prepares for an earful on OCS

When Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, arrives today at a meeting in New Orleans with the oil and natural gas industry on developing the US Outer Continental Shelf, he will get an earful.

The industry is worried the Obama Administration is so eager to promote renewables that it does not realise such energy cannot possibly provide all US energy needs for many years to come – if ever.

Even now, they argue, renewables cannot run without fossil fuel power as a backup. When the sun does not shine or the wind does not blow, it is power plants, fueled by natural gas, that tend to pick up the slack.

As the industry sees it, the entire Outer Continental Shelf should be open for oil and natural gas development. Tim Sampson, manager of exploration and production for the American Petroleum Institute, says: “That would mean more jobs, more revenues for cash-strapped local, state and federal governments, and greater energy security.” Only problem is it would also mean more carbon dioxide. And this is the area the Obama Administration is most concerned about.

The meetings are part of the Obama Administration’s efforts to develop a new, comprehensive energy development plan for the US Outer Continental Shelf, including conventional and renewable resources. The Interior oversees more than 1.7bn acres on the Outer Continental Shelf – an area roughly three fourths the size of the entire United States.

While technology is being developed to reduce the environmental footprint of fossil fuels, all the industry can offer the administration at this point is that the US oil and gas industry has an “outstanding offshore environmental record.” And the country needs all the energy it can get. Indeed, Chevron plans to tell the meeting just that.

“Our country’s energy future is not a choice between oil and gas and alternatives,” says Sandi Fury, manager of Legislative and Regulatory Advocacy for Chevron’s Gulf of Mexico Business Unit. “Independent studies have demonstrated that we need to develop all forms of energy.”

“Even with conservation and aggressive development of renewables and alternatives, oil and gas will remain critical in meeting America’s energy needs for decades to come.” This is a point, she notes, Mr Salazar has made as well.

Chevron and the rest of the industry are just hoping that Mr Salazar’s recognition of the importance of oil and gas means the US offshore acreage will remain open for development. That remains to be seen.