In a feature for The Energy Report of the Observer-Reporter, CEA President David Holt explains the need for consumers to be informed about shale energy development.
As president of the Consumer Energy Alliance, David Holt heads an organization that bills itself as the “voice of the energy consumer” wherever that person can be found around the country.
Its representation is anchored by 240 member companies in the energy industry, as well as 400,000 individual members. The Houston-based organization, which has supported “across-the-board” energy choices for consumers since its launch in 2006, has been a staunch supporter of the natural gas production industry.
During an interview with The Energy Report this month, Holt said one of the biggest challenges to the natural gas industry is the opposition by environmental groups to the industry’s use of hydraulic fracturing.
“They’re telling one side of the story, trying to get communities to fear hydraulic fracturing,” said Holt, who added that one of CEA’s missions is to engage communities to broaden the national energy discussion.
Last year, the organization hosted more than 20 events and meetings with policy makers in its 20-state network, and also launched a new blog, TheEnergyVoice.com, and a new website.
“We try to access areas where energy development may be new,” he said.
CEA’s heightened information approach comes at a critical time as shale plays like the Marcellus produce record amounts of natural gas with improved drilling techniques. Holt noted that 25 states have some shale gas strata beneath their surface.
While the shale industry has become an employment juggernaut, Holt noted that another $200 billion is being invested in ancillary business related to the boom.
At the same time, movements are afoot in several states, including Pennsylvania, to halt shale development.
Other states with active anti-drilling movements include Colorado, New Mexico, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, Holt said.
CEA said earlier this month it sent a letter to Pennsylvania legislators asking them to abandon a proposed statewide ban on Marcellus Shale development, known as the Statewide Natural Gas Drilling Moratorium (Senate Bill 1100).
“As you know, 2.6 million people in Pennsylvania use natural gas with 38 percent using it to heat their homes,” Holt wrote. “And because of, not in spite of shale gas development, home heating costs in the state are down 50 percent over the past five years.”
He added that in 2012, Pennsylvania and West Virginia accounted for 18 percent of the nation’s total natural gas production.
“There’s a little bit of a cold war going on here,” Holt said, adding that despite the fact that the natural gas extraction industry has continually made steps to improve its drilling and water usage procedures, “the public still is catching up to that.”
“If a community decides it doesn’t want (shale gas development), I can accept that as long as it’s an informed decision,” Holt said. While CEA advocates for opening areas off U.S. shores and promotes the pursuit of shale energy, it also supports diversifying the domestic energy portfolio through the development of renewable energy sources, Holt said, noting that it counts solar and wind companies among its members.
Not surprisingly, the organization also supports the Keystone XL pipeline.
Despite the rhetoric against it from a variety of environmental groups and citizens, Holt said CEA recently gathered more than 500,000 signatures in support of the project to take to Washington, D.C. He added that surveys have shown that 65 percent of Americans support the pipeline.
But it’s not just fossil fuels and their extraction, transport and usage that are under fire from environmentalists, Holt said. He noted that offshore wind development is also facing increasing opposition, and that the addition of electricity transmission lines to the national grid, while in high demand, also receives protests.
The overarching policy goal of CEA is to have “reliable diversity from utilities with coal, natural gas, renewables and nuclear,” Holt said.
And despite being an adversary to environmental groups’ stand on hydraulic fracturing, Holt believes there can be some common ground.
He acknowledged that some environmental groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund, joined several major natural gas exploration and production companies – including Consol Energy, Chevron and EQT – to form the Center for Sustainable Shale Development in Pittsburgh. The center created a certification process for companies that choose to follow the drilling practices that have the least environmental impact.
Holt said CEA is on the same page.
“We’re always asking, ‘how can industry do it safer, smarter, better,’” he said.
“If a community decides it doesn’t want (shale gas development), I can accept that as long as it’s an informed decision.”