Friday, April 23, 2010

Solano Economic Development Corporation hears presentation by economist about oil industry

By Richard Bammer / The Reporter
Posted: 04/23/2010 05:32:34 AM PDT

The biggest challenges facing U.S. oil and natural gas industries are continued dealings with oil-rich Middle Eastern countries and developing more petroleum supplies within American borders, an economist said Thursday in Fairfield.

Sara Banaszak, a senior economist with the American Petroleum Institute in Washington, D.C., said America's long-term energy interests are better served by seeking oil and natural gas reserves in politically stable North American environments rather than to continue to import vast amounts of crude oil from Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, among them Saudi Arabia and Iran.

During a Solano Economic Development Corporation breakfast meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn, she also touched upon a variety of API concerns, specifically the need for the industry to be more efficient.

Speaking to some 150 area business and political leaders, Banaszak said that, despite some lingering "myths," American petroleum corporations support energy efficiency and seek to develop and sell "all kinds of energy."

U.S. energy corporations "are big investors" in renewable energy, she said, noting that Thursday was Earth Day.

Banaszak added, "Oil and gas are the building blocks of the chemical industry and petrochemical industry." She asserted that the widespread use of plastics, in many ways a problem-solving technology, has made the world more energy efficient. She did not, however, comment on the negative impact of plastic waste in the environment.

Using a laser pointer to discuss graphics and charts projected on a screen behind her, Banaszak said harmful emissions, such as acid rain, from coal-powered electrical plants are declining while "our air is getting cleaner at the same time." She pointed to the Midwest and the so-called Rust Belt on a map, but did not note the significant decline in manufacturing there in the past 40 years.

(In an interview after her presentation, Banaszak agreed that fewer pollutant-spewing, heavy industries are operating in the Midwest but also noted that coal-powered plants there today "scrub" and clean their emissions using the latest technology. It has made a difference in air quality, she said.)

From a global perspective, she sees a direct link "between energy and economic growth."

Then, narrowing her focus to California, she noted that the state's universities are a leader, through industry and taxpayer funding, of research into biofuels. Still, California relies on oil and natural gas to meet 80 percent of its energy needs, with the remainder coming largely from geothermal and hydroelectric sources.

Noting the decrease in refineries but the rise in capacity, Banaszak said the role of biofuels will increase in the future because federal mandates call for increased use of ethanol in gasoline.

In introductory remarks, Mike Ammann, EDC president, noted that Solano County is home to 1,200 oil and gas industry-related jobs, with the future a mix of traditional and "green" businesses.