The world's largest business federation is throwing its weight behind shale gas, and one of its officials took the time to celebrate new "Shale Works for US" campaign in West Virginia on July 24.
Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the Institute for 21st Century Energy of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the Shale Works for US campaign educates the public about the burgeoning industry. The campaign, promoted at a news conference and other media events July 24, aims to promote the mission of building support "for the vast economic and energy security benefits of natural gas and oil produced from shale."
"West Virginia has a long history of providing its natural energy resources to the rest of the country," Harbert said. "Now the opportunity exists for West Virginia to build upon the strong coal industry by becoming a leader in shale energy production."
Educating the public
The primary goal, Harbert said in an interview after the press conference, is to get information out there. Right now, she said, the shale gas industry is still in the early stages of introducing itself to the public.
"It's a grassroots campaign intended to bring light and illuminate the businesses that are benefiting directly and indirectly from shale development," Harbert said. "It's not only the industry, it's the hotels, the restaurants, the service companies, the Caterpillar dealer that are benefiting from this and generating new economic activity."
The natural gas industry, she said, is allowing people to stay in places where other industry has already moved out.
"This is affording a whole new breath of life into these communities," she said. "People can stay in these communities where they want to stay. They have jobs where they can stay and their kids can stay."
The institute's effort is to ensure that the path for shale energy industry is clear of any unnecessary obstruction.
"We've got to have the right policies and the right regulatory framework," Harbert said. " … We want to make sure that we approach this with all of the facts on the table and get the right outcome."
What's at stake, Harbert said, is an industry that has changed "the whole landscape" of energy and has potential to be a "gamechanger for the economy" in the U.S.
"Our economy is desperately in need of jobs, revenue and investment. Here is something that is right underneath or feet," Harbert said. "It's been given to us. Let's not blow it."
Let states determine role
A potential obstacle, Harbert said, could end up being federal regulations that she said aren't as well-suited to needs as those by state-level agencies.
"We are seeing a significant increase … a regulatory tsunami coming at energy resources of many forms and as it relates to things that we can address through legislation. We're certainly advocating legislation, but legislation isn't moving at the federal level," Harbert said. "On the regulatory side of things, we are very active."
She said the U.S. Chamber is actively trying to reduce any impediments to the growth of the shale industry. The states, she said, have the ability to introduce regulations tailored to specific energy developments.
"It has appropriately been left to the states for many, many years - decades. It's always been in the hands of state regulators," Harbert said. "They've done a pretty good job. The closer you are to a resource, the better the regulator you are. We think that's the way it should remain."
However, a number of federal agencies have wanted to get in on regulating shale gas development in one way or another. Harbert warns that too many federal agencies, without some sort of streamlining of the process, could smother the industry.
"Let's not make it one size fits all that will jeopardize the economic activity," she said. "The more we add additional layers of regulation and permits, it gets very expensive."
While Harbert mostly encouraged state-level development of shale gas law, she said there is room for some consistency in industry rules. In places such as the Marcellus shale region, gas plays aren't bound by state borders, and operators may work under different rules.
"Harmonization of certain standards over time, I think, will make sense," Harbert said. "I think it best comes from industry showing what is the best practices, what is the best they can do and then be expected to live up to that."
The discovery of a new way of extracting gas, Harbert said, shouldn't cause a reflexive move toward simply piling on regulations. She said a close look at where current regulation falls short should be undertaken with serious consideration to preserving the economic viability of natural gas.
"We shouldn't just being going for new regulations because there's new opportunity," she said. "What is really needed? Where is the state function not adequate?"
All energy is on the table
All of this support of natural gas, she added, does not mean American industry or people should turn their backs on the coal industry.
"It is absolutely not one or the other," Harbert said. "This is not picking winners or losers. If you look at the demand for the energy in the United States … it's going up. We're going to need all forms of energy. We're going to need oil, gas, coal, nuclear and renewables. We don't have the luxury picking and choosing, nor should we."
She said renewables have a role to play, but "we have to be realistic how much they can contribute and in what time frame and what cost."
"We believe (coal) has provided us a huge economic advantage," Harbert said. It's provided affordable electricity for so long, we shouldn't be writing it off."
Affordable electricity – one of the biggest challenges the renewable energy has thus far struggled to solve – is easily provided by gas and coal.
"If we don't have affordable energy, we're not going to attract the manufacturing industry, we're not going to get the chemical industry back, we're not going to attract any of the things that we know we need to get our economy on its feet," Harbert said. "Coal has a big part to play in that. Any policy that cherrypicks is wrong."
Harbert said the battle the Chamber is fighting for coal is "very different" than the battle for natural gas. With the coal fight, she said, "the gloves are off."
"We haven't let up," she said. " … On coal, the sides are well-known. We are on the side of coal needs to exist and we are fighting all the ways we know how to fight – regulatory battles, the litigation."
Challenges for development
While the natural gas industry enjoys considerable popularity among numerous officials, there are still some challenges looming on the horizon.
Access to federal lands, Harbert said, is one of the major concerns of her organization.
"In order for this revolution … to continue, we're going to have to get access to federal lands," she said.
Also erratic legislation, Harbert said, could threaten market stabilities. She cited as an example the tax credit given to the wind energy industry. The credits are up for renewable, prompting many in the wind energy to withdraw investment until Congressional action.
As for environmental concerns, Harbert said, there needs to be an honest and open discussion about the actual impacts of the industry.
"We should have a very transparent debate, but the facts matter on this," Harbert said. "When there are mistakes by the industry, they should correct it and they should be held accountable for it. There are best practices the industry is coming together to put out and they should adhere."