There was a fairly small crowd at The Corinthian in downtown Houston the evening of Monday, June 30. Representatives from the oil and gas industry joined journalists and political dignitaries in an invitation-only event – the filming of a program about energy, which will be aired by the BBC.Matt Frei of BBC World News America mediated the program, titled, The World Debate: What future for oil, time to refuel? Panelists included Marvin Odum, president of Shell USA; Amy Jaffe, senior fellow at the James Baker Institute; Houston Mayor Bill White (former Assistant Secretary of Energy); Vijay Vaitheeswaran, author of Zoom: The Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future; and Dominique Thormann, senior vice president of Nissan North America. Not surprisingly, the first question put to the panel was a volatile one. Frei tossed out a comment made by President George Bush – "The United States is addicted to oil" – and asked each participant to agree or disagree with the statement. With one caveat or another, they all agreed that the statement is true. And so the debate began.Despite the left leanings of the host, there was a balanced discussion of alternative fuels, oil and gas supply and production, and the history of energy use in the United States. And a number of interesting things came out of the debate. In short, the panel agreed that efficiency is critical to extending the life of the hydrocarbon resources available to us today. And there was consensus that there is no "silver bullet" answer to the energy supply question. Jaffe pointed to public education as one of the critical steps toward "better choices" in energy usage, noting that real change will only take place when people approach everyday life in a different way. Mayor White agreed, pointing out that the car he drives and the house he lives in are examples of the informed choices he has made to reduce his own energy consumption. White also suggested a number of ways Houstonians are moving in the direction of energy conservation. Vaitheeswaran posited that oil is "yesterday’s fuel." Though the world needs hydrocarbons and will continue to rely on them in the future, he said, "We’re entering a bridging period" between oil use and whatever the energy of the future is. Odum pointed out that the "bridge" will likely be constructed in part from alternative fuels that Shell and other operators are working to develop today. Thormann, whose company has committed to producing a competitive electric car by 2012, said the choice Nissan has made to focus its R&D on an alternative vehicle is the result of a demand in the marketplace for something different from oil. He discussed, in general terms, the company’s goals, pointing out that batteries will play a critical role moving forward. "The battery industry is going to be the key to the future," he said. The debate covered a lot of ground and gave rise to some interesting ideas that are well worth listening to. According to my source at the British Consulate General (from whom I received my invitation), the full program will air on July 12 and 13. It might be worth your while to tune in.
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