Perhaps nothing offers politicians in the nation’s capitol a better opportunity to grandstand than rising energy prices, particularly gasoline.
Political posturing can reach absurd levels. A price-gouging investigation? A $100 gasoline rebate? Really?
Clearly, the need to educate and formulate energy policies based on reality and science has never been greater -- and another organization is stepping up to the plate to help make a difference.
The newly established Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy (CIEEP) at the University of Texas at Austin was created to bring a science and engineering perspective to energy and related environmental issues. CIEEP will analyze existing policies, assess areas where policies are needed and develop policy options.
First, CIEEP will identify relevant industry issues that are at the forefront by going out to those people who have a vested interest in issues pertaining to energy and the environment and asking them to name their priorities.
"A theme of the center is that we seek priority topic suggestions from industry and then in Washington with a couple of key agencies in the energy business like Department of Energy and Department of the Interior,” said Chip Groat, founding director of CIEEP. “Then we’ll do the same thing with staffers from a couple of congressional committees that are in the energy business.
“Not only will we analyze and develop policy options,” Groat said, “but an overall goal for this is to find better ways to educate people who shape opinions in this country about energy, including lawmakers and the media.
“So it’s policy not just for policy’s sake,” Groat noted, “but for people who spread the word and take the action.”
Projects to Tackle
Given that Texas is the nation’s largest producer of oil and natural gas and home to corporate headquarters of myriad energy companies, it’s significant that the CIEEP effort will kick off in Texas with the private sector.
“They’re the ones that produce the energy and who often are misunderstood and misinterpreted,” Groat said. “We want to be sure those interests are represented when we formulate studies.
“Following the initial contact with the appropriate executives from a group of different sizes of energy industry companies, a luncheon will be held to get further input on their thoughts,” Groat continued. “This will be followed with a workshop in the fall to flush out and expand on some of the things we’ve heard.”
CIEEP has been formulating some ideas of its own to throw into the mix.
One of the topics being considered focuses on the resiliency of oil and natural gas systems with regard to abrupt interruptions in the supplies of natural gas, oil and refined products by political action, terrorism or natural hazards. Such events could have a catastrophic impact on the U.S. economy.
This is a particularly timely issue given that the concern over possible supply interruptions already has resulted in a significant “fear premium” tacked onto the price of crude oil.
(Even so, President Bush recently gave the order to stop filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as one of the supposed quick fixes for rising gasoline prices.)
Another topic capturing CIEEP’s interest is access to federal lands and the OCS. The focus would be on areas considered the most prospective for significant new oil and gas resources rather than the entire federal domain. The onshore focal point would be the western United States, concentrating on oil and gas but including coal, oil shale and geothermal energy sources.
“This will be done in the traditional way of digging out and analyzing information to see what was proposed to increase access and what was supposedly implemented by the Energy Act of 2005,” Groat said, “and then determine what actually happened.
“For instance, have permits speeded up? Have there been fewer environmental entanglements to slow things down? To the degree that has happened,” Groat asked, “have we actually seen increased activity on federal lands, or are we talking about it and nothing is happening?”
This type study at a university has the added advantage of providing an opportunity for students going into government and the private sector to acquire first-hand experience in researching a policy issue rather than just reading about it.
The outcome from the projects that CIEEP ultimately undertakes will be tailored to the audience it’s intended to inform.
In other words, there will be no thick technical reports to languish on someone’s shelf.
“In some cases, we may create a Web site or host workshops, or, in some instances, we may do a briefing on the Hill,” Groat said. “Or we may go to industry meetings and present.
“The products from the studies will be designed to meet the needs of a variety of audiences.”