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Public distrust hampers big oil

Dear Editor:

I have been watching the dispute between the residents of Garfield County and Antero Corp. over the firm’s plan to drill 200 wells in Battlement Mesa. (Aspen Times, Jan. 7, 2010.) It is an unnecessary tragedy. Further, Antero’s actions tarnish the oil industry’s already black public image as dishonest and untrustworthy.

The dispute is needless because the United States now enjoys a large surplus of natural gas, a surplus measured by very low prices. The surplus is so large that firms are now petitioning the government to allow exports of natural gas. Yes, that is correct, some firms are now contemplating using the very expensive liquefied natural gas facilities to export natural gas. The United States could compete with Middle Eastern countries as an exporter. A part-time Aspen resident, Charif Souki, chairman of Cheniere Energy, is one of the proponents.

Clearly, there is no need to rush ahead with drilling on Battlement Mesa when the United States has such a large surplus of gas. Drilling should slow until the EPA and others can determine whether the procedures used to develop the gas, “fracking,” are having the negative impacts to health attributed to them. If they do the problem must be solved.

Antero’s proposal is doubly troubling because the public image of the oil industry is terrible. On Dec. 2 the Harris Organization released a survey of the public’s view of American industry. Harris reports that almost half the respondents said that none of the 17 industries listed in the survey were “trustworthy and honest.” However, some industries fared better than others. The oil and the tobacco industries came out at the bottom of the list. Only 4 percent of those surveyed would state that they thought the oil industry was “trustworthy and honest” so that they would “normally believe a statement by a company in that industry.” The only industry that fared worse was the tobacco industry. Two percent of those surveyed thought the tobacco industry was “trustworthy and honest.”

The results are not a fluke. The survey has been conducted annually since 2003, and the oil and tobacco industries have vied for last every year.

I will add that the distrust of the oil industry is a significant problem given the steps the United States must take on energy over the next decade. I have been a member of the National Petroleum Council, a group of individuals appointed by the Secretary of Energy, for the last 10 years. The focus of the NPC is the nation’s energy situation. Most of the members are CEOs of large and small energy companies. (Antero’s CEO is not a member.) The public’s distrust of the oil industry seriously complicates efforts to address the problem. Antero’s selfish actions on Battlement Mesa at a time of enormous surplus is just one more nail in the industry’s coffin. Antero officials should seek to be seen as better than executives of tobacco companies, people who really did try to kill the public.

Philip Verleger

Carbondale


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