When energy executives formed America’s Natural Gas Alliance four years ago, the goal was convincing politicians and the public to embrace the fossil fuel as a cleaner-burning, abundant alternative to oil and coal.
But now natural gas producers are a victim of their own success, and the challenge is growing demand, the incoming CEO of the industry’s leading trade group told FuelFix Wednesday.
A drilling boom in the Northeast, Arkansas and other parts of the country has led to a glut of natural gas, with supply outpacing domestic use of the fossil fuel that serves as both a power source and building block for other chemicals.
“We are looking at the opportunities for natural gas demand,” said Martin Durbin, who will take over as chief executive of America’s Natural Gas Alliance on May 1.“There’s an incredible opportunity at the state level to help on the demand side.”
State policies can promote the use of natural gas as a source of electricity, especially as utilities look for alternatives to coal and options for buttressing intermittent renewable power. Some state and local governments also are transitioning their fleets of buses, trucks and cars to natural gas-powered vehicles.
“The states provide an incredible advantage and opportunity for us to get the message out,” Durbin said, “and also work creatively with them on opportunities to better utilize the natural gas resources that we have.”
Meanwhile, the Energy Department is poised to decide whether to grant export licenses to more than a dozen companies that are seeking to sell natural gas to companies that don’t have free trade agreements with the United States. Natural gas producers are eager to get access to foreign markets where the fossil fuel sometimes fetches prices three to five times higher than in the U.S.
At the same time, other federal agencies are considering regulations to govern the hydraulic fracturing process that is key to unlocking natural gas (and oil) supplies nationwide. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management is set to unveil a newly revised proposed rule governing fracturing on federal lands, with mandates for chemical disclosure and well design. The Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a multi-year study of the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and water.
As federal and state drilling regulations advance, the natural gas alliance’s member companies will have to continue to reach out to local communities and assure the public they can operate safely, Durbin said.
“We need to make sure we’re appropriately getting that message across and being very straight up with the communities where we are operating,” Durbin said.
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Durbin is no stranger to these issues, having spent more three years as the American Petroleum Institute’s top lobbyist, following a 16-year stint working for the chemical industry’s top trade group. He also is a veteran of Capitol Hill, where he worked for Democrats in the House and Senate.
Durbin is set to take ANGA’s helm from Regina Hopper, who stepped down as chief executive of the natural gas alliance in February, after one of the group’s founding members Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon announced his retirement. Greg Pensabene of Anadarko has been serving as the natural gas alliance’s interim CEO.
Apache Corp. CEO G. Steven Farris, ANGA’s chairman, said Durbin will bring “industry knowledge and experience, political acumen and deep background running successful advocacy campaigns” to the job.
At ANGA, Durbin will be tap into a stream of revenue from the some of the nation’s biggest natural gas producers, including such companies as Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Cabot Oil and Gas, Newfield, and Noble Energy. The trade group has devoted its dollars to television ads and other campaigns in recent years.
“You’ve got member companies who are very committed to the mission here and are willing to putting the resource in to getting the message out to make sure we’ve got the right policy at the federal level and the state level to take advantage of this opportunity,” Durbin said.
America’s Natural Gas Alliance spent some $5.7 million in lobbying over the past two years, according to public disclosure forms filed with the federal government and analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics.
While Durbin suggested he didn’t anticipate major changes or a dramatic restructuring at the alliance, he said he sees a new “opportunity now to see what do we really need to be focused on, how can we enhance that focus and make sure that natural gas plays an even more prominent role in the economy.”