Fossil fuels aren’t going away anytime soon emphasized Stephen Brand, senior vice-president of oil and natural gas giant ConocoPhillips, who spoke before a full house at the Energy and Clean Technology Venture Forum in Houston on Thursday. Brand stressed the continuing importance of fossil fuels, which he says will make up 2/3 of the total energy production at least until 2030, and in particular said we need more legislation and new technologies that can make the drilling and refining of fossil fuels more efficient and cheaper.
Brand spent all but two minutes of the 30-minute speech highlighting how technology — from supercomputers to biotech — will aid in the capture and refinement of fossil fuels at a commercially acceptable price. Of course it’s no surprise that Brand would focus on how to bring down the cost of using fossil fuels for power — ConocoPhillips is the second-largest oil and natural gas refiner in the U.S. and the fifth-largest non-governmental controlled refiner in the world.
Faster supercomputers make it easier to analyze seismic data quickly to “see” where to dig, he said, and biotechnology could create bacteria to rid fuels of contaminants prior to extraction. Nanotechnology was also given a lot of play for its theoretical value, but other than saying the oil giant plans to buy an IBM Blue Gene supercomputer, Brand didn’t talk about specific efforts at the company. He did, however, note that ConocoPhillips has two ethanol refineries and said it’s interested in later generations of the technology rather than corn ethanol.
When asked about algae and geothermal, Brand said ConocoPhillips was interested in algae and revisiting geothermal programs the company had started in the ’70s. Beyond the role technology could play, Brand said the government should get involved. He called for comprehensive federal legislation that would tackle both climate change and create a national energy policy. As for the legislation:
- It should broaden the diversity of supply, bringing in solar, biofuels, etc.
- It should call for greater energy efficiency
- It should include environmental stewardship, notably a focus on carbon emissions
- It should encourage innovation, particularly on the technological and research and development side
So this is all pretty standard stuff from a company that makes its money from the discovery, extraction and refining of fossil fuels. Other than recognizing that a greater diversity of energy sources means oil companies will find ways to differentiate themselves from one another, it sounds like it’s business as usual for ConocoPhillips.