Watching Government: A closer look at NPC report

Aug. 13, 2012
At first glance, the National Petroleum Council’s future transportation fuels report may have looked like a cop-out when it was issued on Aug. 1.

At first glance, the National Petroleum Council’s future transportation fuels report may have looked like a cop-out when it was issued on Aug. 1. There seemed to be something in it for just about everyone.

The American Petroleum Institute, for example, saw new evidence supporting more US oil and gas development because it identified significant hurdles for alternatives.

“We have more oil and gas than anyone thought possible 5 years ago,” said Bob Greco, API downstream and industry operations director. “We are sitting on a lottery ticket that could spur millions of jobs, billions of dollars in revenue for the government, and more than 100 years of energy for our country.”

Natural gas vehicle advocates also were encouraged. “Specifically, the report found that there are fewer barriers to expanding the market for light and heavy duty [NGVs] than there are for some other technologies,” said Tom Hassenboehler, vice-president of policy development and legislative affairs at America’s Natural Gas Alliance.

But a closer look at what the report said shows that barriers and obstacles weren’t the point. Technologies and their potential contributions were.

NPC researchers clearly were determined not to pick favorites. “The study does not emphasize a single vehicle system or suite of systems,” said William N. Reinert, national manager of advanced technology at Toyota Motor Sales USA who led the coordinating subcommittee’s electrical subgroup. “Each fuel system could become economical by 2050 based on rising prices and improving technologies.”

Basic and ‘disruptive’

The study did differentiate between basic technologies, where progress is being made already, and those it termed “disruptive” because their barriers appear greater but their potential contributions could be dramatic.

US Sec. of Energy Stephen Chu, who reiterated his support for a strong government role in energy research to reporters outside the NPC meeting, suggested that when more exotic solutions can’t attract funding, direct it to more basic research instead.

The study did not ignore technology hurdles, however. It identified more than 250, then downsized them to 12, which could realize goals economically, be implemented acceptably, and encourage fuel infrastructure development, according to Stephen R. Brand, a senior technical advisor at Welltech AS who led the technology task group.

“During this second review, we made sure there was a normalization and standardization process which would ensure that implementation examinations would be objective,” he explained. Most important, NPC’s report urged government to not try and pick winners and losers. “The good news is that all the paths will get us there,” said Linda A. Capuano, Marathon Oil Corp.’s vice-president of technology who chaired the report’s coordinating subcommittee. “Only time will tell which ones we’ll use.”

About the Author

Nick Snow

NICK SNOW covered oil and gas in Washington for more than 30 years. He worked in several capacities for The Oil Daily and was founding editor of Petroleum Finance Week before joining OGJ as its Washington correspondent in September 2005 and becoming its full-time Washington editor in October 2007. He retired from OGJ in January 2020.