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Energy execs head to Washington

September 18, 2009
Executives from the nation's largest energy producers are ramping up their efforts to promote natural gas in Washington, D.C.

Through America's Natural Gas Alliance, business leaders from the oil and natural gas industry are on Capitol Hill this week lobbying for changes to the House-passed climate change legislation.

From the Houston Chronicle:

“We did not have an active role in climate-change legislation in the House,” said David Trice, the chairman of Houston-based Newfield Exploration Co. “We will correct that in the Senate.”

The independent natural gas producers' new push — which includes advertising around the nation and face-to-face lobbying on Capitol Hill this week — marks a turnaround for the industry that traditionally has not been aggressive in seeking to influence legislation.

Natural gas had been regarded as a boom-or-bust industry prone to wild price swings and constrained by a limited supply. But that view has shifted with technological advances beginning in 2002 that allow gas production from newly discovered deposits in shale belts stretching from New York to Tennessee and in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas.

Producers use a process known as hydraulic fracturing to break up the shale rock and release natural gas. The technique, now regulated at the state level, has been criticized by some environmentalists who worry it could introduce harmful chemicals into water.

“For the first time in our country's history, and for the first time in the history of the natural gas industry, we have these formations that cover wide areas that we” can access, said Larry Nichols, the CEO of Devon Energy. “We now have abundant gas. It is throughout the United States and in lots of areas that natural gas has not really been in large quantities.”

That is giving the industry greater leverage in lobbying the Senate, where the executives eagerly remind 64 of the chamber's 100 members that natural gas is being produced in their states.

They also are touting gas as environmentally friendly because it generates about half of the carbon dioxide produced when coal is burned and about one third of the emissions released by vehicles burning oil-based fuels.

The business leaders are meeting with moderate Democrats and other senators whose votes could be key in deciding the fate of the climate change legislation.

Under the “cap-and-trade” plan approved by the House, businesses would have to comply with progressively tighter limits on carbon dioxide emissions by cutting pollution or buying and trading allowances to spew the pollutants

Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and John Kerry, D-Mass., are preparing to unveil a new climate bill, modeled after the House-passed measure, as early as next week.
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