Shell Oil chief visits city

November 11, 2006|By Paul Adams | Paul Adams,Sun reporter

Shell Oil Co.'s president stopped in Baltimore yesterday to promote alternative energy initiatives and laws expanding oil exploration as part of a 50-city tour aimed at countering the public's negative image of Big Oil.

It was the 16th stop on John D. Hofmeister's cross-country jaunt, which was launched in June in the midst of public angst over rising gas prices and record oil profits. Hofmeister, president of Houston-based Shell since 2005, said the oil industry has historically done a poor job of educating the public about the nation's energy needs and how the oil industry works. He spoke to a crowd of about 120 at a luncheon sponsored by the Greater Baltimore Committee.

"We have enjoyed a 50-year run of affordable, easy energy and people have come to take it as a given that we will have affordable, easy energy," he said in a pre-luncheon interview. "The next 50 years, as we've seen in the course of the last couple of years, are going to be far more challenging and the industry has a responsibility to inform its ... customers of what's really happening and what's at stake."

Congress and the public have been critical of the record profits posted by Shell - $23 billion last year - and others as a result of rising oil prices. Hofmeister said one way to bring prices down is for the nation to enact policies that promote investment in alternative sources - such as biofuels and coal gasification - as well as open up new areas for oil exploration.

Among other things, the company is lobbying for passage of a bill - pending in the U.S. House - allowing oil production on the outer continental shelf. The legislation has faced opposition from environmentalists who favor conservation and fear that more sea exploration could damage marine life.

Without that and other initiatives, Hofmeister said, the nation is heading for crisis.

"If public policy remains as it is into the future, we are going to suffer in America a continuing supply/demand tension in which any change, any significant disruption, is going to create enormous volatility," he said.

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