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NPRA Annual Meeting Looks at Energy Innovations, Safety and Government Regulation

March 22, 2011

Energy industry executives gathered at the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association’s 109th annual meeting in San Antonio Mar. 20-22 to discuss a host of issues such as innovative processes, industry safety, and governmental regulation. A consistent theme of the meetings was that President Obama and the federal government need to support innovations in the refinery and petrochemical industries, which are proven and sustainable sources of power and energy.

‘We Are Doing for America.’

NPRA President Charles T. Drevna opened the meeting on Monday, March 21 by applauding industry innovations that have resulted in more reliable energy sources and cleaner and more efficient fuel products. NPRA’s members manufacture products that include gasoline, diesel fuel, home heating oil, jet fuel, lubricants, and the chemicals that are the underlying structures for everything from plastics to clothing to medicine to computers and many other products essential to daily life.

Drevna said that American ingenuity and innovation will help lead the country to economic prosperity, sustainable forms of energy, and a better environment. NPRA’s are high tech leaders in the development of jet fuel, diesel, and other important products, and  “we play a key role in America’s economic and national security ,” Drevna said.

Invoking President John F. Kennedy’s famous inaugural address quote-- "ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country"—Drevna said “we are doing for America.” Drevna lamented the way that he sees his industry being treated by the federal government. The government should not attempt to pick winners and losers, but allow the market to decide whose energy products are best, Drevna said, alluding to what he considers a favored treatment that alternative energy technologies receive from government regulators and policy makers. “There is no magical energy source,” Drevna said, noting that wind, waves and sun are touted in the media as the cure for all energy needs but never measure up with proven results. “The demise of the hydrogen molecule has been extremely exaggerated,” he said.

Industry Focus on Safety.

NPRA Chairman William R. Klesse told the audience that governmental red tape means jobs, “red white and blue jobs.” Everyone here wants clean water and clean air, but we live in a world where sound bites are used to scare the public about our industry to boost news ratings, without any real cost benefit analysis of these other energy  sources, Klesse said. It is important to remember “the vital role we play in the economy and in consumers’ lives,” he said.

Klesse recognized LyondellBasell Industries’ Bayport Polymers Site for winning the NPRA Distinguished Safety Award. Conoco Phillips Co.’s Santa Maria Facility and Valero Energy Corp’s Houston Refinery received honorable mention.

Klesse was clear that safety is a critical consideration for NPRA and its members, who were ready for two days of discussions on topics such as: “Process Safety Metrics;” “Benchmarking Industrial Safety Culture;”  “Risk Based Inspection Evergreening;” “Addressing ‘Man-Down’ Situation in a Plant Environment;” and “Implementing a ‘Nobody Gets Hurt’ Safety Culture.” As previewed in an earlier audio interview with Intellirights, David Strobhar of Beville Engineering spoke on software to reduce human error in refinery and industrial plants in his discussion entitled “Modularizing Emergency Procedures for Increased Ease of Use and Updating.”

The ‘Myth’ of Wind.

Klesse then turned the discussion over to Robert Bryce, author and senior fellow at the Center for Energy Policy and the Environment at the Manhattan Institute. Bryce, who recently wrote Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future, pointed out that the discussion of alternative energy sources conveniently omits the problem of scale. “Energy is effectively worthless unless we can make it flow,” and wind by example is severely deficient when one considers the scale of a city’s or country’s energy needs.

He explained that wind farms the size of U.S. states would be required to create the electrical supply for modern cities like New York City.  Because power is by definition a rate, the discussion should be about renewable power, not renewable energy, and wind has real problems if one is looking for a power source that is stored and available when the consumer flips the switch, Bryce noted. Bryce went through statistics on electricity yield rates for oil and wind and could find no real comparison.

Bryce’s research shows that America's total primary energy use is about 47.4 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, and that one barrel of oil contains the energy equivalent of 1.64 megawatt-hours of electricity. Of the 47.4 million barrels of oil, Bryce has found that solar and wind sources are providing the equivalent of only 76,000 barrels of oil per day, compared with the oil industry providing 19 million barrels per day, natural gas supplying the equivalent of 11.9 million barrels of oil, and coal providing the equivalent of 11.5 million barrels of oil per day. According to Bryce, the balance comes from nuclear power (about 3.8 million barrels per day), and hydropower (about 1.1 million barrels), with smaller contributions coming from wind, solar, geothermal, and other sources.

Wind energy is a “myth” as a power source because it is intermittent and unreliable, Bryce said. He added that corn-based ethanol is a “ripoff” and a “scam” that simply drives up global grain prices. When one considers the efficiency of oil as an energy source, “if oil didn’t exist, we would have to invent it,” Bryce said. He said that the federal government’s current energy policy is upside down, supporting energy sources that cannot meet the demands of a power hungry nation. He labeled the Environmental Protection Agency as the “Ethanol Promotion Agency” and said that President Obama has to set forth an energy policy that is realistic, rational and evenhanded.

During the question-and-answer session, Intellirights asked Bryce if he felt that President Obama’s State of the Union speech statements about increasing innovation to spur more jobs and a stronger economy were disconnected from the administration’s policies energy’s policies toward the oil industry. Bryce said that there was a definite gap. He indicated that the oil industry breakthroughs are often overlooked, and that wind and solar innovations are given the broadest proportion of media and government attention.

The NPRA’s meeting agenda included innovation topics such as: “Bigger is Better: Industrial-Scale Production of Renewable Diesel;” “Ultra-Clean Gasoline Using Solid Acid Catalysts;” “Strategic Options for Meeting Lower Sulphur Marine Fuel;” and “The Low Sulfur Diet: New Catalytic Ways to Cost-Effectively Reduce Sulfur and SOx Emissions.”

A Search for Common Ground in Washington.

Former U.S. Senator Alan K. Simpson (R-WY) spoke of the way that the state of relations between Republicans and Democrats in Washington has unraveled, and that some common ground is needed if the country is to move forward for a stronger economy and smarter energy policy. “This is a very fragile time,” and we have to work together if the economic recovery is to take hold and the nation is to return to prosperity, Simpson said.

In the Tuesday, March 22 luncheon address, former U.S. Congressman Joe Scarborough(R-FL), host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe show, echoed Simpson’s concerns, saying “we have lost the middle in Washington.” The polarization of the conservative right and the liberal left is no good and will only make things worse for us all, Scarborough said. Admitting his clearly conservative background, Scarborough said that, despite differences, he and his colleagues on the other side of the aisle “did things to help the economy grow” when he was in Congress. He pointed out that Simpson, a conservative, could work with former Massachusetts U.S. Senator Edward (“Ted”) Kennedy, and that former House Speaker Thomas (“Tip”) O”Neill (D-MA) could work with former President Ronald Reagan.

“We have to have an aggressive energy policy not held hostage by environmental extremists,” Scarborough said, drawing applause from the crowd. But we can only get there by working together, he warned. Now, the elected officials in Washington dart to the left for two years, then dart to the right for two years, with no forward thinking, no forward planning, he said.

Mika Brzezinski, Scarborough’s Morning Joe cohost, admitted her liberal leanings and completely agreed that “Washington is dysfunctional.” She concurred with Scarborough’s point that the politicians are not the only culprits, and that the media shares responsibility. “It is run by liberals,” Brzezinski acknowledged, saying that the biased media casts issues only in term of extremes. Scarborough said that it is time for the media to “stop playing down to the lowest denominator” and time for everyone to “stop pointing fingers.” It is time to forge ahead with making this country better, said Scarborough. “Washington has got to grow up.”  The time has come, he said, “for the president to lead and to stop waiting to see which way the wind blows.”

To learn more about NPRA, its members, and this conference, please click here.

To learn more about Robert Bryce, please click here.

For more information on the Morning Joe show, please click here.

 


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