Saturday, December 19, 2009

Exxon Natural Gas Investment


Exxon Mobil Corp.’s $31 billion stock deal to buy XTO Energy boosts natural gas as the country debates how to reduce reliance on foreign energy sources and minimize the impact on the environment, experts say.

Exxon’s impending purchase of Fort Worth-based XTO — a leading U.S. gas producer and expert in unconventional plays such as North Texas’ Barnett Shale — signifies the return of the world’s largest company to major U.S. production for the first time in years, a fact not lost on energy company CEOs.

"Exxon Mobil has been making significant investments worldwide in the liquefied natural gas sector, which all of us in the industry thought was really how they were going to play the gas game going forward," Glenn Darden, chief executive of Fort Worth’s Quicksilver Resources, said in an interview last week. For Exxon "to make such a significant investment in onshore, primarily U.S. gas was a fabulous endorsement of both demand and pricing."

Boone Pickens, the Dallas investor and natural gas advocate, said the Exxon-XTO deal is an important development in the country’s energy security.

"We’re importing 5 million barrels [of crude oil] a day from OPEC, 13 million total imports a day" of oil and refined fuels from all sources, Pickens said in an interview.

That’s about 68 percent of average U.S. daily consumption of 19 million barrels a day, according to Energy Department figures.

"We’ve got to get off that and get on our own resources," Pickens said. A start: pending federal legislation that would push government vehicles toward being powered by natural gas, he said. "Let’s get the heavy-duty vehicles on natural gas."

Energy company executives also said Exxon’s deal to buy XTO advances the argument for using natural gas as a "bridge fuel" toward renewable energy production.

Natural gas — a major fuel used in electricity generation — is still a fossil fuel, but "it has half the carbon footprint of coal" and a third less than oil, said John Pinkerton, CEO of Range Resources, another Fort Worth independent oil and gas company. "Of all the fossil fuels, it has the least impact in terms of the environment.

"You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure this out. There’s no silver bullet to this energy issue that we’ve got. We need a portfolio of alternatives."

Those include conservation, renewables, and nuclear, he said, "but at the end of the day, unless we’re all going to start walking to work, the fossil fuels have to play a role over the next two or three decades."

Opposition to gas

Jim Schermbeck, a leader of Downwinders at Risk, is not convinced that natural gas is so green. His group has weighed in on the environmental risks of cement kilns, coal use and natural gas drilling.

Schermbeck wants to see more evidence on emissions created by expanding Barnett Shale development, and he’s among critics who argue that the field’s producers have committed numerous "environmental abuses."

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