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SBIA and CEC Co-host a Summit on Energy and Global Warming

Energy industry leaders and environmentalists got together Friday for a moderated discussion on the state of energy and global warming.

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Energy was on the minds of the business community and environmentalists alike at the County of Santa Barbara Industrial Association’s Sixth Annual Economic & Environmental Action Summit Friday morning.

Presented in conjunction with the Community Environmental Council, the summit tackled California’s energy crisis with a discussion of alternative options for energy, and the world’s global warming with a debate.

“What happened today was unprecedented here in Santa Barbara, where you have people from industy and people from the environmental community in the same room in almost equal numbers talking about these issues in a very civil, cordial and provocative way,” commented CSBIA’s Executive Director Joe Armendariz. Policymakers from both North County and South County were also in attendance as well as representatives from local chambers of commerce.

“We peaked  globally about two years ago,” said Tam Hunt, energy program director at the Community Environmental Council. With gas prices rising, it made economic sense, he said, to switch to alternative and renewable energy.

Tobe Plough, management consultant with a specialty in oil and gas, discussed the state of oil and gas in California today.

“California imports 85 percent of its natural gas,” he said. Local natural gas operations in Santa Barbara County, owned by Mobil and Exxon, represent up to 7 percent of natural gas produced in the state. Natural gas has already peaked out of Canadian and Alaskan sources, he said, with the Rocky Mountain states being the only areas with rising production.

As far as oil, Plough said, “If California was a country, it would rank third in the world behind Japan in the amount of transportation fuel that it uses.” California currently imports about 40 percent of its oil. Inevitably that rate will rise, he said, and even as we convert to alternative forms of energy.

Joe Desmond, senior vice president at NorthernStar Natural Gas joined the panel as well, discussing LNG operations in the area, and explaining the concept of LNG, which is natural gas cooled to the point of condensation. {mosimage}

“It is odorless, nontoxic, noncarcinogenic and it is noncorrosive,” Desmond said. It has to adhere to current environmental standards and it is lighter than water, he said, so in the case of a spill, it would evaporate. NorthernStar is currently seeking to convert Platform Grace near Oxnard from an oil rig to an LNG facility.

“Something to keep in mind: LNG cannot explode ... it cannot burn or explode under any circumstances because it is not stored or transported under pressure, and it contains no oxygen with which to react.” There are currently 113 active LNG facilities in the United States. Even as consumers begin to switch to alternative forms of energy, Desmond said, natural gas will continue to be more efficient, reliable and cheaper.

Renewable energy business leaders Amir Mikhail, senior vice president at Clipper Windpower, and Ryan Park, director at REC Solar Inc., discussed alternatives to oil. Wind and solar energy, according to them, are environmentally superior forms of energy, and although they are not currently competitively priced with oil and gas, their use is becoming widespread in California.

Later, the topic global warming took center stage as speakers from different viewpoints on the issue debated on what, if anything, should be done about it.

James M. Taylor, senior fellow of the Heartland Institute  started the debate by saying the current global warming scenario was not a crisis.

“The Earth’s climate has never been stable,” he said. “Global temperatures are either always rising or cooling,” he said, outlining periods in the Earth’s history of warmer temperatures and cooler climates. {mosimage}

On the other hand, UCSB professor of paleoclimatology David Lea and the CEC’s Tam Hunt countered that the current global warming is not a part of a natural cycle and indeed a serious issue.

“…Our globally warm future will lead to an Earth that’s as fundamentally different as the Ice Age was different from our current climate,” said Lea.

Meanwhile, UCSB Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology Professor Emeritus Daniel Botkin took a more central stance, saying that the issue of global warming “mattered only to the extent that it affects life.”

“Mass extinctions are unlikely,” he said.

When asked by an audience member what one thing they would do for the continuing energy crisis if they were “king for a day,” Lea said he would levy a 35-cent carbon tax, raising oil and gas prices to effectively level the playing field for renewable energy. Taylor said he’d “let the market decide.” Hunt said he would favor helping local governments buy and build their own power supplies as well as the carbon tax. Botkin, who agreed with Lea and Hunt on the carbon tax, apparently thought there was more to be done.

“We live in a society where we have a ‘Sesame Street syndrome,’” he said, “where it’s only interesting if it takes 20 seconds or less and it’s fun ... I wouldn’t want to be king for a day if all I could do was one thing.”

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