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Energy Investment Rests on Oil Prices

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Maya Raichura
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Energy Investment Rests on Oil Prices - July 20th, 2012

On April 3, the Columbia Business School Energy Club in conjunction with the SIPA Energy Association held the 2009 Energy Symposium, “Imagining Tomorrow: Meeting Energy Demands in a Carbon-Constrained World.”

Dr. Ivan Marten, a senior partner and managing director at the Boston Consulting Group, gave the morning’s keynote address and asked three questions that directed the conversation throughout the day:
  1. Are there enough resources to sustain current growth rates?
  2. Do we have access to and security of these supplies?
  3. What role can alternative energy and carbon sequestration play in the future global energy market?
The answers, Marten said, all depend on the price of oil. Currently, large international oil companies (IOCs) are still making significant capital expenditures in exploration and production, Marten said. However, national oil companies (NOCs) that dominate world reserves, are now short on income and are generally reducing investments in exploration and production.

According to Marten, this investment imbalance will lead to an imbalance in future supplies and thus result in a shift of power between IOCs and NOCs.

Marten also noted the reduction in investment extended to renewable forms of energy despite the current political commitment to sustainability. Although this commitment in the West will likely drive up production of renewable energy sources, Marten argued the overall impact on global emissions would be counterbalanced by the growing energy production and associated emissions from countries like China.

Other panels during the day-long symposium focused on the impact of a future carbon regulatory structure on the current energy market.

Speaking as part of the panel, “Coal: Then and Now,” Courtney Lowrance, vice president for Environmental and Social Risk Management at Citi Markets and Banking, said a major shift occurred in coal investment starting in 2006 when coal companies began facing problems with public perception and investment.

However, the panel’s consensus was that coal, despite the current concern over its emissions, is essential to meeting energy demands and will be included in the U.S.’s future energy portfolio. The panelists emphasized that in the future, the coal market will incorporate new technologies like carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) and integrated gasification plants with carbon capture (IGCC plants).

Joseph Strakey, chief technology officer of the National Energy and Technology Lab, and Klaus Lackner, a chaired professor of the Earth and Environmental Engineering Department at Columbia University, agreed that reducing coal-based emissions is possible with these technologies.

To provide evidence that CCS could be incorporated and its current price-for-capture could be reduced, Strakey pointed to the changes in the coal market during the 1970s that resulted from regulations on sulfur emissions.

Lackner stressed that the most difficult obstacle facing carbon sequestration is the regulatory issues associated with controlling an amount of carbon dioxide “roughly the size of Lake Michigan.”

Brian Ward, managing director and chief risk officer of GE Energy Financial Services, stressed the need for the energy industry to be involved in developing the new regulatory framework for carbon emissions in his afternoon keynote address.

Photo credit: nelgallan


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