On the one hand, oil giant BP PLC's CEO Tony Hayward sees the United States using petroleum into the foreseeable future. On the other, Hayward thinks it's time for the nation to begin "thinking beyond coal." Speaking before the Peterson Institute of International Economics, a Washington think tank, Hayward added that the U.S. should not try to save coal jobs at the expense of cleaner fuel industries, and that there is no reason to continue to build coal-burning power plants.
"We've got to find a better way to create jobs than preserving coal jobs," Hayward told his audience. Not surprisingly, the United Mine Workers of America is calling for a boycott of BP's gas stations in what the New York Times is calling an escalation in the "coal-gas feud"
BP is among the world's largest producers and refiners of oil and gas with little almost no stake in coal. A fact that highlights the growing rift between the nation's major energy producing sectors.
Mr. Hayward is obviously unaware that coal is America's most abundant energy resource," said Carol Raulston of the National Mining Association. "I'm consistently surprised that one of the world's wealthiest companies would suggest Americans should forgo good jobs and affordable electricity from coal so that oil and gas can increase their market share."
Most developers of natural gas feel they got the short end of the stick with the passage of the Waxman-Markey Clean Energy and Security Act last year in the House of Representatives, which they see as heavily favoring the coal industry.
One major thrust behind Haywards comments this week was to urge the Senate to turn some of those favors toward natural gas producers. Proponents of natural gas, like T. Boone Pickens and his Pickens Plan, see it as a bridge fuel toward low-carbon technologies. Natural gas, while still a fossil fuel the emits carbon dioxide when burned, is far cleaner than burning coal.
There are enormous supplies of domestic natural gas, says Hayward, and the time has come for the nation to wean itself from coal.
It's surprising the U.S. is still building coal-fired power plants," he said, noting that the coming generation of electric vehicles won't do much toward lowering emissions if they are powered by coal-generated electricity.
Even with his call for a turn away from coal, Hayward warns that the transition to renewable energy remains decades off.
Renewable energy will increase, but we have to be realistic. The world is going to use much more energy," he said, adding that sources of fossil energy are key as developing countries climb out of poverty.
As oil companies go, some credit BP as having earned its "green credentials." Former BP CEO John Brown was one of the first oil company executives to publicly acknowledge that climate change was a problem, instituting the "Beyond Petroleum" campaign, though certainly not everyone is buying it.