The United States shale sector is at a crossroads. Houston, the capital of the nation’s oil and gas industry, is at the metaphorical and industrial center of a struggle for the country’s unfolding post-covid energy landscape. The writing is on the wall: the renewable revolution is here to stay, and while the sun hasn’t set on oil yet, the industry will never see growth the way that it has in the past couple of decades. Oil is still highly relevant in Houston, but that is going to change, whether oil tycoons and Texas politicians like it or not. Even one of the city’s top oil bankers agrees that Houston needs to join the clean energy transition or risk being left behind. “If Houston wants to continue to be the world’s leading energy capital, then it’s going to need to be a leader in the newer forms of energy,” Bobby Tudor, chair of the Houston-based investment bank Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co, was quoted by the Financial Times in a recent report. He’s not alone in this assertion -- far from it. Tudor’s just one voice in what is becoming an increasingly bipartisan chorus pushing for the United States fossil fuel sector to accept the changing global reality. Earlier this year, President Biden’s Energy Secretary pick Jennifer Granholm essentially issued an “adapt or die” ultimatum to the oil sector. “The bottom line is this particular growth of clean energy and reduction of carbon provides a huge opportunity and I’m extending a hand of partnership,” she said at IHS Markit’s annual CERAWeek conference.
The United States has been seriously dragging its feet when it comes to the global clean energy race. While the country has continued to focus on shale oil and gas, the resource that launched it to the top of the global energy food chain, other countries have been building up robust clean energy infrastructure and setting up assertive policies to develop infrastructure and production capacity that positions them at the forefront of an inevitable sea change in the way we source our energy.
This reticence on the part of the United States has put the country in a, particularly vulnerable position when it comes to the energy independence that the nation has enjoyed for so long, and which is no longer such a sure thing. While the U.S. has been able to dominate shale oil and gas markets thanks to the shale revolution of the past decades, renewables have leveled the playing field, and there is now major competition from China and Europe. The country’s aging infrastructure and practically prehistoric power grids have left the nation poorly situated for adopting cleaner energy practices as well as for ramping up domestic production, not to mention leaving the U.S. energy system vulnerable to security risks and cyberattacks.
Texas oil, however, will not go easy into that goodnight. Texas lawmakers are bracing for a fight, pulling out all of the policy stops to make decarbonization efforts as difficult in the Lone Star State. “Unfortunately, our economic bedrock of oil and gas is under attack by an administration that is bent on eliminating millions of jobs,” Republican Congressman Brian Babin told the public back in February at a press event along with six other Texan lawmakers, as he spoke in front of the refineries and petrochemical plants of the Houston Ship Channel.
Republican lawmakers have indeed circled the wagons, pushing Senate Bill 13, which would require state entities to divest from any companies that are themselves divesting from fossil fuels. Another bill currently working its way through the Texas docket is House Bill 17, which would bar Texas municipalities from banning natural gas as a fuel source in newly constructed residences, subdivisions, and other developments.
But not everyone in the private sector, even those in the oil and gas industry, is in agreement with this ideological petro-protectionism. Those who are following the money can see that the economic future does not lie in oil and gas, no matter what laws are on the books in Texas. “Imagine what it would be like to try to get a big new hydrogen pipeline built between New York City and Boston. It would be impossible. We have a lot of incumbent advantages here,” Tudor told the Financial Times. “One thing Houstonians and Texans, in general, are pretty good at is seeing a commercial opportunity for the grabbing and we do think there are really good commercial opportunities associated with the energy transition.”
And there are already plenty of ventures trying to make Texas the new clean energy hub of the United States. They’re highly outnumbered, but they’re growing, and Houston could soon see itself at the helm of wind, solar, and energy storage in the U.S. if more Texans can get on board with letting go of oil and gas.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprie.com
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