Laclede CEO discusses future of natural gas, energy policies


A local energy executive spoke on the present and future state of energy policy in the United States at a lecture on Tuesday, Oct. 30.

Suzanne Sitherwood, president and CEO of The Laclede Group Inc., the St. Louis-based energy provider, presented, “The Future of Natural Gas.” She discussed advancements in the field of natural gas that “could benefit the whole world,” Sitherwood said.

Webster Provost Julian Schuster opened the event with a comment.

“This place is where the past, the present and the future of Webster (University) come together,” Schuster said.

The lecture was part of the “Contemporary Conversations for a Connected World,” series. The event took place in the East Academic Building.

The program is designed to bring “thinkers and dissenters, great minds” to Webster in the form of educational lectures, Schuster said.

“No one knows exactly where energy is going,” Sitherwood said. “Just five years ago, natural gas was headed for a historic high and crude oil was skyrocketing. But since, we’ve discovered huge fields off the coasts of Brazil and Africa, which are now accessible.”

Sitherwood said new technologies, such as the ability to extract oil from tar sands, have increased the world oil reserves. She said that oil  production had doubled from 2000 to 2010, and Canada has emerged as the number-one exporter of oil to the United States.

However, natural gas, Sitherwood said, has the potential to replace oil as the primary energy source of the United States. She said hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking,” has made natural gas more accessible and cheaper to provide. Sitherwood said there is “no evidence” to support the claim that fracking poisons local water supplies, as critics have claimed.

Fracking involves using high water pressure to create cracks in shale rock which release the gas trapped underneath. Environmental groups have claimed that fracking releases methane into the air and chemicals used in the water can contaminate local groundwater.

Sitherwood cited a study requested by President Barak Obama, which ultimately found that fracking “could be mishandled, but isn’t inherently dangerous.”

She emphasized that the technology is new, but the principles aren’t. Oil fracking has existed for more than 50 years, but fracking for shale gas is relatively new. Sitherwood handed out a large piece of shale rock to the audience to highlight the durability of the rock.

“It’s not easy to get through, but it is worth it,” Sitherwood said. “The president said in the State of the Union that we had enough gas to last 100 years, and I wouldn’t challenge those findings at all.”

During the question and answer period, audience members asked Sitherwood about the potential for natural gas-powered cars and the possibility of exporting natural gas to other nations for trade purposes.


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