I want to begin by sharing my sympathy with our USEA members, our extended family, for all we’ve faced since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.
As we begin to rebuild, I think about the solid foundation our essential industry has laid, especially over the past year, to help us withstand these shocks of 2020.
Our industry has and will continue to adhere to sound principles of environmental protection, resource management, and efficient, reliable and affordable energy development and delivery.
2019 was an enormously successful year for the energy sector, for producers and consumers, from the renewable sector to the fossil fuel industry. We put ourselves on a trajectory. As a country we celebrated a cleaner environment, and the adoption of new technologies for emissions reductions for all types of energy production.
We celebrated the contribution all types of energy required to power our country, our planet, and meet a growing global demand. In 2019, energy boosted our GDP. Our allies benefitted from our energy abundance. Our energy security bled into a larger feeling of national security. And innovation was driving our sector’s expansion.
Now, against the backdrop of a global pandemic, I’m reminded daily from my home office in Washington, D.C. how essential energy is to society. Gasoline fuels the steady stream of delivery vehicles in our neighborhood. Natural gas provides us with heat, water, cooking and other services that allow us to stay at home and flatten the curve.
Millions of Americans can work at home. That would be impossible without reliable electric power. No power, no Zoom conference calls, no Internet, TV or lighting. No progress.
And what about the refrigerator and freezer that we just filled up? What about the fuel for transportation for those millions of truck drivers and air carriers stocking up our grocery stores?
None of it would be possible without our industry, without its reliability, tenacity or innovation.
Sadly, some blind to the progress of our industry, are celebrating an excruciatingly painful hit to the nucleus of our energy sector—our oil and gas industry. What they have missed is that hit reverberates across the economy, through every American household, and through the lives of our global partners who rely and recognize energy is the lifeblood of any economy. Energy underpins every single supply chain.
Celebrating turmoil in energy celebrates turmoil of our entire economy. It’s abhorrent.
Yet with all the focus on the pandemic and its economic impact, nothing is paused in our industry, which continues to be vigilant regarding physical and cybersecurity, and the health and safety of our employees. We are still acutely aware of ongoing risks to our system, including, but not limited to, the risk apparent--that our workforce is not at capacity. The health, safety and security of our employees is priority. Where necessary, energy companies are using temporary staff to refuel nuclear power facilities, deal with crude oil oversupply issues, ensure safety of our electric power and natural gas distribution systems. We have plans in place to mitigate all risk.
None of us has ever seen negative crude oil prices; we have yet to see the full impact on our industry and society at large. We have yet to see the full effect from demand destruction for electric power, natural gas, gasoline and other petroleum derivatives, and we have yet to combine those with the financial hardships of customers, cash in some cases, credit in others.
Concurrently, our industry must continue to be prepared to reduce future energy demand and improve operational efficiency and reduce emissions. These unprecedented circumstances have resulted in reduced atmospheric emissions, localized improvements in air quality and reduced degradation of water quality. A new baseline has suddenly been established, and it’s up to our industry to meet the challenge going forward once the country, the world opens for business.
And because USEA’s mission rests on the relationship with international energy partners, the COVID-19 pandemic has added a layer of complexity to our work.
Nonetheless, I’m optimistic because our industry continues to deliver, reliable, affordable energy for the benefit of all Americans and our allies.
I’m also encouraged by the work of Team USEA, from our staff to our international partners.
On April 22, my optimism came acutely from reflection.
As a world, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
At USEA, we took that moment to recount 50 ways USEA has helped improve the planet over the past 30 years, since our executive director, Barry Worthington, took the helm.
We must, especially now, look to our successes for strength to remind us of the strong foundation laid by our industry to withstand and recover from the turmoil of pandemics and roiled markets. We have grit.
Millions of people around the world do not have access to energy; many still live in the dark. Over the past 30 years, I’ve watched USEA staff and members traverse the world to help expand transmission and generation infrastructure, develop regulatory structures to create efficient power markets. Senior U.S. utility executives, our members, and our international utility executives volunteer their personal time and professional expertise to help others across the world gain access to electricity that eventually changes the trajectory of their lives and their countries.
Humanity shares the planet and its energy resources, and each of us has a role in managing those resources. We’re intertwined in ways perhaps unknown to many before the global pandemic, a crisis that has unearthed how critical all of our energy resources are to our survival.
Thanks to fossil fuels for transportation, the U.S. sent medical resources to global destinations. Essential medical supplies made from plastic, derived from crude oil, curtailed new cases of the deadly Covid-19 virus. Utilities, which provide seamless reliable electricity, have been continuing service to residents who can no longer pay their electric and gas bills because they’ve lost their jobs.
Utility linemen leave the protection of their homes every day to make sure all Americans have electricity. We are grateful for the pipeline operators and the gas stations keeping our supply chains operational and food on our tables; our industry is the front line.
Our industry is providing relief against the economic impact of the pandemic while protecting our environment and our citizens.
We should all be proud and encouraged.
Sheila Slocum Hollis
United States Energy Association