Friday, August 22, 2008

Former Shell president is the man with a plan

From the Houston Chronicle:

During an appearance on CNBC early in the summer, John Hofmeister made a startling statement: "Oil isn't a free market."

Soon after he said it, the show cut to a commercial and someone handed Hofmeister, who was about to retire as president of Shell Oil Co., a piece of paper. It was a message from Shell's headquarters in the Netherlands telling him he couldn't say that. He crumpled up the note, went back on the air, and repeated his statement.

"The myth of the free market still resonates as if it's a reality," he told me recently over coffee and egg sandwiches at the Breakfast Klub. Oil markets, he said, are regulated at every step in the route from the well to the gas pump.

Little control

Customers can choose to buy their gasoline from a Shell or Exxon station, but Exxon Mobil and Shell are limited in choosing where they buy their oil. Most available crude comes from the OPEC cartel or other state-run oil companies. Until Americans understand how little control the U.S. and its corporations have over global energy supplies, we remain economically vulnerable, he said.

Hofmeister, who showed up wearing the official uniform of retirement — Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts, black tennis shoes and white socks — spent his final years at Shell trying to explain the nation's looming energy crisis to the public. He feels that despite "town hall meetings" in more than 50 cities, he largely failed.

Now he's trying again.

Grass-roots group

This summer, Hofmesister formed a nonprofit group, Citizens for Affordable Energy, which will take his message to the people. He hopes someday to have local chapters across the country, which will join in national grass-roots efforts, as well as address local and regional energy concerns.

Everyone these days, from T. Boone Pickens to me, seems to have an energy plan, and Hofmeister is no different. His, though, has executive suite cred. He doesn't have an interest in any particular fuel source, as Pickens does, and, as he's quick to point out, he's not running for office....MORE