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Shell Oil chief: Clean energy is here and it’s called natural gas

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Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff: Peter Voser of Royal Dutch Shell spoke Thursday at a lunch sponsored by the Boston College Chief Executives’ Club.

By Erin Ailworth | Globe Staff  March 22, 2013

Peter Voser, chief executive of the global energy company Royal Dutch Shell, said Thursday that the United States and the world need to increase the use of solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewable energy-generating sources to meet the growing demand for power, but abundant natural gas supplies present the most straightforward way to a cleaner future.

Natural gas has had a major resurgence in the United States, where a controversial and water-intensive drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — has allowed companies like Shell to extract huge volumes of the fuel from shale rock deposits.

“The world needs to follow America’s lead and take full advantage of the cleanest-burning fossil fuel, and that’s natural gas,” Voser said during his 30-minute speech at a luncheon held by the Boston College Chief Executive’s Club of ­Boston.

“Increased use of natural gas is the biggest single step that the world can take today to begin reducing” carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to global warming and climate change.

Critics, however, say that natural gas is still a fossil fuel that produces greenhouse gases, and they worry that abundant supplies of the cheap resource are stunting the adoption of renewables like wind and solar. Additionally, fracking has come under fire for contributing to water contamination and other environmental problems.

Speaking before business and government leaders, including Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Voser said climate change is a serious threat that can be addressed only by making use of of a variety of clean energy sources and energy-efficient technologies.

The Swiss-born CEO also urged governments across the globe to adopt aggressive energy policies and practices, including putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions, funding the development technologies that can capture and store carbon gases, increasing gas and oil drilling, and building controversial projects like the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

“Our energy consumption is on a scale so massive and demand is growing so quickly that we will need to aggressively pursue all sources of energy for decades to come just to keep up,” said Voser, whose company has 20,000 US employees. “When your President Obama says America’s energy policy should be all of the above he is absolutely right, in our opinion.”

At the same time, Voser called natural gas a “backbone fuel” that could help achieve the world’s transition from a dependence on fossil fuels such as oil and coal to an economy that relies more on cleaner ­energy-generating resources.

Natural gas is a fossil ­fuel but is cleaner burning, with less carbon dioxide emitted.

“Gas is the natural ally of renewables like wind and solar,” Voser said. “Wind and solar are intermittent energy sources [but] natural gas can keep the electricity flowing when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind fails to blow. Unlike many other energy sources, gas can be switched off and on quickly, and its global supply is increasingly diverse, which enhances energy security.”

Despite his support for the fuel, Voser acknowledged the environmental concerns about fracking.

“Our industry needs to work with governments to do a better job of addressing these concerns. Strong regulations and tough enforcements are needed to ensure all operators drill shale gas or shale wells properly, and protect groundwater,” Voser said. “Shale development must be done in a demonstrably responsible way to gain public support.”

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