Shifting natural gas roles and narratives

Alexandra Marie Ferraro's picture
Alexandra Marie Ferraro, Energy Analyst, Guest Reporter
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Addressing fellow Executive Energy Leadership Panel speakers and European Autumn Gas Conference attendees on November 19th, CEO of GasTerra Gertjan Lankhorst questioned established roles and narratives of natural gas players. He presented a call-to-action for the gas industry to engage academics and push back against political narratives seeking to lower demand.

Narratives: “What do we need: market or government?” he posed the audience at a crossroads between what Mr. Lankhorst called the stunning innovations and consumer benefits of market liberalization, and a growing anxiety surrounding globalization and inequality following the financial crisis. He continued to explain that, in fact, the idea of regulation serving as checks to balance the market is increasingly seen as a good thing especially for security of supply and demand.

The CEO challenged politicians who pushed a narrative of reducing gas demand in the name of increasing security of supply. He explained that worries about Russian imports are ultimately what underlie this narrative and that Europe should work more effectively together to overcome this—lowering demand, according to Mr. Lankhorst, is not the answer. Doing so “puts the cart before the horse,” he claims, and “undermines the role of natural gas in the future. Europe would compromise its climate change targets by excluding gas from the energy mix.”

These sentiments were echoed later on in the panel discussion by Fluxys CEO Pascal De Buck who said, “Gas is the fossil fuel that goes together well with renewables.”

Mr. Lankhorst urged the EU Commission to shift the natural gas narrative, not to push new import terminals but rather complete the internal gas market so that gas may flow freely from all points into Europe.

Roles: GasTerra CEO proposed that the gas industry has a new role in showing a real commitment to better understanding and solving environmental issues. He emphasized that this is possible by supporting academia, think tanks, and other centers of knowledge. “The gas industry has to walk the talk,” Mr. Lankhorst affirmed. This includes engaging what he calls “critical friends”, including different stakeholders who might not always agree with the gas sector.

In this new role, Mr. Lankhorst encouraged his colleagues to work to bridge the gap between the gas industry and lobbying groups’ concerns. “It’s not only technology, it’s not only economy, it’s also psychology and the social sciences that we need to understand when entering into this debate.”

Similar thinking permeated the panel discussion. When asked if the gas industry would allow the public to remain concerned with talk of renewables, Pascal de Buck expressed that it is the gas industry’s job to message to consumers what gas’s added value is. Calls to engage “neutral partners” were also heard as well as spreading awareness of the profuse burning of coal in Europe.

It seems the natural gas industry may indeed take on a new role in gas advocacy and awareness.

Gas advocacy? How can the industry improve it? Let us know your views.

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