September 24, 2008

Energy Called Key to Security, Area CEOs Say

By Rick Stouffer

Improving the country's energy delivery system is as much a national security issue as was construction of the nation's interstate highway system more than five decades ago, three area CEOs said Monday.

Equitable Resources Inc. CEO Murry S. Gerber, Westinghouse Electric Co. CEO Aris Candris and Plextronics Inc. CEO Andrew W. Hannah -- while all involved with different types of fuels -- understand the importance of getting energy where it's needed.

"Transportation of energy in this country from the source to the markets is completely inadequate," said Gerber, the most outspoken of the three CEOs, who came together for a panel discussion at Carnegie Mellon University on drivers and impediments to energy technology development.

Gerber used the interstate highway analogy more than once during the forum. He was referring to the highway system authorized by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, pushed by President Eisenhower, who supposedly was influenced by his experiences in 1919 as a young Army officer crossing the United States via truck convoy, and by his admiration for the German highway system.

Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez took part in yesterday's program, as did CMU Economic and Public Policy professor Ashish Arora. Forum sponsors included the university, the Commerce Department and the Pittsburgh Technology Council.

"This (infrastructure improvements) is a matter of national security," said Candris, who was named Westinghouse's CEO on July 1.

Hannah said the president must be a strong voice to rally the country to the importance of constructing wires and pipelines to move energy to where it's needed.

Gutierrez, who prior to becoming Commerce secretary 3 1/2 years ago was CEO of cereal maker Kellogg Co., agreed that bold steps concerning energy must be taken.

"With energy, we have to do what we've been reluctant to do," Gutierrez told the discussion audience of about 100. "We need a bold vision of the future."

Gutierrez asked panelists to speak about the use of oil- and gas- laden shale to help ease the nation's dependency on foreign sources, with Gerber calling the potential amount of natural gas hidden in shale around the country "staggering."

"In the Appalachian Basin, which includes Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky, there probably is 1,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in shale that's economically extractable, with the country using between 25 trillion cubic feet and 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year," Gerber said.

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