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Energy Leadership Forum

January 20, 2006 - 11:04am

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Remarks Prepared for Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman

I want to thank all of you here for your participation.  I understand you have had a very productive and informative conference so far, and I look forward to participating in one of the sessions in a few minutes.  What I mainly want to do there is listen.  That, in fact, is the major purpose of this conference not to come here and tell you what needs to be done, but to hear from you about how we can do better next time.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita emphasized how important it is to anticipate and plan for catastrophic events, but in the case of energy supplies, we must also remember that a disruption can occur for a variety of reasons including natural disasters, a terrorist act or even an unfortunate accident.

In fact, just this morning, I have authorized a loan of 870,000 barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to the Total Refinery in Port Arthur, Texas.   Because of a barge accident in the Sabine Neches Ship Channel earlier this week, the channel has been closed to deep draft vessels, preventing the refinery from taking delivery of crude oil for processing. 

In order to ensure that this accident does not put a strain on U.S. supplies of refined products, I approved the loan this morning and delivery of crude oil from the West Hackberry SPR site will begin today.  

Of course, even while we are trying to prepare for future storms and energy disruptions, I know that there is still a great deal to be done in recovering from the last storms.  The effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on this region were devastating, and the rebuilding process is still under way.  Even now, a quarter of the Gulf's oil production and at least fifteen percent of gas production is still shut in.

But of course, that is not our only concern.  On paper, the Department of Energy may be focused on things like oil rigs and gas pipelines.  But in real life, we--like everyone else in the nation--were deeply struck by the terrible toll these storms inflicted on the people who live here along the Gulf.   In fact, 319 DOE employees quickly volunteered take time off, leave their families and travel down here to provide whatever help they could.

I was heartened by this. 

And I am pleased that our Department is continuing to help people here in the Gulf region put their homes, their businesses, and their lives back together.   Let me take this opportunity to tell you about several new initiatives our Department is undertaking. 

First, our Office of Administration is helping to refurbish one of the many schools that were damaged.  We are donating approximately 200 desks, bookcases, credenzas and filing cabinets so that students and teachers at the Belle Chasse High School in Louisiana have someplace to sit, study and work.

Second, the Department of Energy is reaching out to Gulf residents with our Building Technologies Program. Through a number of partnerships, DOE research is being used to promote energy efficiency in the rebuilding process, and to construct Habitat for Humanity homes.  We are cosponsoring workshops with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Home Depot in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to help consumers repair storm damaged homes using energy efficient product and practices.

In addition to the current rebuilding effort, we also want help ensure that the region is better prepared to weather future storms.   To that end, we are providing the Army Corps of Engineers with several weeks of dedicated supercomputing time at our National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center.  Computer modeling has become increasingly accurate in a variety of areas to the point where aerospace engineers can now design and test new aircraft designs on computers, without having to first construct a physical prototype. 

But the more complicated the scenario being tested, the more powerful the computer must be.  That is where we come in with the advanced computing facilities and technical expertise we have at our world-class national laboratories.

The Army Corps will run a complicated series of simulations on hurricane conditions, to improve coastal levees and offer more protection to low-lying areas along the Gulf. The goal is to complete these calculations by mid-February. 

But running these extensive simulations on an ordinary desktop computer would take about 46 years, which isn't very helpful.  So we are happy to offer the Army Corps the use of some of our most powerful supercomputers, located in Berkeley, California, which will allow the simulations to be done within the one-month deadline.

Now, these new initiatives are just the latest in a series of actions our Department has taken in the wake of these terrible storms.  Of course, other federal departments, not to mention state and local agencies as well as the private sector, performed indispensable --even heroic--work. 

In fact, we should all recognize that it was industry and the local agencies that really carried the lion's share of the burden for getting things up and running again, and that the federal government was sometimes most effective in simply assisting you in doing your jobs.  I know that many representatives from these entities are here today, and I would only add to what has already been said that you have my respect, my admiration, and my gratitude.

Having said that, I don't mind telling you that I am also rather proud of the many DOE  employees and contractors who worked incredibly long and hard hours--some back in DC, but especially those here on the ground in the Gulf--to respond quickly to the storms' devastating effects.

I am sure you are all familiar with the large-scale steps our Department and our Administration took, things like waiving gasoline blend waivers and Jones Act restrictions on tanker transport, or opening up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and working with the International Energy Agency to obtain additional crude supplies, or coordinating with electricity utilities to restore power to the affected areas.

All these measures were absolutely critical to helping people here in the region, and to minimizing the effects that damage here in the Gulf would have on the nation's energy supplies.

But in addition to responding quickly at the policy level, the people in our Department also contributed in many ways that are not fully appreciated.

I'm thinking of some initial DOE responders in Louisiana after Katrina, who arrived on the scene only to find that they had no place to stay, putting them in nearly the same position as the people they were trying to help.  These dedicated individuals didn't turn around and go home, though.  They found accommodations somehow or another, and carried on with the work they came to do.

Now, having no place to stay while on emergency assignment is certainly a burden. But going to work when your home has actually been destroyed is another matter entirely.  That was the situation for about two dozen people who work at the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in Louisiana.  When the first storm struck, the SPRO employees had to evacuate their homes as well as their offices.  Operating out of mobile headquarters, which had to be relocated when the second storm came in, the SPRO employees stayed on the job in order to carry out the President's order to open the Reserve, all while living with their families and pets in whatever temporary accommodations they could find.  The lucky ones had a house to return to when it was over.

Other DOE employees made contributions that didn't involve hardship, but were nevertheless invaluable.  I'm thinking about the role that some of our employees played in averting a catastrophic outage in the water supply to Houston after Hurricane Rita.  

When the storm knocked out the electricity to the Lake Livingston Pumping Station, which is the water source for the city, DOE officials discovered that there were four different plans in place--by four different parties--for setting up portable generation. 

Energy Department employees effectively arranged communication between the electrical utilities, the Army Corps of Engineers, city officials, and the Coastal Water Authority, ensured that restoring electricity to the plant was made a priority, and then helped the two utilities share information and resources in order to restore power to the plant.  The pumping station came back on line with one day's supply of water left.

In another case, a DOE worker literally held two cell phones together in order to allow emergency technicians share vital information.

I said that I am proud of what our Department's people did here on the ground, and I am.  I think these examples demonstrate extraordinary hard work, dedication, and ingenuity.  But in all fairness I recognize that they also demonstrate how things could have--should have--gone much better.  Ideally, holding two cells phones together is not the way to facilitate communications in an emergency.

So we've learned a few things.  Some are nuts and bolts items, like sending electrical engineers directly to the utility company where they can do the most good, rather than being stationed at emergency operations headquarters.

Some are bit more complicated, and will take a while to figure out.  We know, for instance, that we need to develop a better understanding of how our transportation and communications systems are integrated with our energy systems, how to prioritize power restoration after disruptions, and how to ensure that a serious blow to the energy infrastructure in a particular region does not have catastrophic consequences for the whole country. 

We were lucky in that regard.  What I mean is that while I would certainly not try to minimize the disasters you have experienced here around the Gulf, the country as a whole was quite fortunate that things were not worse.  Considering how vital this region is for our oil and gas supply, I think it is a testament to the strength of our energy sector and our economy that the nation was able to recover fairly quickly.

In large part that is because our Administration has made a priority of enhancing the nation's energy diversity.  And think we all can see now that this is more important than ever.  The oil and gas produced here in the Gulf is indispensable--and will be for a long time.  But equally indispensable is the oil and gas we get from Alaska and other states, the electricity we generate from coal and nuclear power plants, and the renewable energy sources that make up a significant part of our energy portfolio.

Strengthening this energy diversity has been a priority for President Bush, and it was a major feature of the Energy Policy Act the Congress passed and the President signed last summer.

Of course, that law did not solve all our energy problems.  And we certainly have problems we need to solve in terms of responding to natural disasters.  As I said, that is why we are here and why our main purpose with this conference is to listen, and learn.

Now, since I keep insisting on the value of listening I guess I should stop talking, and start doing that.

Thank you for coming here today, for participating in this conference, and for giving us your suggestions, your ideas, your input.  Rest assured, we will do our best to incorporate those ideas, to implement those suggestions, and to work with all of you so we can all react better next time.

Thank you.

Location: Robinsonville, MS

Media contact(s): Craig Stevens, 202/586-4940

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