Through the years, we have had some people appointed to head the U.S. Department of Energy who didn't have a strong background in energy. But, President Obama's most recent appointment as Secretary of Energy, Ernest J. Moniz, is different.

Dr. Moniz, who has been a physics professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1973, served as undersecretary of the Department of Energy from 1997 to 2001 and as associate director for science in the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the executive office of the president from 1995 to 1997. He was responsible for overseeing the Department's science and energy programs, leading a comprehensive review of nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship and serving as the secretary's special negotiator for the disposition of Russian nuclear materials.

The U.S. Senate confirmed Dr. Moniz in May.

Moniz recently stated that the energy picture looks much better than in recent years, but the United States must use an "all of the above" energy approach to reduce the nation's reliance on energy imports.

"Reducing our oil dependence must continue to be a key objective, even as we increase our domestic production," he told an audience in Washington, D.C., at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Oct. 24 as reported in the Oil and Gas Journal.

DOE intends to continue work on unconventional oil and gas production, biofuels, higher-efficiency and alternative fueled vehicles; compressed natural gas vehicles, global gas market designs and electric vehicles, Moniz said.

He called General Motors' announcement that it will begin offering a bifueled Impala — which primarily would use CNG but have backup gasoline capacity — "one of the most exciting recent developments, and the approach, which is already being taken in Europe."

Access to rare earth and other energy-critical materials also is a growing resource issue, according to the secretary. So is climate change, the existence of which he no longer considers an issue, including in Congress.

"I believe we've turned the corner on that issue," Moniz said. "The need to respond is undebatable. How to respond is open to discussion." Possible mitigation measures include strong efficiency measures, "decarbonizing power generation" and developing more international cooperation, he suggested.

Energy infrastructure vulnerability to major weather events, cyber-terrorism, physical attacks, and unanticipated interdependence also needs to be addressed, Moniz said. DOE plans to examine ways to improve the nation's electrical grid and develop emergency response strategies, he said.

Moniz said an upcoming quadrennial energy review will give the federal government a chance to reflect on consequences of the country's oil and gas abundance because it will involve many agencies and departments, and address infrastructure vulnerability.

It also will consider the need for more pipelines to transport oil and gas produced from tight shale formations from the wellhead to markets, he said.

"The U.S. pipeline infrastructure clearly isn't sufficient to address new production," Moniz observed. "Improving it will need to be a top priority involving several federal departments and agencies, and the quadrennial energy review will provide a perfect opportunity for us to do that."

Overall, he added, "we think the energy security landscape is different — and more interesting — than it was in 1973."


Alex Mills is president of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers. The opinions expressed are solely of the author.

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