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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

May 16, 2006 at 9:08 AM

Fueling the FiRe

SAN DIEGO — Tech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are intrigued by energy ventures like biofuel production, but that’s just part of the picture. At FiRe today, Goldman Sachs Vice Chairman Robert Hormats, a former assistant secretary of state, pointed out some of the geopolitical issues to keep in mind.

Rather than seeing environmental protections as a handicap, Hormats suggested the U.S. could capitalize on its leadership in this area in its dealings with developing countries like India and China that are hungry for energy but increasingly concerned about environmental damage.

“It’s a great opportunity for us if we take the lead, which pitifully we have not done,” he said.

Hormats said President Bush missed a huge opportunity to develop an energy partnership with China when he met with China President Hu Jintao recently in Washington, D.C. The discussion could have started with the U.S. offering its technology for cleaner coal usage, helping China reduce emissions and its dependence on oil.

“Now in Seattle it might have worked, but it was not done in Seattle and it didn’t work,” Hormats said.

Hormats compared the current opportunities in energy to the technology market opportunities in the 1990s. One likely area of growth is nuclear power, which is relatively clean to produce and safer to generate nowadays.

“A lot of bright people who developed their expertise in one area are trying to transfer that to energy,” he said.

In the meantime, new technologies are driving huge advances in-oil drilling technologies. With current seismic modeling, oil companies can use a football field-size room to drill angled wells covering an area of 20 to 30 miles, said Randy Foutch, former chief executive of Latigo Petroleum.

“We can bridge the gap between where we are today and where we need to be with alternative fuels,” he said. “It’s going to take some resolve and political effort but we can get there.”

Comments | More in | Topics: Entrepreneurs

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