Editor’s Notebook: A New Voice for Energy

December 2009 Vol. 236 No. 12

Years ago, I endorsed the very lovely Anna Nicole Smith as a spokesperson for the natural gas industry. I gave this serious consideration. I now propose an even better candidate to represent our industry, someone beloved by millions, a household name, sports legend and 20th century icon: Marshall, Texas’s own George Foreman.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Did I fall on my head while tangoing up a storm in Argentina? How can I be serious? After all, Anna Nicole’s husband Howard was a world-famous energy mogul and a favorite partner of Koch Industries, which was feted by the Smithsonian for the excellence of its pipelines. So it would figure that she picked up some knowledge of natural gas during their time together. I personally found her to be friendly and intelligent when we met. She had no trouble writing my name on her calendar.

But it was not to be.

A few weeks ago, George visited Barnes & Noble to sign his new book. I bought it, three of his cookbooks, and several of his inspirational books so I could chat with the 62-year-old ex-champ. He’s still in great shape. Heck, I think just the wind current from one of his punches would knock me over. George was in an avuncular mood, posing for pictures and willing to sign anything except boxing gloves and photos showing him getting punched like his famous fall when he punched himself out against Ali in the “Rumble in the Jungle” in 1975.

As George signed my books, he asked what I did. I said I wrote pipelines and natural gas. George, who was accompanied by son George #3 or #4, paused, blew out a deep “ahhhh”, laid down his pen and began one of the more remarkable discussions I have had about my favorite subject. Considering how many of those gas-fired grills he’s shilled for these many years, it wasn’t so surprising. After we finished, I doubted Anna Nicole ever understood as much about nat gas.

“What’s going on with natural gas? Why is it having so much trouble right now?” George asked, concerned about the low market price of gas. I explained that it was caused by the recession with demand dropping considerably by the heaviest users, including industry. As soon as the economy picks up – with a few cold spells thrown in – look for prices to shoot up again.

“But aren’t they finding a lot more of it, too, from what I read? Does that have anything to do with it? Why, I remember growing up in East Texas and that gas wasn’t worth anything. Matter of fact, I used to know the guy who owned Tucker Oil Company, and he used to burn off that gas just to get the oil out. Now look how valuable it is.”

I explained that we are in the midst of a shale revolution in which the industry is recovering large amounts of natural gas from unconventional resources at costs much lower than first anticipated. That, combined with the weak economy, was keeping prices low enough that some producers were slowing recovery efforts. George seemed to understand, but he was eager to look forward to the bright future that looms for natural gas.

“I hear they’re even going to use it in cars, aren’t they?”

I said I’d just returned from Argentina where many cars and buses drove on natural gas, but it would be awhile before that market evolved in the U.S. because of the awkward size of compressed natural gas tanks and the lack of a refueling infrastructure. I suggested natural gas is better used for transportation fleets such as trucks or buses.

“Well, you keep doing what you’re doing,” George said as he reached a hand out to me. “We need you to keep getting it out there for us.” I assumed he meant the latest news.

Natural gas industry, here’s your guy. Case closed. George, your country needs you again .