Progress Energy CEO on future of natural gas

Jeremy Hobson Feb 13, 2012

Jeremy Hobson: Gas prices are on the rise again; the average price of a gallon is up to $3.51. Meanwhile, prices for natural gas are plummeting. Unfortunately, however, most of our cars aren’t made to use natural gas. So when is the natural gas industry
going to be ready for prime time?

Bill Johnson is the CEO of Progress Energy. That’s an electricity company that deals in natural gas, as well as other energy sources. He joins us from Raleigh, N.C. Good morning.

Bill Johnson: Morning, Jeremy.

Hobson: So what is the dream scenario for the natural gas industry? How much of our energy future can involve natural gas and how long is it going to take for that to happen?

Johnson: Well from what we know about the gas supply in this country, I think we have 100 years of natural gas here. If we can extract it safely and get it where it needs to be to consumers and a company like ours, but it’s a great part of our energy story for the future.

Hobson: And when you say 100 years, how much of our energy will be natural gas, will come from natural gas, percentage-wise?

Johnson: I would think over the next decade, we’d be moving toward maybe 25, 30 percent nationwide. So I think over the next decade or so, it’s going to burgeon into a main supply of energy, at least for the electricity sector.

Hobson: I need to ask you about the downsides — which are not insignificant — to extracting this natural gas. There have been reports of water contamination, the strong stench of chemicals from fracking and even an increased number of earthquakes. Why should the public accept these downside risks for an industry that we don’t know all that much about yet?

Johnson: Fracking is not a new thing — or hydraulic fracturing, whatever term you want. We’ve been doing it for 30, 40 years in this country. And so we ought to be able to do it right, to make sure that there are no environmental impacts from it. It’s like any other natural resource — if we’re going to use it, if we’re going to extract it, we have to do it the right way. If we pay enough time and attention and look at the science and look at the equipment they use and the methods, we should be able to do this safely.

Hobson: Then why do you think there’s so much opposition already to fracking?

Johnson: I do think people have the concerns that you mentioned, right? Particularly drinking water, which is on everybody’s mind all the time. I don’t have any problem with people being concerned about this at all. I mean, I’d be concerned if there was a problem with my drinking water. That’s what we ought to be pursuing — how do we do this safely and get this resource that we really need?

Hobson: Bill Johnson is the CEO of Progress Energy. Thanks so much for talking with us.

Johnson: Thanks Jeremy. It’s great to be part of a show that I listen to regularly.

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.