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Energy security and access headline Houston conference

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Two men in dark suits sit on a stage underneath a sign that reads "CERAWEEK by S&P Global." The silhouettes of audience members' heads are in the foreground.

Haitham Al Ghais, right, secretary general of OPEC, speaks with Carlos Pascual of S&P Global Commodity Insights during the CERAWeek conference. Mark Felix/AFP via Getty Images

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Big players in the global energy sector are talking about oil, gas, renewables and war in Europe at a big conference in Houston this week called CERAWeek, run by S&P Global.

What’s been on the agenda for the many energy bigshots who are attending the event? According to Andy Uhler, a familiar voice on Marketplace — who this year is a research fellow in partnership with the University of Texas and Columbia University — it’s been many conversations about energy security and access amid the war in Ukraine and other factors that have rocked global markets.

“There’s been a real shift to an emphasis on energy security — I keep hearing those words together,” Uhler told Marketplace’s David Brancaccio. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

David Brancaccio: The world energy flows are being shaped by Russia’s war on Ukraine. And that’s the focus where you are now?

Andy Uhler: Oh, absolutely. There’s been a real shift to an emphasis on energy security — I keep hearing those words together. I spoke with BP’s chief economist, Spencer Dale, about what he feels are the main themes at this year’s conference too.

Spencer Dale (excerpted): Prior to the war in Ukraine, if you’d been in the BP boardroom, almost all of the focus had been on the importance of decarbonization and the road to net-zero. And I think as a result of the war in Ukraine, you can see it here, a recognition that we also need to take account of other aspects of the energy system.

Uhler: It’s what folks at conferences like this call the “energy trilemma”: affordability, security, sustainability.

Brancaccio: Trilemma, right. Climate change and renewables too, right, with people searching for a path at first to net-zero, as he mentioned. Carbon out equals carbon in to stop the greenhouse effect from destabilizing the weather and raising the levels of the ocean.

Uhler: Absolutely, we’re still talking about that, don’t get me wrong. There’s talk of the need to put greenhouse gas emissions down to effectively monitor things like methane emissions. That’s been a big focus here too, which is really interesting when we’re talking about natural gas production. There’s also the potential for emerging technologies like carbon capture and storage. But access to energy when folks most need it lingers in the background of all of these discussions.

Brancaccio: Now, the U.S. Congress passed and the president signed the Inflation Reduction Act late last summer, the biggest piece of climate legislation in the country’s history. People at that conference will be watching, I assume, what the government money really means for their future.

Uhler: Oh, without a doubt. There are people whose job it is just to navigate this new legislation. The folks at BP who I talked to used words like “really excited” to describe the reaction to the IRA. They said they climate law has made the U.S. the most lucrative place in the world for green hydrogen development, which is really interesting. There’s certainly an interest for companies down here to figure out exactly how to access those resource carrots, right. I mean, in that bill, we’re trying to incentivize lower carbon emissions, green technologies, things like that. But again, like I said earlier, energy access and affordability seem to rule the discussion this week in Houston.

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