Expert says GHG reduction measures will pose long-term challenge to energy businesses

UHLC Assistant Prof. Tracy Hester addressed energy and environmental law as part of Legal Excellence speaker series

Christopher Ross, Senior Consultant, Charles River Associates, and Chair, Oil & Gas Subcommittee, GHP; and Tracy Hester, Assistant Professor of Law, UH Law Center, and Vice Chair, Energy and Environmental Policy Committee, GHP

Christopher Ross, left, Senior Consultant, Charles River Associates, and Chair, Oil & Gas Subcommittee, GHP; and Tracy Hester, Assistant Professor of Law, UH Law Center, and Vice Chair, Energy and Environmental Policy Committee, GHP

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March 25, 2013 – The biggest long-term challenge facing energy-related businesses in the Houston-area and beyond will be dealing with long-term controls on greenhouse gas emissions and their effect on energy production according to an energy and environmental law expert at the University of Houston Law Center.

"Houston is the energy capital of the world for hydrocarbons," UH Law Center Assistant Professor Tracy Hester said.  "It is also a capital for the development of unconventional resources and a leading center for renewable energy. However, its large industrial base has led Harris County to be the top carbon-dioxide emitter in the United States."

Hester presented"Shaping Houston's Future: Energy & Environment Law and its Effect on Houston's Business Opportunities" Thursday as part of the Law Center's Legal Excellence speaker series.

"Businesses need to look to a future environment where greenhouse gas emissions will be regulated, both domestically and internationally," Hester said.

Hester noted several large trends in energy. Hydrocarbons will provide the primary source of energy for our economy for the foreseeable future. In addition, natural gas and oil from shale and other tight sources will offer a sizeable domestic resource.

"These trends will continue to put stress on environmental resources that already enjoy protection under environmental laws," Hester said.

Houston energy businesses need to develop pro-active strategies to address mid-term and long-term issues including endangered species and energy production concerns. Hester urged business owners to actively seek out and identify environmental resources that merit protection and to play a role in smart stewardship.

He also suggested that businesses acquire, manage, and actively assess environmental data even if only for internal purposes. One such tool in gathering such data is remote sensing.

"We can expect to see remote sensing of airborne emissions from energy facilities and refineries in the near future," Hester said. "This technology will allow us to detect emission that are invisible to the human eye allowing us to locate a problem and determine where it's coming from. This has the potential to be game changing."  

The truly long-term challenge is geoengineering according to Hester. Geoengineering is the deliberate and large-scale intervention in the Earth's climatic system to reduce greenhouse gas. Proposed methods include mimicking the planet-cooling effect that happens when volcanoes release sulphates or removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through ocean iron fertilization to promote the growth of CO2-consuming algae.

"This technology can be very risky and its consequences are unknown and potentially disastrous," Hester said. "The idea is that geoengineering is a plan B, a last life-line."

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