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Chris J. Zygarlicke, Associate Vice President for Strategic Projects and University Relations, reports on the regional energy summit held at the EERC in May of this year.

On May 12, 2016, the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) hosted a regional partnership summit at its facilities in Grand Forks, North Dakota, called Energizing North Dakota’s Future. The event’s goal was to stimulate conversation among some of North Dakota’s most influential energy leaders on steps toward charting a positive course for the future of the energy industry in North Dakota.

The summit brought together experts from all industrial energy sectors and North Dakota legislators and state officials to discuss an action plan for the upcoming year.

Experts highlighted key challenges and opportunities facing the energy industry. EERC CEO Tom Erickson kicked off and emceed the meeting, emphasizing that North Dakota’s energy picture is one of cooperation, collaboration, and teaming of all industry, government, and public sectors as one of the nation’s largest energy states. Coal, oil and gas, and renewable energy resources must all factor into a balanced energy strategy that ensures security regionally and internationally. A brief welcome was also given by then-Interim President of the University of North Dakota, Ed Schafer.

Speaking on key challenges facing the North Dakota energy industry were Jason Bohrer, President, Lignite Energy Council; Ron Ness, President, North Dakota Petroleum Council; and Scott Stone, Counsel, Hunton & Williams LLP. Leading discussions on solutions for North Dakota’s energy future were Scott Wehner, Chief Science Officer, Denbury Resources, Inc.; Robert “Mac” McLennan, President and CEO, Minnkota Power Cooperative, Inc.; and Kathy Neset, President, Neset Consulting Service.

The event concluded with the keynote by Charles “Chuck” McConnell, Executive Director of Rice University’s Energy and Environment Initiative and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Energy, who began by exclaiming that the current Administration’s energy policy is three letters: EPA. Nonetheless, he acknowledged the undeniability of climate change and CO2 as “a” reason for that, considering that since the Industrial Revolution, it is estimated that humankind has released more CO2 into the atmosphere than the rest of human history altogether.

"The key for the U.S. energy industry, including North Dakota, is to figure out how we can make a difference in reducing CO2 emissions yet keep pace with other world economies while still providing low-cost, reliable energy," McConnell stated.

Energy development in the United States should be globally relevant, so that low-cost fossil energy technologies may allow for similar adoption in poorer countries. For example, the concept of government-subsidized, or even “free” electricity to power an electric vehicle in Sweden is simply not globally relevant.

So the question remains, McConnell said, what changes in energy policy can we make that cause low-cost clean energy economies to flourish and that make sense in a global society? Currently, changes are being made in U.S. energy choices and development because of government mandates rather than for the sake of human health and economical energy development. Therefore, enhanced oil recovery (EOR) in North Dakota and elsewhere should be taken seriously and not become a game between coal companies, CO2 suppliers, and oil companies. We need to strategize how to balance the risk of EOR with monetary investment and technology development to make this happen fairly and efficiently. Global investors in Norway and Japan, for example, will be interested in being a part of such a strategic model.

The event also served as an opportunity for the EERC to show appreciation to some of its regional partners and to present its Energy Champion Award to Dr. Michael Jones, the Vice President of Research and Development for the North Dakota Lignite Energy Council. Dr. Jones was honored with the award because of his nearly four decades of demonstrated leadership and commitment to energy and environmental research nationwide.