WASHINGTON, DC – Energy and education in the Western Hemisphere were linked at Institute of the Americas programs in Washington, DC on September 30 and October 1.

During a cocktail reception at the Mexican Cultural Institute on September 30, Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the State Department, highlighted the intersection between energy and education as she praised the Obama Administration’s 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative aimed at increasing educational exchanges in our hemisphere as well as the advances in energy cooperation spurred in part by the US energy revolution.

Mexican Ambassador to the United States, Eduardo Medina Mora, spoke of Mexico’s interest in the 100,000 Strong initiative and celebrated the corresponding cross-border leadership as well as opportunities for Mexico and the United States in a 21st century economy, particularly as Mexico continues to implement major economic reforms including what he called the mother of all reforms – energy.

The reception coincided with a program on the Geopolitics of Natural Gas in the Western Hemisphere, on October 1 co-hosted by the Institute of the Americas and the University of Texas at Austin. The session opened with a keynote address by Christopher Smith, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Fossil Fuels at the US Department of Energy, followed by a panel that featured Trinidad & Tobago’s ambassador to the US Neil Parsan, State Department Energy Bureau Director for Policy Analysis and Public Diplomacy Richard Westerdale, as well as Cheniere Energy’s Albert Nahas and independent analyst David Goldwyn.

PDAS Smith reviewed the US energy revolution and cited two National Petroleum Council studies to highlight how quickly the outlook has changed on the back of the United States’ resurgence as a major oil and gas producer. Smith also noted the importance of natural gas for energy security and lower emissions. Smith emphasized President Obama’s unambiguous stance on the importance of natural gas in the United States, remarking that it had been raised  in the last three State of the Union addresses. Smith also argued that environmental issues remain critical. And while he called them manageable, he underscored the difference between manageable and managed. When it came to the question of lifting the oil export ban, he was less definitive and did not make any predictions.

The panel discussion focused on how to utilize the US’ energy boom to further diplomacy but, more importantly, economic development in the Western Hemisphere. Amb. Parsan assessed the energy dilemma in the Caribbean and argued that the current energy model is unsustainable. To wit, 35% of Caribbean debt is attributed to Petrocaribe. Trinidad and Tobago is committed to supporting the energy needs of its neighbors, he noted, including through development of smaller scale liquefied natural gas (LNG) technology, such as the Gasfin project in Trinidad & Tobago.

Richard Westerdale discussed the recent diplomatic efforts the Energy Bureau is undertaking, from the Connecting the Americas 2020 initiative launched at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena in 2012 to the more recent Caribbean Energy Security Initiative, and the hallmark agreement signed in September with the island nation of Grenada to create a pilot program intended to bring a “cleaner energy future.”

Albert Nahas and David Goldwyn asserted that given the US natural gas boom and progress on exports, the US government could and should do more, particularly when one considers the economic impact of electric prices in Latin America that are still at least 25 percent higher than the United States. Goldywn further observed that his calculations based upon an IDB study pointed to a ballpark figure of $2-3 billion for the Caribbean to convert from fuel oil and diesel generation to cleaner burning gas-fired power systems. Nahas argued for progress and action to develop US-government backed export financing structures to enable LNG exports to markets that have credit ratings below investment grade, particularly those in Central America and the Caribbean.

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