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Friday, May 09, 2008

SL Potential: Simulcast Shell Oil President Speech in Delaware U's Second Life Space

When Shell Oil president John Hofmeister gave what turned out to be a rather provocative speech on May 7 at the University of Delaware, watching it from the University of Delaware's virtual world in Second Life was an amazingly engaging and vital experience, and in some ways richer than attending in real life. He spoke about the US government's failure to craft an energy policy that allows the economy to grow and security to be assured. While he did not mention the fact that foreign oil companies are drilling off the coast of Cuba (and thus potentially draining the U.S. of its Gulf Coast reserves), that, and similar current events resonated with his every word.

The fact one could view via Second Life was wonderful. The ability to watch the event via streaming video on a screen within the world was perhaps not so unique; however, being able to chat with other attendees, send questions for Hofmeister to answer, move one's camera to zoom for extreme close-ups, and make one's avatar fly up to the screen and feel eye-to-eye with the presenter, gave a rare sense of freedom and automony. Instead of having to sit passively in the audience while the speech took place, and then politely raising one's hand to ask a question in the question-and-answer session, the participant in the Second Life space had mobility, the ability to fact-check the statements made, and to type notes, to ask questions, and to behave in ways that reduced the distance and the power / authority differentials between speaker and listener.

University of Delaware's stadium in Second Life. John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil (US) is speaking from a real-world location which is simulcast in Second Life.

In large part because of the design of the University of Delaware's SL stadium, where the event took place in SL, audience members had an unusual feeling of access. The experience was far better than simply logging into a podcast or streaming media on a typical website. Thanks to the design of the projection screens, the open-air feeling (the setting is an offshore platform stadium located in the ocean), and the built-in interactivity, all of which were designed and developed for the U of Delaware by the New Media Consortium (, audience members felt empowered. The University of Delaware's onsite facilitators, SL Firery Broome and others, also helped audience members feel at ease.

Flying up to face the speaker eye-to-eye.

The sense of awe and intimidation that sometimes accompanies an event by a controversial speaker was somewhat effaced. Further, the tension caused by the fact that people who asked too many questions, raised their voices, or went on rowdy, disruptive rants would be removed by security was not present in the Second Life venue. Unfortunately, though, viewers from Second Life were not able to see it when people were disruptive or unruly in their questions, and first chided by the moderator, then removed by security. Some of the spectacle of the event was diminished, but the ability to be liberated from a situation that, by its very nature, encodes rules of behavior and levels of authority, was refreshing.

Sharing thoughts after the event.

The event, which was organized and hosted by the University of Delaware, was a part of a series entitled Global Agenda 2008 - International Politics of Climate Change ( The title of Hofmeister's speech was "Achieving Energy Security Through Sound Public Policy." The speech was a part of Hofmeister's 50-city speaking tour, which made it clear that the multinational parent of Shell Oil Company, the Shell Group, considered it to be a priority to maintain positive public relations, particularly as gasoline prices rise. As the President of Houston-based Shell Oil Company, Hofmeister is uniquely positioned to do so.

Posters announcing the event are scattered throughout the University of Delaware's island in Second Life. Teleporting to the location is simple.

Hofmeister, whose background is in political science, is not a technical expert. That point became very clear during the presentation when his descriptions of oil and gas reservoirs, exploration and production, sounded a bit odd to a person trained in petroleum geology. His discussion of international affairs, politics, and energy policy was extremely well-informed and it was delivered on a level that appealed to audiences of many different backgrounds.

Hofmeister's experience involves being the head of Human Resources in the Shell Group's headquarters in the Hague. Although he did not mention this, Hofmeister's skills must have been put to the test during Hurricane Katrine during August 2005, just five months after assuming the leadership position at Shell. With 22,000 employees, Shell Oil (US) is a relatively small branch of the Shell Group (also known as Royal Dutch Shell), a Dutch company which has 108,000 employees worldwide. Hofmeister will be retiring in June 2008. The next Shell Oil president will be 49-year-old Marvin Odum, a petroleum engineer and head of Shell's U.S. exploration and production efforts. It will be interesting to see if Odum will continue the speaking engagements.

The introduction to John Hofmeister.

Participating in Second Life gave the member a chance to look up information on the Internet, and to take notes. One felt active, and interactive, rather than passive and "lectured to." After Hofmeister finished his speech, questions were presented from the audience. One from Second Life was presented, which addressed the point that Hofmeister made that Americans aren't willing to give up their lifestyles, and thus energy efficiency and increased production must be the goal. The question provoked quite a bit of applause and comment in the real-world setting, which was deeply gratifying to SL audience members.

The University of Delaware's real world web site on the Global Agenda series is located here:

Podcast of previous Global Agenda speakers


Notes from and a partial transcript of John Hofmeister's speech:

Paralysis of partisanship is a political outcome in which nothing happens, and I would suggest to you that citizens of our country are victims of the paralysis of partisanships. Three realities we must live with, cope with, and deal with -- why the paralysis of partisanship is not viable.
1. Global demand for energy is accelerating. 5 percent of the world's population uses 25% of the world's energy. That's mainly the U.S. -- the rest of the world wants this. As countries industrialize... the demand goes up. Example: in china, 3 cars for every 100 people -- is that likely to continue?
2. Easy, convenient oil is peaking. We cannot keep up production to meet demand.
3. We must deal with carbon constraints as we go forward.

paralysis of partisanship
huge problem

how are we doing as a nation in energy security?
are we operating in a bipartisan fashion ?
ANWAR -- president opens idea -- democrats block
taxing oil companies (democrats) -- republican president says he'll veto

that is the paralysis of partisanship

we have domestic oil & we can produce it -- but we aren't doing it ... why not? paralysis of partisanship
(NOTE: online search while taking notes uncovered that in 2007, Shell was ordered by the courts to stop plans to drill in the Beaufort Sea off the coast of Alaska.)

I will now make a series of outrageous statements:

1. this country has not had an energy security strategy since WWII -- what was it before ? produce everything we could & ration it

2. we as americans like to believe that we operate in an energy market -- a market of different products, etc (the idea that the oil market is a free market is nonsense -- most production comes from a cartel, which comes from sovereign nations that act as a cartel) -- paralysis has resulted in a 30-year moratorium on the exploration and development in 85 percent of the outer continental shelf .... for 30 years, our congress has forbidden american companies from producing outer continental shelf & federal protected lands... (western gulf of mexico -- 100 billion barrels of oil)

3. we are not running out of oil -- there is more where it comes from -- peak oil refers to easy, conventional oil

4. we use 21 million barrels of oil per day in the U.S. - every 3 seconds.... a rr car full of coal; every minute, a backyard swimming pool of oil -- natural gas -- bridge from here to the moon 25 times over every day -- biofuels and wind energy -- the scale of displacement is enormous ... it will take a lot to replace oil and gas

5. the internal combustion engine is only 20% efficient -- 80% wasted .... burned up as heat -- jet engine 8 percent efficient -- 92 percent goes out as heat
we are using hydrocarbons in horribly ineffcient manner because we have limited technologies

Shell's 12-point plan

1. need more access to oil and gas resources (the 30-year moratorium has to end) - in clutches of cartels

2. we need to develop unconventional oil and gas resources that are available to us, otherwise we will not keep up with the demand

3. we can't stop using coal - let's consider new technology (coal gasification) - we need to pursue gasification technologies - pulverize / micronize the coal & then put it into a gasifier - turns into syngas - CO2 still in gasifier

4. must augment gas with liquified natural gas -- serious problem with infrastructure ... gas produced and stranded in gas fields (no market in west africa / australia) can ship supercold liquid -- elba island, GA, and in maryland -- no one wants the infrastructure, though.... they are blocking the building of re-gasification terminals -- a post-industrial society uses more than an industrial society

5. biofuel -- we must put more emphasis on it ... avoid corn

6. wind -- wasting a great natural resource, but it's just blowing by us --need transmission lines... where they don't exist, people do not want them... offshore windfarms / onshore windfarms -- shell at a gigawatt a day ... 7 farms in five states .... west virginia and texas wind farms by Shell

7. solar sources -- thin film (nanotechnology) -- Shell is funding

8. hydrogen -- fuel cells -- Shell is a believer ... a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle will work. they have them now... they are efficient, they are quick, and fun -- where do you buy your hydrogen? need a supply and distribution system as easy as gas

9. cap on co2 emissions -- trade CO2 trading systems ... "cap and trade" -- has to be on a national level

10. must have a means by which to move forward on energy demand -- Manage Energy Demand -- Incentivize Creative Solutions (building designs / vehicles and appliances -- how management ) -- ENERGY DEMAND MANAGEMENT

11. Need Energy Education -- need to learn about energy

12. Energy solutions (nuclear, hydropower, geothermal) -- create enabling frameworks

close on following -- the future is hard to describe and explain --
2 perspectives -- its two scenarios

1. SCRAMBLE -- every country looks for its own solutions... trying to take care of its own demand... includes countries that only worry about their own energy independence, satisfy immediate needs immediately

2. BLUEPRINT -- coalitions of countries work together to find common solutions to common problems

Shell believes that only a BLUEPRINT plan will work for the future.

*** We hired Scholastic to create Energy Education etc ) ** "Energize Your Future** to pull down a curriculum of energy education... BP / Exxon / Shell are paying to create school curricula ... *** -- a website free to access which tells the story of Shell's 50-city visits...

we are operating with financial security (as a nation) -- but do not have an energy security policy

** End of Notes / Transcription ***

posted by susan

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