GENEVA, (Reuters) – High energy prices are helpful to discourage planet-polluting waste, and make extraction from varied sources such as northern Canada possible, Total Chief Executive Christophe De Margerie said on Saturday.
Speaking to a global security conference, de Margerie said the recent slide in the price of oil may have negative effects if people stop treating energy as a scarce resource.
“I am not defending high-level prices as such,” he told the conference at a hotel in Geneva, the Swiss city that plays host to the United Nations’ European offices as well as many large energy and commodity trading houses.
“Maybe we have been for too many years, including the companies, used to the price maybe too cheap,” he said, noting this spurred investments and activities “which are probably not in line and acceptable due to this global warming concern”.
“The only way to change the way people are behaving is to have the energy price to a certain extent high,” he said in a speech about climate change.
If fuel prices fall sharply, De Margerie said consumers may become less concerned about efficiency measures to reduce carbon emissions that scientists have linked to global warming.
“This message will be totally lost and that will be a pity,” he said.
U.S. crude oil futures dipped briefly for $100 a barrel on Friday for the first time since April 2, then settled at $101.18 a barrel on concerns that Hurricane Ike could hurt oil and refinery production on the Texan Gulf Coast.
De Margerie, whose company this month signed deals to expand its activities in Syria, said the lower prices for oil made relatively costly extractions from Alaska and Canada’s Alberta province less attractive than when prices were near their peaks.
“Those developments now are becoming much more difficult,” he said, also raising concerns that Iraq and other producers are not yet ready to fully access the world market.
“Security is improving in Iraq, but improving does not mean perfect,” he said, stressing that international companies and their technological investments were critical to getting oil to the market quickly and in ample volumes.
“Before we can expect to see more production coming from this part of the world, it will take more time,” adding delays will also affect Nigeria, Iran, and others.
While clean-energy technologies are under development and have potential to play a much more important role in the future, De Margerie stressed that finding reliable sources of oil and gas needed to remain a priority for the moment.
“There is definitely still a need for additional growth for oil and gas, and that is why in the medium to long term we still are concerned by our capacity to bring sufficient oil,” he said.
“Our first duty is to bring energy — clean energy, but to bring energy.”