Blatantly ignoring a potent competitor is frequently an effective way to marginalize that competitor. The technique can be particularly useful when practiced by a well known or important spokesman from a position that can be considered to be a bully pulpit.
When the President of the United States uses several minutes during a State of the Union Address to speak at length about a new energy future and lists all available alternatives except one, that makes supporters of that one technology notice the slight. When the Chief Executive Officer of Royal Dutch Shell does the same thing in an op-ed piece in the Oil and Gas Journal (OGJ), the effect can be similar. It will more focused on the people who typically read that publication and its op-ed pieces.
In a commentary in the July 2009 issue of OGJ titled Industry stands at early dawn of new energy future, Jeroen van der Veer Chief Executive Officer, Royal Dutch Shell PLC did exactly that. He provided a clear exposition of the challenges facing the energy industry with a significant level of detail about most of the available alternatives.
The only thing he said about atomic energy, which currently supplies more than 7% of the world’s primary energy with planned growth in a number of key economies is the following:
Judging from society’s experience with nuclear power and other technologies, new energy sources take at least 25 years to reach significant scale.
I have been involved in the preparation of a number of high level articles, testimonies and briefs in an organization that is roughly in the same size category as Royal Dutch Shell. I am pretty sure that this commentary was reviewed by a number of different stakeholders before it was released. I have little to no doubt that Mr. van der Veer fully intended his editorial slant that quietly warned his associates in the oil and gas industry against investments in nuclear energy as a future source for emission free power.
I believe that he is dead wrong and is ignoring the value of atomic fission at the peril of his company’s future. Conversely, perhaps he and his company recognize that value and are pursuing it diligently but are not yet ready to share that with the world.