Wildcatter finds energy to fight for low-carbon future

For 35 years, wildcatter Fred Julander (MBA ’84) has been punching holes in the ground in search of natural gas.

Today he’s punching holes in arguments against an energy future that blends natural gas with renewables.

“There’s a lot more natural gas in the planet than we realize, and we’ve got new technologies that enable us to get it in an efficient manner,” he said in an interview July 9 at the annual conference of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. “We have a small environmental footprint in the extraction and a small footprint relative to other fossil fuels in the consumption.”

The problem, he says, is that natural gas is a misunderstood fuel treated as a “stepchild, a fuel without honor in its own land.”

Scientists, policymakers and the public know natural gas is a low carbon fuel, he says. What they don’t know is that there are vast quantities, especially in the Rocky Mountain region, and that it can be safely extracted, transported and used because of technologies that didn’t exist as little as 10 years ago.

“The best fuel [choice] we have to get us through to something that’s clean and not dangerous is natural gas and renewables,” he said. “It’s cleaner than oil, it’s cleaner than coal. It has the least emissions and the least impact on the land. When we have to drill quite a few wells to get it out, it has substantial impact. But we’re mitigating that by drilling many wells from one surface location.

“It’s a great transition fuel on the way to a non-carbon future.”

Julander’s passion for the natural gas industry came into sharp relief this month at the oil and gas group’s annual energy conference, which attracted 3,000 participants to the Colorado Convention Center and wrapped up July 11. Julander was conference chair and the subject of a special tribute.

Julander has been beating the drum for the gas industry since just after he completed the executive MBA program at DU, which he described as a “good program.” But that was 24 years ago. Today, he said, executive MBA grads need to be armed with different learning for the business tasks ahead. In particular, a non-ideological knowledge of the history of energy and an understanding of cash flow and investment.

“Students need a sense of how energy relates to the economy and environment and how important it is to modern civilization,” he said. “You can’t have a modern civilization without energy.”

DU could have an important role by bringing stakeholders together to discuss energy issues and interact with students, he said.

“It would be great if people when they got out of college had some idea of all this.”

In the meantime, the veteran energy explorer is looking for new audiences with whom to share his vision of a natural gas future, tell the industry’s story and reduce suspicion.

“This is not greenwashing,” he said. “Energy and environment are completely reconcilable if you do the business right.

“One of the oldest oil fields in the United States is in the middle of Boulder and you can’t tell it was there now.

“The airport in Dallas sits in the middle of a huge gas field just discovered in the past few years, the Barnett shale. Chesapeake Energy is extracting the gas from that while the airport operates, and it hasn’t missed a flight.”

True grit got the natural gas industry where it is today, Julander points out. But it’ll take trust and good faith with the public to take it the rest of the way.

“I hope there will always be wildcatters,” he mused. “It’s the iconoclast on the edge that helps create new ideas and resources and breakthroughs. There are very few of us left.”

To learn more about the Colorado Oil and Gas Association conference, read news coverage in the Denver PostRocky Mountain NewsDenver Business Journal and on DU’s Sustainability Council Web site.

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