Roger Williams was on the phone with a reporter, discussing COVID-19, the energy industry’s future, and his own plans as CEO of Energy Security Partners to build the state’s largest economic development project ever.
But first, a sidetrack into semantics.
“Everything is sounding trite” these days, Williams said, though he took care to emphasize the seriousness of the pandemic and its challenges.
“The first time I heard the term ‘social distancing,’ I knew that would be one of the most overused phrases of the year, no doubt.” The “novel coronavirus,” he added. “The invisible enemy,” Whispers chimed in.
“Unprecedented, so overused today,” said Williams, a petroleum company veteran and energy lawyer who has spent eight years promoting a massive $3.5 billion complex near Pine Bluff that ESP has engineered to turn natural gas into liquid fuel.
Williams conceded, though, that “unprecedented” is a fair description of April’s crash of the crude market, when holders of May contracts had to pay nearly $40 a barrel to get oil off their hands.
“Historically, oil trading was just trading physical barrels; then the paper market developed and derivatives and all that — all that nonsense that I don’t profess to fully understand, where you’ve got 100 times the amount of oil being traded in paper contracts. You know, Las Vegas has entered everyday business. People are gambing every day. … Anyway, I’ll stop being a philosopher here.”
Crude prices have rebounded, and Williams’ dream of turning abundant natural gas into ultra-clean diesel in Jefferson County is progressing toward ground-clearing, he reports. A couple of his partners, you’ll recall, are former Clinton administration Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater and Gen. Wesley Clark, the Little Rock product and former presidential candidate.