The last time John Hofmeister saw Phil and Cheryl Near, they were on the same side, selling oil and gasoline to the public. Alternative fuels were part of the equation, but they were just getting started.
It was 2006 or 2007, Phil recollects: He was president of Crescent Oil Co., one of the largest fueling retailers in the Midwest, while Hofmeister was president of Shell Oil Co.
“We acquired the Shell assets in Kansas City. I think there 29 stores,” Phil says. “Prior to that we acquired their assets in Tulsa. So I had met John when he was president at Shell, and we got to spend some time with him, had dinner in Chicago, and got to hear his feeling about the industry.”
Hofmeister, who’s now on Fuel Freedom Foundation’s board of advisors and directors, thinks the major oil companies need to diversify to ensure the world has enough fuel at a reasonable price for economies to flourish. To establish that security, Hofmeister has said: “We will never get past the volatility of oil until we get to alternatives to oil.”
Hofmeister and the Nears met again on Wednesday, this time behind another common cause: Talking up the benefits of fuel choice at Kansas State University after a screening of the Fuel Freedom-produced 2014 documentary PUMP. Hofmeister is well known at the campus in Manhattan, having earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the 1970s in political science. The Nears, well, they’re Wichita State folks.
But as stars of PUMP, they had a lot to discuss. The Nears, who now own two independent (not contracted to a major oil company) fueling stations in Wichita that offer higher ethanol blends, last met Hofmeister when Shell was experimenting with offering E85 at Chicago stations. The company also embarked on a 50-city tour to hear people’s concerns about energy policy. Phil, at Crescent Oil, had similarly dipped a toe in the water with E85.
“What we know now is that you have to be committed to it,” Phil said. “You can’t just go put a pump in and say ‘We’ve got E85 and things are gonna work. It doesn’t work that way. You have to have a committed organization and a program, and you have to promote it. You have to teach people, and you have to be able to be competitive with it.”
Phil and Cheryl, pictured above at the NASCAR race in Kansas City, Kansas, last weekend, wearing PUMP shirts and posing near Austin Dillon’s No. 3 American Ethanol-sponsored car, said the screening and the Q&A afterward was a success. Phil said he met an engineering student who wants to build stations that will offer ethanol.
Sharing the microphone with Hofmeister was nice, tool. “It was a very cool moment for Phil!” Cheryl said by e-mail. “This is why we will never brand with an oil company. We are free from their control now.”