Oil: are we crazy, optimistic or greedy?

Photo: Mike Psiaki, via Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

Photo: Mike Psiaki, via Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

I’m no more an expert on the global oil industry than anyone else. I am old enough to remember the 1973 oil crisis–when Middle Eastern production was reduced to put pressure on Israel and its allies following the occupation of Gaza–which led to a U.S. ban on oil exports, a ban that has remained in place through multiple oil crises in subsequent decades. Until now, maybe.

NPR reported this morning that the President is favorably inclined to reconsider and remove that export ban, in light of increased domestic fuel production in recent years and the availability of expanded fuel resources, partially because of new extractive technologies like hydrofracking.

Since 1973, we’ve seen a brief public and corporate response to oil crises and then, each time the price of fuel at the pump declined, our national memory is wiped clean again and we’re back in the 1960s when fossil fuels seemed limitless, cars got 10 mpg, and “national security” was code for the cold war with the Soviet Union not domestic vs. imported oil availability. So through multiple fuel security scares, our long-term response has been relatively trivial, except for developing new extractive technologies. This brings to mind an old saying, which I’ll paraphrase: doing something the same way over and over without success is a sign of insanity.

But, maybe it’s good ol’ American “can do” optimism. Another story from NPR considers the current price decline at the fuel pumps. In recent years, with the growth in the Chinese, Indian and large emerging economies, with conflicts across the globe, we would expect a rise in demand and cost. Instead, prices have declined and there’s plenty of fossil fuel. This fuels our optimism about the future: we will continue to find reserves and ways to extract those reserves and, by the time those reserves may be depleted, we’ll have found new reserves or new fuel solutions. This makes economic growth possible, and economic growth is good.

Or are we just greedy when we accept 25 mpg SUVs as a good enough response to climate change? Can the planet handle our material greed? In developed and developing nations? In our own country? In you? And me? Is the extraction of seemingly limitless fossil fuels and the use of those fuels by billions of people something our planet can handle?

Just asking. Crazy, optimistic, or greedy?


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6 Comments on “Oil: are we crazy, optimistic or greedy?”

  1. Ken Hall says:

    “Just asking. Crazy, optimistic, or greedy?” How about all of the above.

    1. Crazy?: “seemingly limitless fossil fuels” This idiotic concept appears to be a favorite of the pseudo science of “economics” whereby purportedly intelligent folks contend that as the scarcity of any resource drives the cost sufficiently high magically more of said resource will be discovered and recovered ad infinitum. Apparently these folks and their “true believer” followers have failed to notice that at present and for a very long time span into the future, humans are constrained to living upon a finite planet we call Earth. “Oh but we have spaceships that can transport folks off the Earth” is the favorite refrain, to which I respond “yup so far perhaps 5-10 in low Earth orbit at any given time what about the other 7.2 billion folks left behind?” If mankind survives for a span of time sufficient to enable our technologies to traverse the Universe and colonize (a favorite human desire) distant planets does it make sense that every human on Earth will be afforded the opportunity to be relocated to a distant habitable planet circling a star?

    ” economic growth is good” Economic growth is the bane of humanity and every living thing on spaceship Earth. Consuming the Earth’s resources at an exponentially increasing rate accompanied by exponentially increasing human population are likely the two most idiotic concepts that humans have embraced nearly universally. Humans have long known that nature deals with critter population overshoot with mass die offs as their food sources are minimized. We have been able to stand off this natural process by artificially consuming the sequestered carbon compounds (coal, oil, gas) at phenomenally rapid rates thereby utilizing some percentage of the energy, bound in same, to provide us with the energy (food) without which our numbers would have remained in the 1/2 to 1 billion range worldwide.

    2. Optimistic?: Perhaps; or just desirous of the same things the current crop of self proclaimed “conservatives” are, retaining and increasing their “economic” gains above and beyond those of everyone else. Conservation of the Earth’s resources are obviously more akin to the concepts of the “green” folks than the “drill, cut, dig, burn, ., .” concepts of economic growth at all costs as espoused by today’s conservatives.

    3. Greedy? As “they” say “this is a no brainer”.

  2. Mervel says:

    As the US becomes a net oil exporter our whole focus will change about how we think about oil production. The fact is the US is in the midst of a huge energy boom, which by all indications will run another couple of decades. Our problem will be low oil prices, not high prices. We are expected to overtake Russia and Saudi Arabia as the number one oil producing country in the world by 2020.

    We don’t see it up here, but you go to many parts of the US and you have a true economic boom going on, not just in the oilfield areas but in manufacturing which supports the huge infrastructure tied to refining, transporting and producing oil.

    Economics are going to rule this process. Even if the US led the way in the reduction of carbon output and I think we could and should and really with our move to natural gas probably WILL lead the way in carbon reduction, there will still be an incredible demand for energy. Not necessarily fossil fuels, but energy. Hopefully our next technological jump will be in producing energy that is less harmful to our environment and health.


  3. Ken Hall says:

    “As the US becomes a net oil exporter our whole focus will change about how we think about oil production.”

    I don’t think I would hold my breath awaiting the fabled ” net oil exporter” status for the US. Here is a link to the US Energy Information Administration web site just chock full of information about what else?; “Energy”. http://www.eia.gov/

    Take a look at these two graphs (from the EIA web site) with their accompanying data tables: http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=WTTIMUS2&f=W http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=WTTEXUS2&f=W Note that if we confine our look to the year 2014 (the most compelling data to bolster the US as moving toward net exporter status since the early 90’s) the average US oil imports are about 9.3million barrels/day and the average US oil exports are about 3.5million barrels/day leaving us with a net oil import of about 5.8million barrels/day. Again confining out examination of just the best year to bolster the net oil exporter image over the past 20+ years (2014) it does appear to me that the import and the export level averages have become static for this year.

  4. Michael Greer says:

    Our President becomes more of a Republican every day. God willing he will be able to leave office before the transformation is complete, and return to the task of organizing and leading the struggle against the inequality that our system creates.
    America’s energy reserves should make the American people strong. Instead, America’s exports are making a very tiny number of energy executives very, very rich.

  5. Mr. Kent says:

    There is a big disconnect in all of this. The cry from many is ” We need to become energy independent.” Well, that rings hollow when we export energy products and that pipeline many want runs strait to Tankers to be exported. someone is not telling the whole truth. All oil is sold at a World Price,here, there and everywhere, there are no hometown discounts.

  6. Greg says:

    Greed. America memory is non-existent. Sustainability is a buzzword used to feel good, and when you pull the onion skin back from someone standing in front of a Prius, they likely live in a 3,500 sq ft house that leaks energy like a sieve. Energy Conservation in the U.S. is a hobby, plain and simple. Until a carbon tax is put in place with no loop holes, no one will really conserve, cutback or save. Our policy makers don’t have the guts or stomach for supporting such a tax (especially when their campaigns are fueled (no pun intended) by energy providers), so forget all of this. Greed is the operative, and agree if we start exporting, the rancher in N. Dakota is not going to be the guy getting rich, it will be the corporate leader pulling the strings, so making the 1% have even more. Without a real carbon tax, everything else is off the table. It’s a hobby, plain and simple, feel good sherades. You want to really save energy and cut back, that would mean shutting down our economic driving economy… now there is some fighting words no one will ever go near. Just wait for more hurricanes, devastation due to climate change, and then watch the policy makers make it look like they are wanting to do something for the very near term, like 3 days after, then it is back to normal. Too bad, but not a lot of hope from this person.

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