Free Markets, Free People
I’m not sure how else to characterize this in a strategic and national security sense:
Canada, faced with growing political pressure over the extraction of oil from its highly polluting tar sands, has begun courting China and other Asian countries to exploit the resource.
The pressure is coming from the United States. The “pollution” is carbon. But the bottom line is the tar sands are going to continue to be exploited in Canada. The question is, to whom will the oil extracted go?
With the US backing away, the answer, apparently, is China.
In the most significant deal to date, the Canadian government recently approved a C$1.9bn (£1.5bn) investment giving the Chinese state-owned oil company PetroChina a majority share in two projects. Prime minister Stephen Harper said: “Expect more Chinese investment in the resource and energy sectors … there will definitely be more.” China’s growing investment in the tar sands is seen in Canada as a useful counter to waning demand for tar sands oil from the US, its biggest customer. The moves, which have largely gone unnoticed outside north America, could add further tension to efforts to try to reach a global action plan on climate change.
The projects, which will begin coming on line over the next decade, are seen as crucial to a long term strategy of finding new sources of energy as China’s economy continues to expand.
How about that … a country with a “long term strategy” in which it seeks sources of new energy for future growth. Not so in the US where Ken Salazar’s Interior Department seems to be using every means available to it to slow down the possibility of finding and bringing new carbon based resources on line for future consumption:
The Interior Department has informed Congress that it will take over two years to complete an environmental study needed to allow major seismic surveys of Atlantic coast oil-and-gas resources – a timeline that industry groups allege is too slow.
In an early February letter to House and Senate appropriators, Interior provides a timeline for completing a “programmatic environmental impact statement” on the effects of seismic testing and other assessment techniques.
It anticipates a “record of decision” – which is the final agency sign-off – in mid-April of 2012.
If I’m not mistaken, that will put us 4 years into the decision to allow drilling in the OCS. And, of course, seismic surveys and their effects are well known and have been for decades. The seismic surveys would update decades old surveys.
The point, of course, is these new Interior requirements completely derail the timeline established by the Interior Department in 2007:
Interior’s 2007-2012 offshore leasing plan calls for a lease sale off Virginia’s coast in 2011, although the sale could be delayed.
No company is going to bid on leases until those seismic surveys are complete.
The long range consequences for the US of these sorts of short sited policies should be obvious. And I don’t expect them to get any better any times soon despite the promises President Obama made in his State of the Union address.
Here at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston, we were able to hear from a very distinguished panel concerning the energy “debate”. I put the word “debate” in scare quotes because it seemed that the consensus of the panel was there really isn’t a productive debate going on.
Roger Ballentine of the Progressive Policy Institute says that the two sides are talking past each other with little real effort to engage in anything which would actually address strategic energy policy.
Sen Lisa Murkowski, addressed the audience by video and spoke of a “comprehensive” plan which would include all types of energy, obviously including oil and gas. She spoke of a “scarcity of will” on the part of Congress to aggressively go after our own natural resources and cited the Gulf of Mexico as an example. There, she said, lays 45 billion barrels of oil and 320 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that we seemingly refuse to tap.
Yet as API’s President and CEO, Jack Gerard pointed out, when polled 67% of the American public want the exploitation of the oil and gas assets to be found on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), and that last week the Florida House passed a bill authorizing drilling off the coast of Florida by a 70-43 margin. That is a huge margin and speaks loudly about the public’s sea change in attitude concerning offshore drilling.
But it seems like no one in power in Washington is listening. And that brings us to the second point this panel made – it is necessary to engage the public/consumer and get them involved in this debate. It is they who will live with and pay for whatever Congress cobbles together regarding energy policy. So far, however, the only thing that has accomplished that level of public engagement is the price of gasoline at the pump. When it was at $4 a gallon, the public emphatically weighed in saying “this is unacceptable” and “do what it takes to fix it (to include drilling in the OCS). Since the price of gas has retreated, to be replaced by the economic recession, the public’s attention has been diverted elsewhere.
But we’re at a critical juncture right now. Legislation is being written and moved ahead within the Congress even while panelists in Houston on both sides of the political spectrum are saying the debate needs to begin in earnest, in a bi-partisan and productive way and the public needs to be engaged.
This was a wide ranging panel and I took 16 pages of notes. This particular post covers 2 of them at best. However this gives you a sense of the frustration to be found among those there representing government, industry and think tanks. Both sides of the broad political spectrum on the panel agreed that the bi-partisan “civil discourse” that would move this sort of policy forward in a positive way doesn’t at present exist even while the legislation outlining future policy is being written.
I’ll have much more to say about this as I wade through the pages of notes I took, but this suffices to give the general impression of where we are when it comes a well thought out and comprehensive strategic energy policy. In a word, nowhere. I’ll get into the “why” of that (“climate change” is the “cultural wedge” that is being used to muddy the energy debate), and the implications in another post.