Free Markets, Free People
That’s the word from Mark Tapscott at the Washington Examiner:
Gas prices here in the U.S. are creeping back up towards the $3-per-gallon mark even as news breaks today that China’s state-owned energy firm just closed a deal to buy interests in four development leases on the American Outer Continental Shelf (OTS) in the Gulf of Mexico.
The deal, which requires approval of the U.S. government, is between Norway’s Statoil and China National Off-Shore Oil Corporation (CNOOC). This is the same CNOOC that would have bought Unocal four years ago for $18.5 billion but for pressure from Congress, according to The New York Times, quoting an energy industry trade publication.
Because it must be approved by the U.S. government, the Statoil/CNOOC deal puts President Obama and Ken Salazar, his Secretary of the Department of the Interior, which controls OTS leasing, in a difficult position.
Really? Why does it put the government in a “difficult position”? Oh, you mean the apparent willingness to sell these leases to foreign entities vs. opening them up to domestic American exploration?
The deal also focuses renewed attention on Salazar’s slow-walking of a new plan for approving energy exploration and development in the OTS, which includes approximately 1.7 billion acres, and, according to Interior, holds up to 86 billion barrels of recoverable oil and more than 400 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
The administration is moving much too slowly to open more of the OTS to development for domestic U.S. uses, according to Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute …
But it apparently isn’t moving too slowly to open up the OTS to foreign competitors.
In the meantime:
If the administration approves the deal, it will be more vulnerable to charges that the White House is being careless with U.S. national security issues in the energy sector, and that it is putting the interests of a foreign power before those of U.S. energy consumers.
If Obama and Salazar reject the deal, it will likely complicate relations with China, the emerging Asian superpower that defense experts predict will be able at will to challenge U.S. legitimate national security interests around the globe in the near future.
Oil isn’t going away anytime soon and its use is critical during any transition to alternate energy sources (which, for the most part are vaporware). Additionally, the charge that the Obama administration is playing fast and loose with US national security will resonate if the public becomes aware that domestic producers have been barred from OTC production but foreign producers are given access.
So the dilemma facing the administration is one of its own ideological making. Its “slow walking” of the plan for domestic producers to explore the OTC is a decision it made to thwart the desires of a majority of the nation to secure those assets for the US’s use. And now it’s going to hand them over to China?
That will not play well in at all in middle America.
Sometimes the little surprises life hands you are the most pleasant. While in Houston at the Offshore Technology Conference, my trip sponsored by API, I happened to meet another blogger who introduced himself to me as a “raging liberal”. In the course of three days and a few good beers, Chris Nelder and I had some very enjoyable and interesting conversations. And, interestingly, Chris and I agree on where the policy debate stands as it pertains to energy. Chris wrote an outstanding article detailing his observations about the current situation, and, for the most part, I agree completely with his well thought out assessment. Here is his list of “10 Inconvenient Truths” that he feels all policy makers must understand before they can effectively plan for the future:
1. We have extracted nearly all of the world’s easy, cheap oil and gas, and now we’re getting down to the difficult, expensive stuff. The largest untapped resources that remain are in extreme places like deepwater and the Arctic, and marginal formations like shale. As a result, global oil production has for all intents and purposes peaked. Natural gas production will also peak in 10 to 15 years. Neither technology nor high prices will change that. Therefore we must begin to replace those fuels with renewables, and use what remains much more efficiently, with the expectation that most of the world’s oil and gas will be gone by the end of this century.
While I agree with Chris’s point about renewables, I’m not quite ready to buy into the idea that “most” of the world’s gas and oil will be gone by the end of the century, especially if we make progress developing cheap, renewable and clean alternatives. That’s not to say he might not be right, but I continue to look at the improvements in technology and the fact that the same sort of predictions have been made for decades and here we are. But on the main point of gearing up renewables, we agree completely. We must prepare for the possibility Chris is right and we need to do that now.
2. Drilling for oil and gas drilling in the OCS and ANWR must and will be done; our need for those fuels is simply too great to pass them up. An additional 2-3 mbpd will put a dent in the roughly 12 mbpd we now import, but if we drill for it now, it won’t come to market for 10 years or more. By that time, it probably won’t even compensate for the depletion of conventional oil in North America, nor will it do much to reduce prices. But it will be crucially necessary, and producing it won’t make an ugly mess of the environment.
You see someone on the left here who has studied the problem, understands the processes used and has formed an opinion that is outside his side’s political mainstream. He understands that technology has advanced to the point that the oil and gas industry can drill for oil and gas safely and with a very small footprint. In fact, advances in sub sea technology are almost to the point where the entire process can be safely and productively located under the waves. So, in a “comprehensive” scheme, the left has got to drop its almost knee-jerk resistance to such drilling and understand it must be a part of an overall energy solution.
3. Renewables are clearly the long-term answer, as is an all-electric infrastructure that runs on its clean power. However, it will likely take over 30 years for renewables to ramp up from a less than 2% share of primary energy today to 20% or more. They probably won’t even be able to fill the gap created by the decline of fossil fuels. Oil and gas currently provide about 58% of the world’s primary energy, and they will remain our primary fuels for a long time to come.
To believe “green fuels”/renewables are the immediate and total answer to today’s energy needs is to deny reality. We have to remember that there is going to be a growing energy gap as more and more nations come on-line in the first-world and demand more energy as a result. Oil, gas, nuclear and coal are going to play a large and significant part of bridging that gap even as we work to develop renewables. As a nation we cannot afford that sort of short-sighted thinking. It is critical that everyone understand that while the preference is for renewable, clean fuels, the reality is they’re still quite a ways off, while the energy demand continues to grow unabated and certainly with no concern for our personal energy preferences.
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.
That problem would be putting up with me for 4 days.
I’m in Houston at the invitation of the American Petroleum Institute (who is kindly picking up the tab) to cover the Offshore Technology Conference here. About 75,000 oil folks are converging on the place for 4 days of conferences and panels on various topics.
Today, the “Meeting The Energy Challenge” panel meets and it should be interesting. We’ll have the president of Shell Oil, a Senior Fellow of the Progressive Policy Institute, the president of the API, the presidents of the American Trucking Associations and Air Transport Association, the president of the Consumer Energy Alliance, the Executive Director of the National Council on Energy Policy and Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) here to talk about that – I’m looking forward to it.
And Pogue – if you read this and can respond, yes, I will be glad to buy you a beer – just let me know when (other than monday night) we can do it prior to Thursday before I fly out.