Sunday, June 15, 2008

Kicking Gas

So many reasons to enjoy the WorldNutDaily, from the lists of predatory female schoolteachers to the musings of Chuck Norris. Chuck has some words of wisdom regarding domestic energy production. Let's watch the fun.

As oil and gas prices skyrocket, Congress continues to play the blame game. In April 2006, with the Democrats poised to take over Congress with Nancy Pelosi at the helm, she released a statement saying, "With skyrocketing gas prices, it is clear that the American people can no longer afford the Republican Rubber Stamp Congress." She followed that with the commitment, "Democrats have a common sense plan to help bring down skyrocketing gas prices by cracking down on price gouging." So has the Democrat's [sic] commonsense plan worked? Average gas prices were about $2.50 a gallon at the time. Now they're $4 a gallon and rising. Some crack-down plan.

It's pretty clear right from the start that Norris' intent is simply to place the blame at the feet of feckless Dummycrats. Because, you know, the two Republican oilmen at the head of the executive branch have done so much to tackle this problem. Yes, the Democrats have been full of empty promises on a variety of issues, but that doesn't excuse the ignorance and intellectual dishonesty of people like Norris on this issue. And price gouging is only one of many reasons for the spike in oil prices.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, they are going to discuss this week a cap-and-trade system, something that Obama and MCain [sic] both support. The main problem is official estimates say that it will increase gas by another $1.50 a gallon. Or as Newt Gringrich said in an interview recently with Glenn Beck, "It should be called 'Raise prices and destroy jobs' because that's what it will do. It's going to raise the price of gasoline; it's going to raise the price of diesel fuel for truckers. It's going to raise the price of aviation fuel for an already ailing airline industry. It's going to raise the price of heating oil. It's going to raise the price of natural gas, and it's going to raise the price of coal."

The price for all those things is going to rise whether we like it or not; the only question is if we do things that will help prepare, diffuse the impact and perhaps cushion the blow for the people who can least afford it. I mean, I know that all the oil company executives and oil futures speculators have duly earned their eight- and nine-figure bonuses and all. But all these things Professor Gingrich expounds upon are based on unsustainable premises.

Incidentally, Gingrich was on Face the Nation this morning touting much the same philosophy, with a snappy slogan of "Drill Here, Drill Now, Save Money". Yes, folks, if you let Shell and Exxon drill in ANWR and melt mountains of shale in the Rockies, gas prices will magically return to two bucks a gallon. Jesus, they just count on people to be cartoonishly gullible, don't they? It's an operative assumption for them, because they're rarely disappointed.

Here's where it gets a little weird, with hilarious results:

From the steady decline in the value of our dollar, to trade deficits and oil dependency, our sovereignty is being sold out from underneath us. Might I remind the federal government what one of their original and primary charges is: to protect the American public from the tyranny of foreign powers – which is exactly what is happening through others' financial rule over us. It is sucking the life out of our economy. And Congress is virtually standing by and watching it happen.

Look at the energy chaos that our government has allowed. While we remain at the mercy of oil companies, cartels and OPEC, our government has tied the hands of states and citizens to tap even temporary energy relief from our own land. Here are a few key vistas on the oil and energy landscape at the moment:

Though we have more oil in the shale of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming than combined in the Middle East (800 billion barrels), liberals and environmentalists have made it illegal to touch it.

It's illegal to drill in northern Alaska (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), or off the coasts of Florida or California.

Oil fields in Colorado are being shut down.

We won't develop shale oil fields in the Western states

It's illegal to explore in the Atlantic.

It's illegal to explore in the Pacific

It's illegal to explore in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico

We're not receiving any more leases to drill in the Gulf of Mexico, while China, Venezuela and Cuba are.

We haven't built an oil refinery in 25 years and reduced in half those we have

There's enough natural gas beneath America (406 trillion cube feet) to heat every home in America for the next 150 years, but we can't tap it all.

We have the largest supply of coal in the world, but it's Germany who is planning to build 27 coal-fired electrical plants by 2020.

American airlines are in danger of going out of business.

American truckers are being stranded on the sides of the road.

American commuters are going bankrupt trying to travel back and forth to work, and are being forced to work locally for lower wages.

If there isn't a conspiracy going on here, someone needs to make a movie about one!

This is going to take a bit to unpack, this feeble nonsense, but bear with me. The first thing you might notice is the sheer redundancy of Norris' bullet points; the third and fourth points merely reiterate the first, and he rephrases the Gulf of Mexico and California (Pacific) and Florida (Atlantic) several times. And even Norris' own link on shale oil, rather than actually claiming greater resources than the entire Middle East, makes the more modest claim that "it could eventually rival the oil fields of Saudi Arabia". What could? Why, the shale on federal land that the oil companies wish to extract. The more exorbitant claim Norris suggests appears to come from Orrin Hatch further down in the short interview part of the article.

Here's a brief rundown on the extraction process for shale oil; it requires intense amounts of heat to be generated to separate the kerogen into refinable oil, has not been sufficiently tested and employed in any substantial ongoing process capacity, and can be environmentally destructive. This is not about a few smug latte liberals preserving the scenic views from their cabins in Telluride, it's about oil companies rushing into public land for penny-ante leases to set up processing and refining infrastructures. And by the time they recoup their R&D and overhead -- and the usual bonuses -- the offset at the pump is going to be minimal. Norris and Gingrich and the rest of them would like you to believe that oil produced domestically stays here, but that's not necessarily so. If the cash-flush Chinese or Europeans are willing to pay more for it, it will go to those places. That's how that free-market thing works, cuz.

As for this "we haven't built a new refinery lately" schtick, what do you mean "we", Chief? The oil companies have let their domestic refinery capability run off. Let's see, why might that be? Because they know that most of the major fields have peaked, and it's not cost-effective to dump billions of dollars into planned obsolescence? Naw, that's too simple -- it must be a conspiracy. Well, it is a conspiracy, Chuck, but not of bien pensant Dummycrats telling everyone how to live virtuously. It's a conspiracy of the bottom line. It's business. And hell, Montana's Democratic governor proposed building Fischer-Tropsch refineries to process the state's enormous resources of coal into oil, since the current price makes it more than cost-effective. But those infrastructural efforts take a lot of time and investment.

Meanwhile, what have Americans done to help economize, to conserve, since as we all know, conservatism is holy? Not a goddamned thing, that's what. The only thing that has finally forced individuals to take the situation seriously and dump their gas-guzzlers for more economical vehicles has been the drastic price increases. I think that sucks, because Norris' final point is actually right on the money -- this crisis most adversely impacts the people who are stuck with it. They have to commute because the local jobs pay for shit (what few of them there are), and they can't afford to move to the city because their houses are now worth maybe two-thirds of what they were two years ago, and would take a year to sell anyway.

And nowhere does Norris (nor Gingrich in his FTN appearance this morning) even mention the option of economizing, of driving smaller and smarter. It's not even on the table. No, they're perfectly happy to misdirect people who should know better but can't admit it to themselves, that the promised land of two-buck gas is theirs for the taking, if only we'll let national forests be plundered for profit.

Anybody who believes that deserves what they get, and if they have to pay six bucks a gallon to fill up their penis-compensating jacked-up F350, so much the better. They can pay twelve bucks a gallon for all I care. But the rapidly rising cost of gas is directly due to ramped-up demand from China and India meeting or exceeding production and extraction capacity, and peak supply. Factor in the risk premium caused by the war, futures speculation, and failure to check consumption, and it's a perfect storm. You could start melting down the Rockies tomorrow, and that oil is not going to hit the market for at least a couple years. And not only, as I pointed out, will it be unlikely to offset significantly after initial costs are recouped, but any cleanup costs incurred would be out-of-pocket for the taxpayers as well, one way or the other.

So is there a real solution? I don't think the usual "one size fits all" approach is going to help anybody, except the people who make a direct profit off of whatever scheme they can rope a career shill like Newt Gingrich into endorsing. But one key to it is, as Orrin Hatch points out, the degree to which oil is required for transportation, and how problematic it is to switch that overnight.

A hack like Hatch instantly translates that into "more oil now". But what about infrastructure; can you get businesses and residences off-line from oil-generated power? How much oil would it free up to invest in solar power across the American Southwest? How much oil would be conserved getting the rail system back together, and letting the airline industry transform into more of a business/short-term travel scenario? How much would these things cost? Who cares; if we can pour $3bn/week into Iraq, we can find some money to do something that will pay direct dividends and free up petroleum resources.

I don't think we should be at the mercy of inbred petrocracies and corrupt dictators either, but the way out from under it is not to drill and melt everything in sight. That might be a miniscule, short-term part of a far more comprehensive energy policy, but it solves nothing. It barely qualifies as kicking the proverbial can. And there's no way it should even be proposed, much less considered, without significant efforts to curb waste and excessive consumption.

People like Chuck Norris and Newt Gingrich shouldn't just be ignored, they should be repudiated at every possible opportunity. This is only the start of a very serious situation looming, one that will require a very patient, committed restructuring of transportation and delivery systems, one that will not kill the economy but actually provide it with a new dimension of potential, one that might undercut the oil oligarchy with more regionalized or even localized systems of energy delivery. Whether or not people are happy with the idea is irrelevant; the continuing rapid depletion of oil resources is indifferent to what you think you're entitled to drive. This "math is hard, let's go shopping" approach to dealing with the real world is over, one way or the other.

The only question is whether this problem gets addressed in time before the next big resource crisis -- potable water -- will have to be dealt with.


thedevilzone said...

Dude, you have to put up a tip jar so's I can buy you a beer for stuff like this.

This is going to take a bit to unpack, this feeble nonsense, but bear with me.

That's the problem right there - any attempt to deal with this kind of babble like an intelligent person means "cancel my plans and hold all calls". I got one of those typical emails from a family member recently, packed full of Faux News/talk radio talking points, and as I started reflexively to answer it, I realized that you can't simply rebut each assertion on its face, because they're all fucking built on a small mountain of false assumptions and incoherent logic, and without addressing those, you're not going to stand a slight chance of getting through to them; you might as well start speaking Chinese.

I just heard some stupid heifer in the grocery store having a conversation over gas prices, and the whole "they've got all this oil that they can't get to because of..." theme came up, and I had to hurry away before I felt compelled to jump in. But there you go, the dumbest population in the world is all pissed off and looking for the usual easy scapegoat, and here come the Gingriches with a silver platter.

Really, I'm beginning to think that without critical thinking skills being taught in first grade along with reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic, we're unavoidably doomed. We probably already are, but still.

Marius said...

Correct, H. I would just add one thing. A supplementary piece of disingenuousness with these guys is that, even if (or when) energy companies decide to switch to alternative sources or expand capacity, the population will pay for it--twice. First, they'll want to recoup their investment, by charging you extra at the pump. Then, we know that they'll hire lobbyists to get the gov't to give them tax "breaks," which means less money in government coffers, less money for programs and benefits, and foregone revenue the Feds will wanna make up for by raising taxes for the civilians.

Few people bother to add this externality to the cost of increased production. Another one is, of course, as you've pointed out in the past, the cost of keeping imperial garrisons in places where they have oil.

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting article and I agree that fuel prices are increasing more and more. But one man in Wales isn’t complaining at all and has managed to find his own fuel. I read about it on and the way he’s managed to produce fuel is amazing.

cavjam said...

There's money in owning the resource. There ain't money in process. That's basically why you don't find great affection for geothermal, solar (which includes wind and biodiesel), or other renewables.

Shale is a great canard proffered by the resource companies and their shills. While the extraction process isn't quite an energy sink, once one includes energy expended in mining and hauling, the energy returned on energy invested is pretty much a wash; and extraction takes great amounts of water, something not in great supply where shale is found. Tar sands are a more viable source if you're objective is finding more CO2 emitting resources to control, but we won't hear much about that until we invade Alberta.

Anonymous said...

Dosen't really matter what the new or old source of energey is generate from. They will simply genarate new ways to take from the population with record profits. As they do now. Oil has droped 55% while the cost of gas has fallen less the 30%. And the cost of all the goods I need to live day to day, that was affected in an adverse way, has not droped a single Dime.