The Politics of Oil: The Discourse Must Change
by The Oil Drum Editors
Leaders of both political parties are expressing concern about the high price of gasoline. President George Bush announced yesterday that he was suspending deliveries to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in order to make more oil available to consumers as well as putting on hold the traditional regulations requiring additives to make fuel burn cleaner during the summer driving season.
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders have had their own response to rising gas prices.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has announced his support for the Menendez Amendment, which would “provide more than $6 billion in relief directly to the American people by eliminating the federal tax for both gas and diesel for 60 days.”
Senator Charles Schumer recently called for a federal investigation to determine whether oil companies are withholding gasoline production.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has blamed high gas prices on the administration’s cozy relationship with the oil companies, price gouging, and royalty relief.
…the leaders of both political parties are not only headed in the wrong direction with respect to gas prices, but we also worry that they fundamentally misunderstand the factors behind the current situation at gasoline stations around the US.
Public statements by political figures over the past several days would seem to suggest that oil companies and their record profits are the sole factor determining the price of gasoline. Not only is this untrue, but it is dangerous to give the American people the impression that only oil companies are to blame. The American people need to understand that the phenomenon of high gas prices cannot be attributed to a single source. They also need to understand that no one political party will be able to fix our current woes.
The major factor that determines gas prices is the price of crude oil from which gasoline is derived. When crude oil prices are high, so are gas prices. The following are just a few factors that affect the price of a barrel of oil:
Oil companies do not single-handedly determine the price of oil. The price of oil is set on the crude oil futures market. Simply put, these prices are affected by supply and demand because, at present, oil trades in a global commodity market where increased demand or reduced supply in one place instantly translates into price shifts everywhere. A variety of publicly available information sources show that supply is relatively static at the moment, while world demand continues to grow as economies grow.
We have provided evidence many times at The Oil Drum that the output of major oilfields is declining and that we may now have reached a peak or plateau in global oil supply. Oil companies have not been able to increase production for a number of years, and it is unclear that OPEC is accurately reporting their reserves. Even if there were significant sources of high quality oil remaining, it is getting increasingly difficult and expensive to drill.
These factors, along with aging infrastructure for oil exploration and a retiring workforce are also contributing to high oil prices.
The geopolitical situation is volatile, and an astute citizen may notice that every time there is news from Nigeria or Iran, the price of oil goes up because of the potential and real effects of these situations on world oil supply. Again, oil traders are fearful that the supply will not remain stable forever.
Countries like China and India are industrializing at a great pace, and while we are accustomed to obtaining oil at a comfortable quantity and price, it will be impossible (and immoral) to deny similar resources to these countries. China is working furiously to secure new oil supplies, and they’re content to negotiate with countries we’re reluctant to deal with, like Iran and the Sudan.
There is no alternative other than to find an alternative to using oil for energy. Finding that alternative or even several alternatives to replace all that we now use oil to accomplish, will take significant effort.
But as of now there really is no crude oil replacement that would also allow us to maintain the high energy consumption lifestyle that we now currently enjoy.
In that respect, there is no reason that a singularity event couldn’t cause society to suffer a major regression
back to a less civilized form.