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Oil’s Irreplaceable Role in the Global Energy economy

Back in 2006, George W. Bush declared that the US is “addicted to oil.” Since then, that phrase has been repeated ad nauseum by politicos on both the Left and the Right. But on Tuesday night, President Obama took the addiction meme to an entirely new level of inanity by saying “For decades, we’ve talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels.”

That sentence may cheer campaigners working for Greenpeace, but it demonstrates both the extreme poverty of our energy discussions and our politicians’ refusal to acknowledge the essential role that hydrocarbons play in the global economy.

By using the word “addiction” Obama implies that our consumption of coal, oil, and natural gas is somehow dirty, that we lack self-control, self-respect, or that we are somehow diseased. And of course, just as the recovering addict becomes a new man/woman, the America that frees itself from the evils of hydrocarbons will be made stronger and more employable. “The transition to clean energy,” Obama said, “has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of jobs.”

But forget about the president’s choice of words and consider, for just a moment, the math: nine out of ten units of energy consumed in the US and the rest of the world come from fossil fuels. On an average day, US consumption of coal, oil, and natural gas amounts to 41 million barrels of oil equivalent. That’s equal to the average daily oil output of five Saudi Arabias. Where will the US find such a huge amount of energy – and all of it carbon-free? Obama didn’t have that answer. Instead, he vaguely referred to the “scientists and researchers” who are “discovering clean energy technologies that someday will lead to entire new industries.”

That might be true – someday -- but entrepreneurs have been searching for a replacement for oil for decades. Despite many billions of dollars in investment, nothing comes close to oil in terms of flexibility, cost, or convenience. Despite that long history of failure to find a replacement for oil, Obama is now claiming that we not only need to replace oil, but we need to replace natural gas and coal, too. And he made that claim without ever using the words “global warming” or “carbon dioxide.”

Obama’s speech on Tuesday night revealed a political agenda that aims to use the blowout in the Gulf of Mexico as a rationale to pass an energy bill through Congress that includes some form of cap-and-trade that will increase consumers’ energy costs. Where’s the popular appeal for such an energy tax? There is none, not at a time when the US unemployment rate is near 10 percent and one in seven American homeowners with a mortgage is either delinquent or facing foreclosure.

Even more surprising (and disappointing) in Obama’s speech was the fact that he used the phrase “clean energy” six times, but did not once mention the fuels of the future: natural gas and nuclear. That’s a stunning omission given that those two sources offer the best near-term, low- or no-carbon options for the US and the rest of the world.

Obama’s speech reveals a president who is under intense political pressure to do something, anything, so that he can appear to be in control of a blowout that the government is incapable of stopping on its own. Rather than admit that the government must rely on BP to stop the blowout, rather than acknowledge the irreplaceable role that hydrocarbons play in the global energy economy, he fell back onto the hackneyed claim about “addiction.” Here’s the reality: we are not addicted to oil. Nor are we addicted to fossil fuels. We are addicted to prosperity.

By. Robert Bryce




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  • Anonymous on June 19 2010 said:
    Not long ago I visited a whaling museum. Once upon a time we would have been told whale products are irreplaceable, yet they where replaced. One day we will see a similar museum for oil. We will see it because we must, oil demand will quickly outstrip supply as the recovery gains steam. Yes a higher oil price will bring more oil exploration, but even at todays prices an electric car powered by solar and wind is cheaper to drive than a gasoline powered car. $200+/barrel will hasten this transition, at some point oil prices will again drop simply because the economy has moved off of it. Sadly it takes far more regulatory run around to place a solar plant than it does an oil platform. As oil prices surge I believe we will also see expedited approvals for wind and solar, as has always been the case for oil.
  • Anonymous on June 19 2010 said:
    Robert Bryce...your so funny !!.. despite your leak of imagination...maybe you should be cited in this future museum Larry is speaking of...you really seem to believe what you say.....your lucky !!!.. isn't the opposite obviously the case ?..do you believe you have the means to predict technical evolution ?... you may have interest to explain the reasons of your motivation... you may gain credibility....
  • Anonymous on June 19 2010 said:
    I agree, but even more scary is the lack of action and usage of all the people-power waiting to help on all fronts. Saudi Arabia apparently had a very bad oil spill (1980's?) in the Persian Gulph and used huge tankers to suck it up until they could figure out what to do. A retired engneer from that spill has offered his expertise and is being stonewalled by BP and the feds. What's up with this, is it ego preventing them from asking the Saudi's for help. If there was a fire next door threatening the whole neighbourhood, fire stations from all areas would be right there helping. This spill will affect the ENTIRE Atlantic coast and more. Perhaps a much scarier consiracy (bildenberg?) is at hand. Obama is not studid, but who and what is tying his hands right now???
  • Anonymous on June 20 2010 said:
    Okay. Enough with this oil shit.70% of all oil production goes to power cars and trucks. Another 10% goes to the airline industry.The vast majority of people travel less than 40 miles a day.It would take no more than 40 square miles of wall-to-wall solar panels, deployed in arizona, to power 200 million small cars and trucks for America. That's leaves us plenty of time to figure what to do with the remaining 30% of oil production.Give me a break.

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