Sunday, June 22, 2008

Thursday talk radio update

Everybody was talking about energy problems, and the discussions ranged from the excellent (NPR's "To the Point") to the serviceable (O'Reilly) to the execrable (Hannity) to the unendurable (Glenn Beck's hideous guest host).

Hannity's program was the only one, so far as I could tell, in which the host just flat out lied. One of his guests was Kirsten Powers, whose attempt to explain her position was repeatedly interrupted and misrepresented. She was left at the end sputtering that Hannity's characterization of her position was absolutely not true. From what I could tell of the bits and pieces of her position it was actually possible to hear, she was right, and he is a liar.

Hannity's position on energy, which we were given plenty of opportunity to hear, seems to consist essentially of four points:

1. Drill everywhere now.
2. Screw the environment.
3. Democrats are idiots.
4. Jeremiah Wright.

It is possible that I have failed to list these in the correct order of importance.

My own position is pretty firmly in the "We can't drill our way out of this" camp. I say this with no knowledge of petroleum geology; to me, it's just a math problem so simple that even I can understand it.

Suppose that I want to buy 100 rocks this year from Grok. He has 1,000 rocks, so he is happy to sell and figures he can meet my needs for the next 10 years. But next year I don't want 100 rocks. I want 10 percent more, or 110, and my demand continues to grow 10 percent every year.

So it turns out that his rock supply doesn't last 10 years. It lasts only eight, and he has to go find 1,000 more rocks. That supply lasts him only four years and he goes through another 1,000 rocks in years 16, 18, 20 and 22. By then, he has to find another 1,000 rocks just about every year, and pretty soon even that won't be enough.

As long as the rock supply holds out, that's great. I get my rocks, and he has an expanding business. But if he keeps having to go farther to find rocks, so that every rock becomes more expensive to haul, or if eventually he runs out of rocks altogether, he and I are both in trouble.

Gasoline works sort of the same way. At some point, it almost doesn't matter how large the supply is. So long as demand continues to grow -- and evidence is that it will -- almost any new supplies, no matter how vast, will quickly be gobbled up.

So more drilling really only makes sense if it's part of a plan to stop drilling. That's why I've always been in favor of burning cheap foreign oil, even if that means placing artificial constraints on domestic production. Better to burn theirs and save our own for when we really need it. That time may be now, but if we think drilling alone will solve our problems, we are kidding ourselves.


Dave said...

Some 60 years ago, oil discoveries were described as being sufficient to last many 10s of decades; now we're pleased to find a deposit that's good for 20-30 years.
Granted that the newer discoveries are smaller, it still speaks volumes about how our oil consumption has increased.

Anonymous said...

What discoveries are you talking about -- oil sands in Canada, the Bakken? Or Anwar or the North Sea or the off shore areas ? Some I have read are anticipated to have enogh to last a hundred yeas or more each ... that's not to mention other fuels that we aren't supposed to touch such as natural gas and/or coal. And, just today they were talking about how Russia was laying claim to the antartic because it is believed to have a fourth of the worlds oil... there's plenty enough oil for the time being IF we should allow people to get it -- the problem with the rock scenarios is not having rocks doesn't mean the difference between life and death and oil and other natural resources do -- it's about a whole lot more than just the price of gas at the pump -- too bad history isn't taught any more so people would know that those flat screen televisons, cell phones or next medical miracle that saves your life aren't developed and marketed in a vacuum -- we should already be getting an inkling about food -- if not you soon will -- enjoy those gas prices.

David said...

Anonymous 153: Again, this is pretty far beyond my areas of expertise, but from what I have read none of those discoveries you are talking about will make a huge difference. For one thing, some of them are so expensive to get to that they are viable only because prices have risen, so drilling won't make prices go down. For another, no matter how much oil is there, we can't get it all at once. So we are talking about incremental increases in supply while demand just keeps on shooting up. Exploiting those resources may buy us a little time, but they won't make the problem go away.