Fool me once…

June 17, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More

The events since the BP well exploded and began spewing oil and gas into the Gulf of Mexico have forced President Obama’s hand. No politician wants to be the one to catch the Peak Oil hot potato, but it looks like it’s landed right in Obama’s lap. In his Oval Office speech the other night, he came the closest any president has yet to frankly discussing the challenges we face (emphasis mine):

So one of the lessons we’ve learned from this spill is that we need better regulations, better safety standards, and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling. But a larger lesson is that no matter how much we improve our regulation of the industry, drilling for oil these days entails greater risk. After all, oil is a finite resource. We consume more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. And that’s part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean — because we’re running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water.

For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we’ve talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked — not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.

The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be right here in America. Each day, we send nearly $1 billion of our wealth to foreign countries for their oil. And today, as we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude.

We cannot consign our children to this future. The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now. Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America’s innovation and seize control of our own destiny.

If one were challenged to explain “Peak Oil” without actually using those words, it would sound something like that.  It wasn’t a perfect speech, by any means.  The lack of political courage and candor is still frustrating the type of paradigm shift that the arrival of Peak Oil requires. (see here, here, and here for alternative interpretations of the speech).  However, at least it was a start.  Consider also some remarks he made a few weeks ago:

Oil Drilling Platform in the Santa Barbara CA Channel

Image by MikeBaird - Creative Commons

The fact that oil companies now have to go a mile underwater and then drill another three miles below that in order to hit oil tells us something about the direction of the oil industry. Extraction is more expensive and it is going to be inherently more risky.

And so that’s part of the reason you never heard me say, “Drill, baby, drill” — because we can’t drill our way out of the problem. It may be part of the mix as a bridge to a transition to new technologies and new energy sources, but we should be pretty modest in understanding that the easily accessible oil has already been sucked up out of the ground.

And as we are moving forward, the technology gets more complicated, the oil sources are more remote, and that means that there’s probably going to end up being more risk. And we as a society are going to have to make some very serious determinations in terms of what risks are we willing to accept.

But, in the way that only John Stewart can, he shows us that presidents have been calling for a change in the way we use energy for decades.  So when do we start doing something?

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But to get an idea of why our Presidents have not led the way to a changed energy policy, consider what that would mean. Former president of Shell Oil, John Hofmeister, explains the consequences of restricting offshore drilling in a recent interview:

“While we dream about a new energy system that is decades in the future, the prices that consumers will have to pay for things like gasoline, electricity, and diesel would just skyrocket” if America halts offshore driller, Hofmeister tells Aaron and Henry in the accompanying segment. “Prices could get to the point where fixed-income and low-income people are simply taken out of the personal mobility marketplace, which would be a shock and unnecessary because of our unwillingness to produce domestic resources.”

But as Aaron asks: “People also don’t want oil washing up on their beaches, whether it’s in the Gulf of Mexico or Florida or maybe up the East Coast. Do you that think the American public is going to say, ‘We don’t want you drilling at all offshore?’ ”

Only if the American public is willing “to accept $6 to $8 [per gallon] gasoline as the alternative, when they can get it,” Hofmeister replies.

Unfortunately, that really is the choice we have to make. Oil on the beaches, or $6-$8/gallon gasoline (when it’s available). The engineering and technical challenges involved are such that the rate of spills has been on the rise:

If it seems as if oil spills – and particularly offshore spills in U.S. waters – are on the rise, that’s because they are.

A USA Today analysis of federal data found that spills from offshore oil rigs and pipelines have more than quadrupled in the last decade. From the 1970s to 1990s, offshore facilities averaged four spills per year of more than 50 barrels. From 2000 to 2009, the annual average soared to 17.

The report also found that the rate of oil being spilled was increasing faster than the growth in production.

So how about it, America– what’s your choice?  If it seems like a catch-22, that’s because it is.  And now you understand why politicians have been so reluctant to raise the issue.

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Category: Current Events, Environment, Politics, Quality of Life

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is a full-time wage slave and part-time philosopher, writing and living just outside Omaha with his lovely wife and two feline roommates.

Comments (2)

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  1. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Former President of Shell Oil, John Hofmeister (who is quoted in my post, above) has some more startling words. While I disagree with his proposed solution (more privatization), I agree with his near-term predictions:

    Americans are on the path toward blackouts and gas lines, and the federal government's tools to prevent it are broken.

    And John Hofmeister, the former Shell executive who made this prediction at a World Affairs Council breakfast on Friday, said he's an optimist. Some of his energy industry friends expect worse, he said.

    "Within a decade I predict the energy abyss looks like brownouts, blackouts and gas lines," said Hofmeister. "Our federal government, when it comes to energy and the environment, is dysfunctional, it's broken, and it's unfixable in its current form."

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Brynn: That's brutal, and I fear that it's true. That's what lack of government regulation that PRETENDS to be regulation gets you.

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