Apparently, the possibility that some innovations might be introduced, if they aren’t already in an undefined but probably—or at least likely—manner in certain instances where there could be some potentially good news provided that certain other events fall into place exactly as some are hoping for at some point, but in a good way (just not consistent with facts or reality, but why quibble), then by golly we might possibly see oil prices drop, which, coupled with the distinct possibility that certain savings could be achieved immediately after magic happens, could result in something good—perhaps. (Of course, lower oil prices would lead to lower profits and lower investment funds available and thus end a lot of exploration and production, but hey! Prices will be lower.) We won’t have anything to buy, but it will be cheaper....
That’s the essential point offered in the latest in an endless series of hide-most-of-the-facts nonsense from oil industry cheerleaders, this one courtesy of an article by Gene Epstein, entitled “Here Comes $75 Oil” in Barron's. This one was a gold mine of right-wing Happy Talk: light on facts; big on hype; no context, and ignore the consequences—all designed to help … well, not us. What’s the point?
For the first time in its 150-year history, the internal combustion engine can be run efficiently on alternative fuels from a number of sources, including natural gas. As these alternatives are increasingly introduced, global consumption of oil will slow its growth and flatten out.[If the link is unavailable, you can read the article here]
The first line does have some truth to it; no dispute there. Nice set-up, but then … the fine art of cherry-picking and dancing around reality begins in earnest.
What are the number of sources? How efficient? Give the Republican Party’s general aversion to investing in research to learn more about … you know, reality, how might that all play out? Infrastructure all set? What should we do with our gas-powered vehicles? When can I turn mine in? And about that “increasingly introduced.” When? How soon before a full transition takes place? What happens in the interim? What if it might possibly not achieve the potential a study suggests could happen under certain circumstances? As for the slowdown of global consumption: When? How? Where? How do we share the potential with several billion others?
Perhaps we should introduce some of these Happy Talkers to the reality of high prices. There’s a long line of other not-quite-so-Happy experts who prefer the factual side of the discussion. Look up almost anything written by Steve Andrews; Chris Nelder; Steve Kopits; Ron Patterson; Gail Tverberg; Chris Martenson; Kurt Cobb; Tom Whipple; Jeffrey Brown; Richard Heinberg, among many others (apologies for not running the long list) who point out that high prices are enabling the oil industry to produce the inferior, more costly, harder-to-extract, environmentally-questionable (I’m being kind) tar sands and tight oil now being relied upon. They also point out that even at current high prices, profit margins are not* justifying further expenditures. Uh-oh! [* added for clarification/correction]
Bean-counters for the fossil fuel industry love high prices! We lowly consumers, not so much. So when real economics come into play and we peons stop coughing up as much money, prices will certainly drop. So won’t production totals. See how that math works? Facts suck!
Did I mention that the conventional supply of crude oil we’ve relied upon for more than a century continues its relentless depletion? Oh, and what happened to the information about the much more rapid decline rates of wells drilled in the shale formations, or the vast trillions of barrels of shale oil whose production has not yet been found commercially feasible? (Of course, to be fair, the industry has only been attempting that for about a century—the fact-based one which has one hundred years in it. But the potential is there!) So what if the environment-savaging tar sands production hasn’t yet met its own lofty potential? Best not to discuss that, actually. My bad.
But there is the natural gas side to turn to. As Mr. Epstein noted:
[S]omething resembling a global market in liquefied natural gas will likely develop.
Can’t get more specific and certain than that! (Well, you can, but that would require the introduction of facts, reality, consequences, and context. Who has time for that?)
As for helping the public to understand the realities and challenges of future energy supply so that they and their communities might actually plan for adaptation to a different reality, information (loosely-defined) such as the Barron's article aren’t exactly intended to help at all.
The challenge of adaptation is all the greater—if that’s possible—because from our perspective too many people without the means/opportunities to understand what’s at stake are being fed a steady diet of half-truths, misrepresentations, irrelevancies, nonsense, and in some cases outright lies. If you come to the table without understanding or even knowing the facts, it’s a wee bit more difficult to contribute and then leave with meaningful solutions in hand. Not exactly a major revelation….
There was enough meaty nonsense in the Barron's piece that it merits a second entry all its own. That arrives here on Thursday.