Thank you, Mr. Rosenfeld for inviting me to speak today at the Tulane Law School Environmental Law Summit here in New Orleans. It’s a pleasure for me to return to New Orleans, where I worked some 30 years ago just up the river doing consulting engineering for Kaiser at the Gramercy plant.
Today, I want to address a very serious issue, the US Energy Policy with respect to Peak Oil. This speech today is but a small portion, an overview, of a much longer speech I give on the topic so I’ll just hit the high points.
The main points are divided into two sections, Peak Oil, and Energy Policy. Under Peak Oil, I will discuss why Peak Oil predictions fail and the false model used; Oil demand is not increasing at a compound growth rate; Oil Reserves are increasing; Oil price shocks are not catastrophic; and Many more options exist today.
Under Energy Policy, the main points are Take the Long View; Preserve our domestic resources; Maintain a vital oil industry; Develop Coal-to Liquids; Policy options to increase supply and decrease demand; and finally, OPEC’s new role.
First, Peak Oil has always been a false prediction. I first heard the term Peak Oil in 1972 as a freshman in engineering school. It has been predicted many times since the mid-1950s yet never comes true. The reason is that the model that is used to forecast peak oil is false; it is wrong. To paraphrase one of the US’s most brilliant scientists, Dr. Richard Feynman, when the predictions are wrong, you must get a new model. Dr. Feynman won the Nobel prize in physics for his work in QED, quantum electro-dynamics.
It is very instructive to examine this price chart, and while I can’t go into all the details, I can say that $32 was the price Saudi Arabia chose for oil in 1980. That was the highest price they could get without triggering the USA building our coal-to-liquids plants.
However, it is a fact that today, $80 per barrel is the same as that $32 in 1980, adjusted for inflation. Saudis maintain the price by adjusting production, and bring the price down to $80 as soon as possible. This happened in 2008, most recently. If the price of oil gets much above $80, we will drill for and produce much more oil, just like we did the last time that oil price shot up.We found oil in Alaska, the North Sea, Indonesia, and other places. Therefore, we will not see a doubling of oil price ever again. The threat of converting US coal to oil is simply too real. We know how. And, we could do it.
In summary, Peak Oil is not a problem. Demand is decreasing, supply is increasing, and there are far more options today.
Turning next to Energy Policy, the absolutely most important point is that we must take the long view and not be short-sighted. It is critical that the US be prepared for that day when we will desperately need our domestic oil. That day when our foreign supplies are cut off yet again, and this time we are in a prolonged world war, similar to World War II. To meet that day, we must have oil in our own lands. Every president since Truman has known this to be true, and therefore have made so much of the USA offshore off-limits to drilling. The West Coast, East Coast, and eastern Gulf of Mexico are off-limits to drilling. Much of the on-shore lands are also off-limits, including the ANWR. We know the oil is there. We don’t need that oil right now. Preserving that oil for the future is critical, and that is why Drill, Baby, Drill is Dumb, Baby, Dumb. (as an aside, this phrase drew spontaneous applause, much to my great surprise. – RES)
Next we must maintain a vital oil industry. It is critical that the US maintain the ability to drill, produce, refine, and transport oil and oil products to meet that dreaded day. We must attract and retain highly qualified and motivated personnel in the entire oil industry.
Next, we must develop 1 million barrels per day of Coal-to Liquids production using our domestic coal reserves. The Canadians have done something similar with their oil sands, even though they lost money for the first few decades. They went up the learning curve, reduced their operating costs and now are somewhat profitable. We must do the same with our coal.
Next, there are many policy options to increase supply and decrease demand. National speed limits will decrease demand by as much as 20 percent. Raising gasoline taxes are politically unpopular but will decrease demand. Mandating higher CAFÉ standards and government rebates for hybrid vehicles also decrease demand. There are many, many other policy options we could employ. By the way, the US already has more than two dozen federal laws regarding energy policy.
But, the most important supply-side policy choice is to promote recycling of CO2 by assisting the algae-to-oil processes. Here are a few photos of this technology. It works. This makes oil a renewable resource. [photo not included in this blog, due to copyright violation. Readers are encouraged to do an Internet search on images for "algae to oil." -- RES]
Another policy option is bio-ethanol. Mandating Corn-based ethanol is one of the dumbest things our government has ever done and should be repealed as soon as possible. (more applause at this statement. – RES)
Finally, all of the above has been based on OPEC maintaining their hold over world oil price. That is likely to change. OPEC’s new role is uncertain due to the recent events in the Middle East, particularly the change in governments in oil-producing countries. No one knows how this will all turn out, but it is very likely that the new governments will break away from OPEC and produce all the oil they can. That will decrease oil prices, in fact, we may see prices drop all the way to $20 or even $10 per barrel.
To conclude, we see that the data simply does not support the Peak Oil theory. Furthermore, even if oil were someday to be in short supply, there are many policy options to reduce oil consumption and increase oil supply. The most critical point is to not use up our domestic reserves but keep the oil in the ground as security against that day when we will need it most.
Thank you, and I’ll be happy to answer any questions. -- End prepared remarks.
Marina del Rey, California