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"America will always rely on foreign oil." So says Exxon Mobil Senior Vice President Stuart McGill at a recent Huston energy conference. This is one of several belated responses to Bush's weak call for American energy independence, or at least less reliance on Middle Eastern oil. More below:

"Realistically, it is simply not feasible in any time period relevant to our discussion today," Exxon Mobil Senior Vice President Stuart McGill said, referring to what he called the "misperception" that the United States can achieve energy independence. -snip-

"Americans depend upon imports to fill the gap," McGill said. "No combination of conservation measures, alternative energy sources and technological advances could realistically and economically provide a way to completely replace those imports in the short or medium term."

Instead of trying to achieve energy independence, importing nations like the U.S. should be promoting energy interdependence, McGill said.

"Because we are all contributing to and drawing from the same pool of oil, all nations -- exporting and importing -- are inextricably bound to one another in the energy marketplace," he said.

Though Mr. McGill intentions may be questioned there is no denying that he is right, in a way. So long as we use oil, most of it will come from abroad. He is also right is saying that, "No combination of conservation measures, alternative energy sources and technological advances could realistically and economically provide a way to completely replace those imports in the short or medium term."

Even the Saudi's appear to be worried about Bush's statements. This is also from Reuters :

Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, plans to boost production capacity from 11 million barrels per day to 12.5 million bpd by 2009.

"We will continue to be a source of stability for world energy markets," Saudi Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi told an energy conference hosted by Cambridge Energy Research Associates. "We are addressing the problem of availability head-on."

But, when asked if there were plans to boost capacity beyond 12.5 million bpd, Naimi made a reference to President George W. Bush's State of the Union pledge to slash U.S. oil imports from Middle East suppliers by 75 percent by 2025.

"What concerns us is all the talk about not wanting our oil," Naimi said. "It's not a major bump; it's something to take into consideration." -snip-

The head of the International Energy Agency, the West's energy watchdog, said this week that Bush's call to cut Middle East oil imports would not help persuade OPEC to spend the huge amounts of cash needed to meet future oil demand.

"We are absolutely delighted that President Bush has recognized at last that his country is addicted to oil," IEA head Claude Mandil said. "But the way he said it -- to get rid of dependence on Middle East oil -- will not help us convince those countries that they will have to increase their investment."

Interesting, but since many oil experts doubt that the Saudis can actually expand production in fields that are likely past, or very near peak it is probably irrelevant. Nonetheless, the only remarkable thing about all this is that so many seem to take Bush's non-plan seriously. Or are they just acting?

Of course some are less worried about oil supply and energy independence. John Tierney's recent NYT column is entitled Burn, Baby, Burn.

The problem with Americans is not that we're addicted to oil. As soon as oil becomes more trouble than it's worth, we will sensibly stop putting it in our cars. -snip-

The well is running dry. Government planners have a long history of overestimating the future cost of oil and underestimating the cost of their pet alternatives -- which is why we keep burning oil. -snip-

Mandating fuel-economy standards saved gasoline and made Americans a little less vulnerable to a spike in oil prices, but the rules led to smaller cars and an additional 2,000 deaths per year in highway accidents from the mid-1970's to the mid-1990's, according to the National Research Council. -snip-

The only real oil weapon is the one that American politicians use to justify energy plans and Middle East adventures. It doesn't matter if our enemies in the Persian Gulf refuse to sell us oil directly. Once they sell it to anyone, it's in the global market and effectively available to us. -snip-

The United States spent decades propping up the shah of Iran only to see the country fall into the hands of our archenemies, but Iran is still exporting oil -- and it is a lot more reliable producer than Iraq, despite all the money and lives we've spent there. The best guarantee of future oil supplies is the sellers' greed, not our diplomatic and military efforts.

When something finally comes along that's cheaper and more reliable than oil, no national energy plan will be necessary. Capitalists will be ready to sell it to eager American drivers. For now, the best strategy is to buy gasoline and stop worrying that it's sinful or dangerous.


Umm, yes, that was in the New York Times. So, don't worry, be happy, technology and the markets will save us.

It is obvious to anyone who has kept up with energy news that in the post peak-oil era there is no single or even combination of alternative technologies that can give us the amount of energy that we now get from oil. Oil sands, coal based oil, bio-fuels, wind power, wave, more nuclear plants, and who knows what else will come on line. But even the combination of all those things will not provide us with the same amount of energy as we now get from oil. This is the one monumental fact about peak-oil that most people still don't want to grasp.

I once asked the owner of a country store if he thought it would stop raining. We were on holiday and couldn't wait to go hiking. He looked out the window at the sky and rubbed his chin sagely. "I reckon it will" he said after some consideration, "It always has." This is the attitude many take toward peak oil. Technology will somehow solve this problem like it always has. But technology is not like rain; the outcome is far from inevitable.

As for the markets, what sort of market is there for something that does not exist? Or if there is so little of something that it's cost puts it beyond our means, is the market relevant?

I am beginning to think that the main energy issue today is not that we are running out of oil. It is that so many seem to think that we can substitute bullshit for oil.

Might as well get into the act; what do you think?

Originally posted to Chris Kulczycki on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 03:49 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Cross posted and front paged on: (4.00)

    Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
    Czeslaw Milosz

    by Chris Kulczycki on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 03:54:40 AM PST

    •  Unfortunately (none)
      too many people think like tierney. I remember that old MAD magazine character(although this character was featured on the cover virtually every issue I can't remember his name)-"What me worry?"

      We're all fucked, I'm just wondering when the shit will hit the fan.

      •  It's like the boiled frog. (none)
        When we realize the water is too hot it will no longer do any good to struggle. Civilizations end with a whimper, not with a bang.

        Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
        Czeslaw Milosz

        by Chris Kulczycki on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 05:20:16 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Heh, that's an unfortunate myth (none)
          debunked at Snopes.  We will solve this problem, as we solved any number of previous problems of this sort.  When England ran out of firewood, it quickly converted to coal, and modified the technology.  When the metallurgy got good enough, the internal combustion engine took to running gasoline, a fraction of distillation previously flared off:  distillers were in search of the more stable kerosene.

          The market will solve this problem for us;  as with the frog, the poor amphibian is taking in calories from the water, and it energizes his jumps.  The frog always gets out, and so will we.

          People are usually more convinced by reasons they discovered themselves than by those found by others.

          by BlaiseP on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 05:28:58 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  The market may solve the problem.. (none)

            but we may end up with fuel that costs the equivalent of 10$ a gallon.  Or more.

            The core issue is that we are running out of things to burn, so substitution is a harder problem.  Many of the ideas for substitutes simply don't scale up to the point where we can substitute oil on a gallon-for-gallon basis.

            •  As Frank Zappa said (none)
              "The two most abundant elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity"

              People are usually more convinced by reasons they discovered themselves than by those found by others.

              by BlaiseP on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 07:14:12 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  A myth, but not necessarily unfortunate. (none)
            It's a good way to illustrate my point ;<)

            The unfortunate myth is that many believe that because technology has always come to the rescue it always will. That argument defies logic.

            Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
            Czeslaw Milosz

            by Chris Kulczycki on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 06:03:04 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  This guy is obviously a wingnut... (none)
              The free-market will solve the problem!!! What an idiot.
              •  I do believe the market will solve the problem (none)
                as it has before.  The price of hydrogen based solutions is dropping, and the price of petroleum based solutions is rising.  When they cross, there will be a change in technology.  Your engine will be retrofitted to burn hydrogen, and you will like it.  You will put some batteries under your back seat, your brakes and axles will be retrofitted with a motor/generator set, and life will proceed as before.

                Are you using the same computer you were ten years ago?  Of course not.  The technology advanced, and you bought another.

                Petroleum is an extraordinary resource, which we should not be wasting on fuel.  Hydrogen and the concomitant electrical solutions are just now getting online, no thanks to the Bush administration, which has decided to lay off alternative energy technologists.

                But rest assured,

                People are usually more convinced by reasons they discovered themselves than by those found by others.

                by BlaiseP on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 07:11:45 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  What you say is true. But.... (none)
                  The question is one of quantity. We are not close to being able to scale up any technology to generate even close to the amount of energy contained in the oil we use. That is the issue. It is a matter of running the numbers. Today's solutions are a bit like saying, "We loose a dime on every unit, but we make it up in quantity."

                  Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
                  Czeslaw Milosz

                  by Chris Kulczycki on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 07:28:18 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Huh? (none)
                    Hydrogen is a workable solution, with a less-than-infinite price point.  No sooner has oil reached that price point than we will convert.  End of story.

                    People are usually more convinced by reasons they discovered themselves than by those found by others.

                    by BlaiseP on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 10:12:06 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                •  Where does the hydrogen come from? (none)

                  Today it is largely made from natural gas and/or coal.  We cannot base a new transportation infrastructure on those two fossil fuels.  Natural gas is barely able to keep up with demand as it is.

                  Hydrogen is best viewed as an energy carrier - kind of like a battery.  You need to put energy in in order to get Hydrgogen gas out.

                  Vehicle retrofits are unlikely.  It is far easier to toss the thing and start from scratch.  Sucks if you own an older gas guzzler.  Part of the reason for this is simply that the scale of the problem is so huge that the only way that people can piece together any sort of an answer is to make great use of conservation.

  •  Will future civilizations require all those watts? (4.00)
    The paradigm of cheap oil has facilitated, indeed militated for all those nasty cars out there, including my own, which will shortly fire up and go 27.2 miles to my new assignment.  I could just as easily do this job from my kitchen table.  As it is, I had to bring in one of my own laptops, since the client didn't have one ready for me.

    In future, such inefficient nonsense will not be tolerated, imho.  The Pointy Headed Bosses of the future will manage my objective, not by ensuring my ass is warming a chair in an office tower somewhere.

    People are usually more convinced by reasons they discovered themselves than by those found by others.

    by BlaiseP on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 04:33:35 AM PST

  •  Welcome back! (none)
    have been wondering when your excellent diaries would reappear.

    sadly, nothing but the sheer, overwhelming truth of the situation will shake this country from its oil-addicted funk (just like global warming).  and, of course, by then it will be a very, very painful withdrawl.

    Energize America 2020 will give Dems and progressive Repubs an emminently workable plan, but they will need the balls to publicly embrace a gas tax, and perhaps a carbon tax on emissions as well.  

    In this Fox-centric, GOP-loving media circus, it will be rather easy for the GOP attack dogs to distort the nature and benefits of EA2020.  Will that stop Dems from embracing it?  Don't know, but we're sure as hell trying to give them the right plan for America's energy security.  The rest will be up to them, and the American public.

    Energize America: Demand Energy Security by 2020!

    by Doolittle Sothere on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 05:29:22 AM PST

  •  If that's true... (4.00)
    ...genuinely true, that "America will always rely on foreign oil", then America will become weaker and weaker as the oil becomes slowly more scarce over the next few decades, and will finally cease to exist on the day, many years from now, that the last drop is drawn out of the ground.

    Wanting this to be true is like wanting America to die.


    Finem respice et principiis obsta—Consider the end, and thwart the beginning

    by Del C on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 05:45:42 AM PST

  •  Where you sit is where you eat (4.00)
    Exxon and the rest of the Seven Sisters (count still valid?) are paid transporting energy from one side of the planet to the other.

    They are paid a premium in proportion to the length of the virtual pipeline leading from the oil pump to the gas pump, and the volatility and risk in getting a given gallon of fuel to you.

    It's a special expertise that people pay dearly for. It might cost, tops, $6 to get a barrel of light sweet crude out of the ground in Saudi Arabia, that including all the infrastructure and security costs. (In comparison it currently costs about, oh, $80/bbl to get Iraqi oil out of the ground, once the cost of the WMD War and subsequent occupation are included. It used to cost $2/bbl, per the Bushies' own estimates.)

    Anything that reduces the scale, complexity, volatility and risk of the oil production process reduces Exxon profits.

    It's not just a sea change in energy economics that the Exxonians fear. Even a modest reduction in energy consumption is death to dividends. God forbid nuclear or coal or those monstrosities wind and hydroelectric ever make a comeback, not when we've got plenty of oil and natural gas reserves to fuel all the brand-new oil and gas-burning power plants the Exxonians have lobbied 20 years to attain.

    And that oil and gas comes from far-off, dangerous lands and has to pass through several strategic (and risky!) gauntlets to get here.

    Only our expertise can get your gasoline to you, through such challenges, the Exxonians declare.

    The idea that those challenges are moot is anathema.

    The idea that hybrid cars, for example, might reduce demand for fuel gasoline by 40% inside of fifteen years terrifies.

    The idea that people will start turning out the lights, always, when they leave a room, or choose not to get in the car and 'go do something', but instead plan activities and consider entertainments close to home, or at home, rather than drive, drive, drive is a nightmare scenario.

    And the notion of people deciding that perhaps they just don't need to get in the car and drive to a mall, then an outlet store, then a specialty store, in order to buy lots of stuff that takes lots of energy to produce, in order to have life satisfaction is nothing short of an extinction-level event.

    So, when I hear an Exxonian say that we're never going to kick the habit, I just chuckle.

    What do you mean 'we', oil man? :)

    The Republicrime Party is coming for your money and your life.

    by cskendrick on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 05:50:38 AM PST

  •  I have an idea for a diary that I am working on.. (4.00)

    it will probably be titled "Kicking an Oil Addiction" or some such.  It is related in a bit to the points you are making here - my major point will be that it isn't so much an oil addiction - it is out materialistic impulses and greed which combined together cause us to consume a lot of oil.  Trying to treat the symptom (the oil consumption) without trying to deal with the underlying problem of overconsumption of everything in general isn't likely to succeed.  Or something along those lines - all I have now is a bunch of rough ideas and a series of points that I need to wrap together into one coherent story.

    Anyways, it isn't so much that we are substituting bullshit for oil.  The problem is that there are lots of people who fear change - they don't want to make a change in their lives, and if someone tells them something that on the surface sounds plausible they conclude that the problem will be solved and the go back to whatever it was that they were fussing about before.  

    From the standpoint of Exxon, they fear change too - if people suddenly start to conserve like crazy, they won't make as much money.  

    From the standpoint of GM, they don't have a clue what they are doing, but they notice that people are concerned about fuel - as a quick-and-easy they make more flex-fuel cars so that they can tell people the things will run on ethanol.  The vehicles would still be gas-guzzlers, but for people who don't pay attention to all of this, the flex fuel cars are a 'solution' because you have the option of using ethanol.  They never think about where all of that ethanol is going to come from.

  •  "US will always rely on the typewriter" (none)
    President of Remington Typewriters, 1950 (apocryphal quote).

    Take Back the House in 2006!

    by Rona on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 07:05:12 AM PST

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