We’re no longer in the era of cheap oil. But we’re still in the era of oil. It’s just the era of expensive oil.
This is a difficult transition to be sure, but chemistry dictates that it’s going to be a long journey to a new world in which we use solar energy rather than the ancient solar energy crammed into those hydrocarbon molecules. And the players in this game have more money than anyone realizes. Bob Dudley, who runs BP, told me that people don’t realize how many resources his company has. [I should note the context: He said this two summers ago, in the context of BP being able to meet its commitments after the oil spill.]
The oil and gas industry is global and powerful and it’s not something beholden to any particular president, Congress or well-meaning regulation.
Still, Charles Krauthammer is all over President Obama today for not drilling more, and for being anti-oil. It would seem to me that leaving the stuff where it’s been for 20 million years is actually a conservative position. It ain’t going anywhere.
I wrote a story today about the rising cost of gas:
Every time gas prices soar, Americans get a reminder of how dependent we are on oil, how vulnerable to soaring prices and how hard it has been to change our ways. Motorists are angry and a little mystified. Gas prices seem to go up when no one’s looking, and for no obvious reason. A gallon of regular unleaded cost $3.82 on average nationwide Thursday, up 31 cents in the past month, according to AAA’s price survey. A gallon of diesel was going for $4.12.
At the filling stations, drivers feel powerless.
“You don’t have a choice. Someone’s got a gun to your head,” said Jack Zdziera, 65, a West Virginian who drove into Virginia to get the lower-priced gas at the Flying J truck stop north of Winchester.
I thought the guy from SAFE group had an interesting point about the electrification of the passenger fleet: We can make electricity a lot of ways. Electricity isn’t beholden to a single fuel source (though obviously coal is the major source of electrical generation).
For all the talk of alternative transportation fuels, they’re still a small fraction of the sector. We still run our fleets on oil. We’re just not very flexible there. Ethanol is bigger than it used to be, but it has limitations (you can’t pipe it — it absorbs water from condensation etc. — and you can drive up food prices and cause food scarcity).
The Valero flak told me his company has to meet a federal mandate to use a certain amount of cellulosic ethanol in its gasoline, but there is no cellulosic ethanol in existence at an industrial scale, so they have to pay a fine, or, more precisely, buy some credits of some kind to meet the federal regulation. A reminder, there, that simply passing a law does not necessarily change the way companies do business in the real economy.
Make sure to check out Michael Williamson’s pictures in the gallery above. He’s a master of the evocative, reflective, indirect, spooky, quirky image.