Friday, May 9, 2008

Some Simple Truths About Oil

Many people have misconceptions about how oil is found, produced, refined, and supplied to consumers, most noticeably in the form of gasoline. The oil industry has been so demonized over the years that few people fully understand where oil actually comes from, who really owns it, how costly it is to find and produce, and how much actual profit oil companies make. It is this ignorance, I believe, that leads to bad government laws, more taxes, higher costs, (like we're seeing now) and serious damage to our economy. Here are ten simple truths everyone should know.
Peter

Ten Simple Truths about Oil
Alan Caruba

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Having written about the energy industry and issues now for a long time, I hope I can be forgiven for being enraged by the comments by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) in response to President Bush’s press conference Tuesday morning. There is simply no way to describe them other than false.

The Democrat Party has long made “Big Oil” their favorite punching bag, confident that the public has no idea what influences the price and supply of oil. Saying anything favorable to Big Oil is immediately deemed evidence that one is in their pay and whatever facts are offered are therefore invalid.

There are, however, some simple truths about Big Oil that cannot and should not be ignored. To do so leaves everyone at the mercy of energy policies that have created the situation in which the United States finds itself today.

Fact #1. The combined ownership of oil reserves by the independent, investor-owned oil companies such as ExxonMobil, Conoco-Phillips, BP, Chevron and others is barely 4% of the total known oil reserves in the world. By itself, ExxonMobil’s share is 1.08%.

Fact #2. Oil is a global commodity sold on mercantile exchanges for whatever price it can command. Speculation in oil prices is the primary reason they have been driven to utterly insane costs per barrel. It has nothing to do with actual supply and demand.

Fact #3. No nation on Earth is or can be “energy independent.” The geopolitics of oil is complex, but as nations such as China and India have seen their economies grow, their need for oil grows with it and thus they compete with long established industrialized nations for existing oil supplies. This competition has an impact on prices.

Fact #4. The OPEC nations, those in the Middle East and including Venezuela, control 77% of the world’s known oil reserves. Like Russia and Mexico, where the oil industry is controlled by the state, it is generally poorly managed. Several Big Oil companies that were induced to undertake exploration and development in Russia and Venezuela actually had their assets nationalized or stolen at prices well below their investment and value.

Fact #5. Energy is the master resource. All nations with any hope of growing their economies require it, mostly in the form of electricity, but also for oil’s role in transportation. The failure to have a national long-range energy policy that is based in reality can severely impact energy prices.

Fact #6. The United States has, for years, pursued an energy policy based on environmental myths such as “biofuels” in which corn is turned into ethanol to reduce the import of oil, but it costs as much to produce ethanol as to refine oil and it provides less mileage per gallon, thus negating any reason for this additive. Likewise, suggesting that wind or solar energy can generate anything more than its current 1% of the nation’s electricity needs ignores their unreliability and the fact they are heavily subsidized, a form of hidden consumer tax.

Fact #7. It costs billions to explore, discover, extract and transport oil. It takes lots of lead-time as well. The United States Congress has, for decades, refused to permit the extraction of vast oil reserves in ANWR despite the fact it would have little or no impact on the Alaskan wildlife reserve. In addition, Congress has declared 85% percent of the nation’s coastal, offshore areas off-limits to any exploration for oil or natural gas.

Fact #8. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, under the mandate of Congress, requires Big Oil to refine oil into some 17 different formulations in the name of clean air. With three grades of gasoline, that means that refiners must produce some 45 different blends. The quality of air in America is excellent, but the cost of gasoline at the pump continues to rise as the result of these mandates.

Fact #9. America imports two-thirds of the oil it uses. All of its transportation runs on oil. The population continues to grow. Failure to encourage the construction of a single new refinery since the 1970s puts a further strain on the ability of Big Oil to provide the nation’s oil and diesel fuel needs.

Fact #10. Democrats continue to demand that Big Oil’s profits be confiscated in some fashion and some of the inducements offered to explore for more oil be ended. Because the costs of exploration, extraction, refining, and transporting of oil represents billions, the actual profit margin of a company like ExxonMobil is about 10%, well below what industries such as pharmaceuticals and banking enjoy.

For these and many other reasons, Americans are being impoverished at the gas pump because Congress has dithered and failed in one of its most important responsibilities.

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