Tag Archives: oil

Kill All the Whales

28 Sep

Let me tell you a little fable that just happens to be true.*

The world was a very dark place in 1850. Dim tallow candles with reed wicks were common, lamps were inefficient, and widespread electricity was several decades off. Man had known how to extract kerosene from coal for thousands of years, but a safe and reliable method for burning it indoors was not yet invented. Instead, the world relied on whale oil to impart some small light on the dark nights.

Whale oil stunk, was hard to obtain, and was expensive. But a large segment of the world economy was based upon its production, and its use endured as German inventors tinkered with kerosene lamps. Right, bowhead, and sperm whales were chased to all ends of the earth, harvested and slaughtered to extract the gooey incendiary fluid from their heads. In the end, it was not the superior illuminative properties of kerosene that won the day, convincing the world to switch to a preferable product. Rather, necessity again proved the mother of invention; kerosene lamps only took off once demand for whale oil far outstripped the supply, driving the price up. Kerosene needed to be cheaper than whale oil to force a global change. In other words, no one would switch until we had killed all the whales.

Fast forward to today, as history provides a less than hopeful prediction of our fossil fuel future. It is increasingly obvious that there is enough oil, natural gas, shale and tar sand on this planet to destroy it. We will never “run out” of oil – we find more dead dinosaurs too quickly, and our global reserves only increase year to year, even as demand surges. We can’t kill all the whales. If we burn every drop of oil, the climate change effects would be calamitous.

Can we break the locust-tendency of our human inclinations? Can we break the basic economic cycle that only forces a change to solar, wind, hyrdo, tidal and (yes, probably) nuke power once gasoline is too expensive? Do we need to use a gimmick to fake ourselves into making the switch, by taxing fossil fuels to force the change, like a dieter removing all tempting food from the house? Or can we collectively make a smart, healthy decision for our planet, and choose to swap while it still costs more? History says we haven’t yet. Breaking the streak is our challenge.

* I totally stole this anecdote, though not the later conclusions, from Bill Bryson’s excellent “At Home: A Short History of Private Life.” You should read it – it’s really good.

Shorter Bush / McCain Energy Policy

23 Jun

Drill, drill, drill.


The best way to wean an addict off heroin is to provide him with new sources of heroin.

It’s 2008. The gasoline-powered internal combustion engine is century-old technology. It’s time for something new to be developed for the mass market, because the supply of gas isn’t infinite, and people will always want personal means of conveyance.

To drill now would not lead to oil independence, and benefits would not be felt for a decade. It’s an oversimplistic answer to the question of $4.00/gallon oil.

The X-Prize foundation has a $10 million prize available to the team that can meet this goal:

To inspire a new generation of viable, super-efficient vehicles that help break our addiction to oil and stem the effects of climate change.

And then there’s Joe Biden’s point on yesterday’s Meet the Press: There are already millions of offshore acres available to oil companies for drilling – right now – that they’re not taking advantage of.

We’re not trying to get Saudi to drill more, we’re trying to get them to pump more of what they’re drilling. They’re not pumping what they could, number one. This is a gift, a gift to the oil companies by John McCain. They have now leased 41 million acres of offshore leases. They’re only pumping in 10.2 million of those acres. Seventy-nine percent of all the offshore oil available off the coast of Florida, into the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Coast, the Pacific Coast, lies within those acres that they now have. Why are they not pumping? Why are they not doing this? Why are they not pursuing what’s estimated to be a total of 70–54 billion barrels of oil at their disposal right now if they pump? Why are these greedy fellows deciding they want to go beyond that? It’s because they want to get it in before George Bush leaves the presidency. It’s because they’re not pumping the oil to keep the price up. They are not even drilling. So here you have 30 million leased acres they have right now that possesses 79 percent of all the offshore, and they’re not drilling. And John says they need more? And it would take 10 years for it to come online.

Biden’s point – the oil companies are keeping supply artificially low (as OPEC is) in order to make the price, and their profits, jump.

Jon Powers on Oil Prices

13 May

This is an article that Jon Powers released today on the issue of gas prices and the continuing replenishment of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The Senate voted today 97-1 to halt replenishment of the reserve, thus freeing 70,000 barrels of oil into the open market on a daily basis. It’s a drop in the bucket, but a very expensive bucket. – BP

As Memorial Day approaches, many working families across Western New York are preparing their summer plans and struggling to find ways to afford our skyrocketing gasoline prices. The price for a gallon of gasoline is now over $3.85 and approaching $4 in Western New York, which means that car owners who have a 15 gallon gas tank are now paying almost $60 to fill up at the pump. Continue reading