It is pretty simple – if oil resources are finite, how do you gauge the value of different oil uses? Ultimately, a use of oil should meet one of two simple criteria:
1. Does it reduce long term oil usage, as required by the reality of finite-ness?
2. Does it do something that nothing but oil can do?
Robert Rapier takes President Obama’s reference to using oil to get off oil and expands on it in a recent column, getting right to the point with a potentially viable compromise:
So I propose a compromise where we open up some of the more promising areas to exploration, and then earmark some or all of the royalties to funding fossil fuel alternatives. Leases on federal lands should also be structured so that governments share in any windfall if oil prices skyrocket. One of the problems with windfall profits taxes is that they discourage investment in projects with marginal economics. But oil companies don’t plan projects with an expectation of $200/barrel oil. A lease that is structured to give governments an increasing portion of revenues at much higher oil prices will be unlikely to impact project economics for an oil company because the possibility of such high prices will be heavily discounted.
With the revenues, we could fund expansion of public transportation. We could provide a tax credit of $1,000 for each person who purchases a car that gets over 45 mpg. We could use these oil revenues to fund wind and solar power, freeing up natural gas that could then be used to displace petroleum in compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles.
This should be a compromise with attractive elements for both sides. If we don’t agree to such a compromise, then what’s going to happen is that as prices continue to rise, so will the pressure to drill, and governments will eventually cave in to this pressure. But by failing to earmark the money for alternatives, it will just postpone the inevitable day of reckoning for oil supplies.
So, I endorse this suggestion from the President, as long as it is structured in the right way. It can’t be simply a new tax on oil companies that funnels money into alternatives, because that approach will have unintended consequences. By structuring it in the way I have suggested here, it has a good chance of 1). Gaining broad political support, and 2). Achieving the desired goals.
One of the reasons my blog doesn’t spend huge amounts of time opposing various environmentally troublesome, high input energy extraction plans – natural gas fracking, shale oil fracking, digging in various hard to reach areas, etc… etc… is this. First, I think there are lot of people who focus on that, and I’m better off using my resources to help people NEED less energy – that the anti-fracking or anti- drill-baby-drill movements are way light on people who actually will help you how to figure out a lifestyle that isn’t dependent on those things.
Second, I’m a realist – as I’ve always said, we would shovel live baby harp seals into our furnaces by hand, while convincing ourselves that live baby harp seals enjoy it, as long as we feel ourselves without alternatives – the moment we say BUT I NEED IT we are addicts, jonesing for a fix and we’ll do anything to keep warm, keep the lights on, keep the plate full, whatever. In the great scheme of things, I think digging in ANWR and deepwater drilling, or local fracking suck, but the truth is that what is most urgently required is not to NEED them. Rapier gets right to the point.