In general, kurt made an excellent post, but I have a few quibbles. But then, nobody's perfect.
Ned Flanders wrote:Yes, everything is Bush's fault.
No, only some things, as we will see below.
Kindly disregard that fact that [environmentalists] have blocked the exploration for and extraction of domestic crude,
"Reduced slightly", not "blocked". And that has nothing whatsoever to do with the price of gas.
US oil production has been declining for thirty-six years, not because of environmentalists, but because there just isn't enough oil here
In order to produce oil, you first need to discover it. As it turns out, in any given region (e.g., the US) oil discovery follows a roughly bell-shaped curve. There will be a few discoveries at first, then more and larger fields will be found. As time goes by, only increasingly small fields are left undiscovered, and the curve tapers off.
Oil discovery in the lower 48 states peaked in the 1930s. You could throw open every national park, every wilderness area, and every piece of privately owned land in the US to exploration, and it still wouldn't change this picture much.
Oil production follows a similar bell-shaped curve, which lags the discovery curve by several decades. The easiest and cheapest oil is extracted first; what's left for later is more expensive and more difficult to extract.
US oil production peaked ca. 1970, and its decline since then is an inevitable
result of the fact that most US oil has already been extracted and what's left is increasingly hard to get.
The only effective responses are to reduce our demand for oil, to find oil elsewhere, or to develop "unconventional" oil supplies.
In the 1970s we moved into Alaska, and in the 1980s we moved offshore. The total technically extractable quantity of oil in Alaska's ANWR region is roughly 7.7 billion barrels. That's enough to provide slightly more than one year of US oil consumption. All other untouched oil fields are smaller.
There are several "unconventional" oil sources that the US has access to. One is oil shale in the western US; the other is Albertan oil sands, which our Canadian neighbors have to share with us thanks to the wonders of NAFTA. Oil shale is basically too expensive to produce currently, meaning that Canadian oil sands will be (are being) exploited first. But the costs (monetary and environmental) and the difficulty of production means that oil sand is a long-term proposition, not something that is going to provide a significant part of US oil supply in the next five years.
An interesting situation here. During the gas crises of the 1970s, the US and Canada both invested in developing these alternative sources of fuel. When Reagan was president, the US stopped research on oil shale, while the Canadians continued research on oil sands. These days, the Canadians are exporting fuel from oil sands to the US, while the oil shale remains undeveloped, and will remain undeveloped for a long time. Still, you are correct that neither of these will be a significant source of energy in the near future. Nor can we expect these sources to take the place of oil.
Back to Ned:
[environmentalists] have blocked the construction of new refineries
A red herring. Given that oil supply is going to be dropping over the next couple of decades, building more refineries doesn't make economic sense, and few companies are seriously interested in it.
have required hundreds of regional fuel blends
Another misleading statement. Some of the demand for "boutique" fuels is in response to legitimate concerns about air quality and human health. Ignoring those concerns artificially pushes the actual costs of gasoline off of the transportation industry and onto the health-care industry. From a purely economic perspective, that's inefficient and undesirable.
Secondly, pressure for boutique fuels doesn't come just from environmentalists. Agribusiness is one of the biggest drivers of mandates for specific fuel blends (read: ethanol). For example, see this press release from Ned's own Republican senator, Norm Coleman
COLEMAN VOWS TO PROTECT MINNESOTA ETHANOL AND BIODISEL FUEL BLENDS
April 28th, 2006 - St. Paul, MN - Concerned that steps to eliminate certain boutique fuel blends in an effort to rein in gas prices may unintentionally threaten MinnesotaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢?Â¬Ã¢?Â¢s nation-leading 10 and soon-to-be 20 percent ethanol requirement for gasoline and its 2 percent biodiesel requirement for diesel fuel, Senator Norm Coleman today announced he will work to ensure renewable fuel blend requirements are not classified as boutique fuels as the U.S. Senate considers legislation to restrict the number of boutique fuel blends. [...]
That's not some lefty environmental group; that's Minnesota's junior senator pandering to his state's agribusiness industry.
Ethanol, if produced intellegently
can be a significant source of fuel, as it is in Brazil. It is questionable whether the corn-based ethanol used in the US is worthwhile.
Thirdly, the impact of fuel-blend requirements is lessened by the fact that the Federal government has the power to waive those requirements when they appear to be causing supply problems. The Bush administration waived these requirements thirty times in 2005.
and have blocked the construction of new nuclear power plants.
Yet another only marginally relevant issue. How many cars run on nuclear power?
Nuclear power would replace other forms of electrical generation, primarily natural gas and coal. Less than 5% of the US electrical supply is produced from oil. We could build a hundred new nuclear plants in the US tomorrow and have zero impact on the price of gas.
No, having more nuclear power plants, as well as wind, solar and geothermal power, would make a huge difference. We are starting to see electric cars come onto the market. Also, if we ever use hydorgen fuel cells, we need a lot of electricity to produce the fuel. Fuel cells are a means of energy storage, not an energy source. Furthermore, if we move to electric powered forms of public transportation, we will need the additional electricity. Otherwise, how will Mayor Dave's trolleys run.
If the gov't was really concerned about the cost of gas in the sort term they would reduce the federal fuel tax. Good luck on that one.
That would be just about the dumbest thing we could do. It would lead to a big increase in oil company profits; a big increase in the federal and state budget deficits; a small temporary decrease in the price of gas; and a corresponding increase in the demand for gas.
We need to be reducing US demand for oil, not increasing it. All Ned's suggestion would do would be to hasten the day when prices rise even higher.
A year or so ago I pointed out that the number of miles driven on Wisconsin's roads each year is enough to drive from the Earth to Pluto and back 9-10 times. Most of those miles are driven in vehicles that get no better mileage than was available 20 years ago. Our children will curse our names for wasting this oil.
Nothing to argue with there. One thing few people ever bring up is the rate of immigration into the US. That is, there are estimates that the US takes in more immigrants (legal and otherwise) than the rest of the world combined. A bill recently passed by the Senate could increase the population of the US by around 100 million (estimates vary). Since Americans use about 5x the energy as the rest of the world, is it wise to greatly increase the population of the US as we are running out of oil? This was an issue that greatly concerned the late Gaylord Nelson, among other people.
In addition, when the population increases, that can cause increases in the per capita
fuel consumption. More population leads to more sprawl, which leads to greater fuel consumption.
edited to correct formatting