Drilling for an Oil Crisis
Comment of the Day

March 02 2011

Commentary by David Fuller

Drilling for an Oil Crisis

This topical article by Michael Lynch for The New York Times drills some holes in the 'Peak Oil' theory and has some sobering comments on subsidised energy technologies. Here is part of the conclusion:
There are several other reasons to remain calm about Saudi reserves. Officials there have discovered approximately 70 major oil fields that they have left untapped over concerns that increased Saudi production would cause global oil prices to collapse.

And while Aramco is hardly likely to find anything on the scale of the Ghawar oil field, the world's largest, they haven't been looking very hard. The Saudis drilled about 500 wells last year; some 11,000 are drilled every year in the United States alone.

So why is this a big deal? Because advocates of peak-oil theory love to latch on to such press reports to push their political and environmental agenda. A similar event occurred in the 1970s, when Americans who had worked in the Saudi fields contributed to a Congressional report that claimed Aramco's production practices were damaging the reservoirs.

The problem turned out to be vastly overblown, but not before it had become part of the era's conventional wisdom about general resource scarcity. Little wonder that by 1977 we had President Jimmy Carter claiming that, in terms of oil, "just to stay even we need ... a new Saudi Arabia every three years." Mr. Carter's solution to the imaginary crisis was Synthetic Fuels Corporation, an alternative-energy boondoggle that cost taxpayers millions and never produced a gallon of gas.

Now, history may be repeating itself. Much to the satisfaction of the peak-oil crowd, the Obama administration is throwing federal subsidies - some $8 billion in its 2012 budget - at all sorts of unproven, unrealistic and inefficient energy technologies like wind farms and electric cars.

None of this is to say that importing Saudi oil - or any oil - is desirable in and of itself. Oil remains a political commodity, and price fluctuations can create economic havoc, so the more good choices we have for meeting our energy needs, the better. But we should not let a false panic over disappearing oil reserves lead to rushed government investments in "technologies of the future" that, all too often, end up only wasting taxpayer money.

Michael C. Lynch, the former director for Asian energy and security at the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is an energy consultant

David Fuller's view Technology continues to improve the oil industry's ability to both locate and extract crude from fields that were previously regarded as either depleted or unrecoverable. For this reason Fullermoney has long viewed 'Peak Oil' in terms of the average cost of production. At some point in the future it may no longer pay to extract crude oil but that is a distant prospect.

Today's problem for investors is that political uprisings in the Middle East, with which many of us have a considerable degree of sympathy, have led to a speculative increase in the price of petroleum contracts (Brent crude, NYME crude, heating oil and gasoline). This jeopardises global economic growth which is still in a fragile stage of recovery for many western countries.

Recent events are also another wakeup call for governments in oil-importing countries. For most, energy independence is a distant goal. They may respond with more PC gestures at taxpayer's expense, such as those mentioned in the article above, while procrastinating on the more viable alternatives.

I think that Europe in particular needs to accelerate its development of shale gas. This has been a 'game changer' for the USA and should be for many other countries and regions as well. It might also bring down the cost of imported natural gas from Russia.

The best long-term solution, I maintain is to emulate the French and develop nuclear energy. This is not really happening in the West, at least not yet, and mainly for the wrong reasons as I have mentioned before.

The most important of these is that nuclear power stations are expensive to build and the lead time can be 10 years. This does not appeal to our elected governments, which would see the development expenses on their watch, but not the long-term energy security and efficiency benefits.

Despite political inertia, I think the superior potential of nuclear power - relative to unproven or inefficient renewable technologies, plus its green credentials in comparison to polluting fossil fuels - will ensure that it is the best long-term energy investment. I prefer to participate via uranium miners rather than the competing builders of nuclear power stations. Having seen the initial surge in uranium miners, I would only buy on setbacks and active investors may wish to lighten on strong rallies. (For many reports and additional comments on this sector, please use the 'Search' facility in the menu shown upper left, for the word - uranium - and also - nuclear.)

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