Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Peak Oil Crisis: State of the Union

Falls Church News-Press

February 9, 2006

The "addicted to oil" section of President Bush's State of the Union address was surely added as an afterthought. As the draft was being staffed around the White House, a senior reviewer must have noted it still needed some more drama or a new initiative that would be universally popular. Another staffer, who must have been aware that rapidly rising gasoline prices were not good for the President's next popularity poll, suggested energy. So back to the speechwriters for a little more work.

First a headline-grabbing lead-in was necessary, so " America is addicted to oil" was born or perhaps borrowed. It already has become an instant classic right, up there with "War on Terror" as a slogan with staying power.

Then a new program was needed. After a couple of false starts, all must have agreed that "Advanced Energy Initiative" had a nice ring to it. Finally there was the problem of what to put in an "Advanced Energy Initiative." For an administration whose energy policy has consisted mostly of tax cuts and trying to convince the Congress to allow drilling in places where drilling wasn't allowed, this was somewhat of a problem.

Calls were made and energy specialists were surely summoned to the offices of the speechwriters. After some discussion it was determined that renewable, alternative forms of energy is what should go into the "Advanced Energy Initiative." First, however, the speechwriters needed to establish the President's bona fides as an alternative fuel kind of guy. This was done by having the President point out that since coming into office, his administration has spent $10 billion on developing alternative forms of energy. Thanks to the President's foresight, we are now on the threshold of "incredible advances." True or not, $10 billion resulting in incredible advances has a nice ring.

Then came the time to describe the actual initiative which consists of a 22 percent increase in funding for clean energy research; zero emission coal fired plants, solar, wind and nuclear energy for our homes, and biomass based ethanol for our motors, and better batteries for our electric cars.

The most attention-grabbing proposal was for the commercial production of cellulose-derived ethanol within six years. This came as such a surprise, that after the speech numerous pundits were forced to ask each other "just what is switchgrass?"

The energy section ended with a pair of applause lines. "This initiative will enable the US to reduce its oil imports from the Middle East by 75 percent in 20 years," .. "and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past."

That this part of the address was not adequately staffed around the government became obvious the next morning when the President's Energy Secretary and Economic advisor placed a conference call to reporters to tell them that the President had not really meant what he said. The US will indeed be dependent on Middle Eastern oil for a long time to come.

What does it all mean?

At the top of the importance list comes the admission that we have a problem. Granted, the President did not come out and say we are getting close to the end of cheap oil, but by using the word "addiction," he dropped a big hint we may just have a big problem. This is indeed good news, for admitting the existence of a problem is the first step to solving it.

After having made the key point, however, the logic of the presentation went down hill. There was no notion that our oil addiction is an urgent problem requiring a crash mobilization of resources. The only date mentioned was 2025 as a year in which we won't be using so much Middle Eastern oil.

Anybody who has been following the peak oil discussion knows that by 2025 there is unlikely to be much affordable oil available from the Middle East or anywhere else for that matter. Considering the present course of US-Middle East relations, it is an open question of whether they will still be willing or able to sell oil to us in 2025 even if they are still exporting.

The second glaring absence in the speech was any discussion of energy conservation. The President said flat out "the best way to break this addiction is through technology." Now anyone following this knows that technology is not going to substitute for America 's 21 million barrels a day addiction anytime soon. Only massive conservation of every form of energy can get the US , and the rest of the industrialized world, through the next 50 years

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the “Advanced Energy Initiative” itself. Wind, wave, solar, better batteries, and biomass-derived ethanol are all good ideas whose day will come— the quicker, the better. To imply, however, that by spending a couple hundred million dollars more to develop some promising technologies will solve the addiction problem is simply understating the problem by a whole lot.

The President and his administration are simply off the mark by several orders of magnitude as to the amount of money, time, and collective effort it will take to get us through the transition from the oil age to whatever follows intact.



Post a Comment

<< Home

Peak Oil Webring
Join | List | Previous | Next | Random | Previous 5 | Next 5 | Skip Previous | Skip Next