This continues from my previous post. To summarize, President Obama has done a great many things wrong; raising gas prices is not one of those things. Gas prices are determined on a worldwide market by supply and demand. President Obama cannot make global demand go down, nor can he make global supply go up. Therefore nothing President Obama could do would change the price at the pump, at least not by very much.
“But wait!” I hear the Republicans say. “President Obama can increase the global supply! All he has to do is cut all those government regulations and soon we’ll be able to drill all the oil we want.” Sounds superficially convincing. There are regulations on oil drilling, regulation does often prevent commodity production and send prices upwards. So the Republicans have been proved right after all.
Or have they? To answer that, we’ll need some numbers. (All easily verifiable from the latest CIA World Fact Book or countless other sources.)
Worldwide, humanity produces and uses about 88 millions barrels of oil per day. Of that number, the United States uses about 15 million barrels per day. Slightly less than half that much is pumped in the US itself, while the rest we import. That works out to importing about 3 billion barrels per year. for the past 30 years, our oil consumption has risen steadily while our production has fallen steadily, regardless of who’s been in the White House. Thus we’ve ended up importing more and more.
Could we actually produce enough to meet our own needs? The Republicans are sure that we could. They often toss around a figure of 1.4 trillion barrels reading to be pumped in the United States. On the other hand, the CIA World Fact Book gives a somewhat smaller figure: 20 billion barrels of proven reserves. If the first figure is correct, we could easily produce enough for ourselves for centuries to come and have plenty left over. If the second figure is correct, then it’s a fairly trivial amount. It would satisfy our own needs for only three or four years, after which we’d run out and be right back to importing at high costs from wonderful countries like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
So it all comes down to which figure is correct. And here’s the rub: the two figures are measuring completely different things. The CIA’s figure measures the amount of actual petroleum that we’re sure is in the ground and accesible. The figure that Republicans toss around on their message boards–who knows where they got it–supposedly summarizes all existing oil in the United States. That includes not only liquid petroleum but also tar sands and shale oil.
But alas, just because oil exists doesn’t mean that we can turn it into gas at the pump. First of all, some of it exists in hard-to-get places, buried under miles of rock or miles of water or both. Drilling into those places is sometimes impossible, always expensive, and always risky. Things like this can happen:
(It wasn’t called “Deepwater Horizons” for nothing.)
As for the tar sands and shale oil, it’s quite expensive to get oil out of those sources too, and once it’s out it’s costly to refine the stuff, much more costly than refining liquid petroleum. As a result it’s often not cost-effective to get it at all. Moreover, as gas prices go up, the cost of building and running the huge mining projects that make the stuff also go up, and in fact several large oil-production projects have been cancelled because the oil necessary to build them is too expensive.
Lastly, there is this little issue called “the environment”. To get gas out of shale, we must use a process called “hydraulic fracturing”, or “fracking” for short. And what are the environmental effects of fracking?
With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens such as benzene and radioactive elements such as radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground. Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself.
While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.
The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.