Sunday, January 23, 2011

Jurassic Pork

One of the most common myths perpetuated by dinosaurs in both industry and politics today is that renewable energy, as compared with fossil fuels, is nothing but a subsidized bubble industry that cannot compete on its own. Such a belief could not be further from the truth, and it flies in the face of facts on the ground (and up in the air) about what renewables can and cannot do, and the sorts of energy we do and do not need today.

So without any further ado, let’s get right to the facts, which I’ll give to you straight, since I am not beholden to any political interest, and nobody is paying my way to write this article (sidebar: any potential sponsors interested? Don’t worry, I’ll still call you out when you fail too, but I’m more than happy to take some of your money in the meantime).

“Just let the free market sort things out” is the sort of line you hear a lot from supporters of Big Oil these days, as if that didn’t include pricing currently unpaid externalities like that whole carbon thing. Well, it is worth noting that the largest producer of oil in the world, Saudi Aramco, is a nationalized firm that produces more oil than any other country or company in the world:

Exxon, eat your heart out! And as easy as it might be to criticize Saudi Arabia for being backwards when it comes to the country’s teatment of women or its attitude toward the Jewish people, to its credit, it has actually been a responsible steward of the Jurassic-era oil resources found in larger and more extensive deposits there than anyplace else in the world – a far better steward, in fact, than the original owners of Aramco, private American businesses like Exxon and Standard Oil of California who caused permanent damage to oil reservoirs by overproducing them in the 1970′s, during the waning years before they knew control over the company would be transferred to the Saudi government.

As a result of their shenanigans, oil fields like Ghawar, which has historically produced well over half of all Saudi oil, will never be able to produce as much as they could have if those developing the fields had been responsible and closed the valves on producing wells when necessary in order to prevent the water infiltration and formation of gas caps that make this oil so much more expensive to produce today.

Where do you think the name Aramco came from? I’ll tell you: it is shorthand for the Arabian American Oil Company. So whenever we start to come to terms with the most serious consequences of the decline in Saudi oil production, you’ll know where to point the finger: at those short-term-profit-motivated businessmen who forced it upon us.

Speaking of dirt, I’ve got some on the coal companies too. It’s not just subsidies (a few billion dollars a year) for research on pie-in-the-sky “clean coal” notions that sap taxpayer dollars for this energy source that is older than the hills. You know those lovely coal trains you see criss-crossing every corner of this great nation? Well, those run on railroads, as it turns out, and railroads are not free.

Someone has to pay for them, and that usually means you and me, the taxpayers. Schemes to hide the costs of transporting coal through subsidies are, like coal itself, nothing new: they are almost as ancient as the industry itself. But our legacy of enslavement to this dirty energy source did not end with the Civil War. It continues today, as railroad owners like the Tarbutton family of Georgia lobby in favor of constructing new coal generating capacity (and against the use of renewable energy sources like biomass) in order to ensure continued government funding for railroads to transport the product to facilities like Plant Washington in Sandersburg, GA.