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Robert Rapier on Obama’s Energy Policy: Listening When We Disagree

Robert Rapier, The Oil Drum
Barack Obama has said that energy is going to be one of his top priorities. I believe he is completely sincere about this and that energy will get a lot of attention early on in his administration. I believe he is committed to moving the U.S. toward energy independence and a greener energy future. However, one can recognize energy as an important priority, yet sharply differ on the policy direction that is needed. For instance, some may have energy as a high priority because they feel that gasoline is too expensive. Their priority may be to keep gasoline prices low so people’s budgets aren’t adversely impacted by their fuel bills. Some can see energy as a top priority, and yet promote solutions like suing OPEC for more oil.

On the other hand, someone else may see energy as a top priority, but think low gasoline prices are not the solution, but instead a big part of the problem. This is the nature of my disagreement with some aspects of Obama’s energy plans: We broadly agree on the big picture, but differ on how to get there. And since I recently heard him say “I may not agree, but I will listen”, here is my attempt to highlight what I feel are the flaws in his energy proposals.

Up front, let me state my assumptions. These will of course influence my opinion on his proposals. I believe that the present rate of fossil fuel usage in the U.S. is unsustainable. I believe that world oil production is very near a production peak, and an energy policy that is keenly aware of the potential for energy shortfalls – which will lead to severe oil price volatility – is paramount. I believe that even if oil production does not peak in the next five years, oil production will not be able to be expanded quickly enough to stay ahead of demand. Finally, I believe our current generation of liquid biofuels is too fossil-fuel dependent to enable them to make up for significant energy shortages, and that there are no obvious silver bullet technological fixes around the corner.

… While I think many of Obama’s proposals are spot on, and with a little tweaking he could have a great energy plan, I think he overestimates how easily alternatives can displace fossil fuels. Thus, he largely ignores the need to slow the decline of U.S. oil production.

… Conclusions

While I think Senator Obama has great potential in front of him, and like a lot of his ideas, I can’t fully embrace his energy policy proposals. I think there are many positive elements, but in my opinion there are glaring blind spots that could lead to energy shortages. I recognize that he is going to have factions trying to pull him in many directions, and this often leads to compromise in favor of the politically expedient over the technically best solutions. As he prepares to govern, he has to be very careful that some of the politically expedient solutions don’t carve out a huge energy shortfall.
(11 November 2008)

Why It’s Time for a ‘Green New Deal’

Christopher Dickey and Tracy McNicoll, Newsweek
Essay: As the world faces economic turmoil, cleaner energy can create jobs and reignite global growth.

In rented offices on a quiet side street in Paris, not far from the Eiffel Tower, analysts for the International Energy Agency spend long days and nights crunching numbers about oil production and greenhouse-gas emissions. They’re the staid, sober global accountants who watch over the power supply for the 30 rich countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and their many reports are dry and technical. But lately, the group’s pronouncements have taken on more ominous overtones. With a sense of urgency bordering on desperation, the IEA has begun calling for radical changes in the way the world drives its cars, its factories and, indeed, the global economy. This month the agency will issue a collection of comprehensive reports declaring that “a global revolution is needed in ways that energy is supplied and used.”

That kind of rhetoric has become familiar to U.S. voters, who’ve spent months listening to both presidential candidates tout their energy plans. Barack Obama has promised to “strategically invest” $150 billion over 10 years to build a clean-energy economy, one that will create 5 million new green jobs. While John McCain has offered slightly fewer specifics, he’s promoted an “all of the above” strategy that focuses more on nuclear energy and drilling for more oil. “The U.S. must become a leader in a new international green economy,” McCain has said.

Starting this week, one of those candidates will have a chance to make good on those promises. On the surface, that opportunity could hardly come at a worse time.
(1 November 2008)

The National Academies Summit on America’s Energy Future
(online book)
The National Academies

Dear Energy Bulletin,

My name is Zenneia McLendon and I work for The National Academies. We have been following your site and share in your readers concerns about America’s energy needs.

On March 13, 2008, the National Academies brought together many of the most knowledgeable and influential people working on energy issues today to discuss how we can meet the need for energy without irreparably damaging Earth’s environment or compromising U.S. economic and national security. We have recently released The National Academies Summit on America’s Energy Future: Summary of a Meeting which chronicles that 2-day summit and serves as a current and far-reaching foundation for examining energy policy.

This summit is part of the ongoing project “America’s Energy Future: Technology Opportunities, Risks, and Tradeoffs,” which will produce a series of reports providing authoritative estimates and analysis of the current and future supply of and demand for energy; new and existing technologies to meet those demands; their associated impacts; and their projected costs. The National Academies Summit on America’s Energy Future: Summary of a Meeting is an essential base for anyone with an interest in strategic, tactical, and policy issues. This publication is now available for free PDF download or purchase at and will be of interest to those eager to convert concern into action to solve the energy problem.

We have several resources available at that may be of interest to your readers including Energy Summit Archived Audio, Presentations, Video and America’s Energy Future podcast.

Zenneia McLendon

Chapter 4 on “Petroleum and Natural Gas” takes a “weak” peak oil position, quoting from the report on oil and NG supplies by the National Petroleum Council (NPC, 2007). The chapter starts:

As the use of energy has risen, questions have multipled about whether adequate supplies will be available to meet demand. The world’s oil still comes largely from giant and supergiant oil fields that were discovered more than 50 years ago, James Schlesinger observed at the summit. Many of these fields are now going into decline, including the Burgan oil field in Kuwait, Canterell in Mexico, the North Sea, and the north slope of Alaska. The Saudis are trying to sustain production in Ghawar, the massive field that provides more than 6 percent of the world’s oil, but sooner or later that field, too, will go into decline.

“We face a painful transition,” said Schlesinger, “to a future in which we hit a limitation, a plateau, in the ability to produce crude oil.” Shlesinger pointed out that the concept of ‘peak oil’ – when production reachers a maximum and begins to delcine – is drawn from geological analogies and ignores such things as technology and the impaact of price rises. Nevertheless, supplies of petroleum will be increasingly constrained.
(11 November 2008)
The full text is onlne for this comprehensive book. -BA

Wiley Rein’s Weinberg says Obama win marks resurgence of aggressive regulation (, 11/11/2008)
(video and transcript)
Monica Trauzzi, OnPoint, E&E TV
Will President-elect Barack Obama’s win usher in a period of aggressive climate regulation? How can the Clean Air Act be used to push Congress to act on climate? During today’s OnPoint, David Weinberg, a partner and chairman of the Environment and Safety Practice at Wiley Rein, discusses the impact of Obama’s election on energy and climate policies and the interaction between federal agencies. Weinberg also explains how the face of K Street will change in response to the Democratic majority and the Obama win.
(11 November 2008)