Remember peak oil? That was the glorious theory, which at some point will occur and no one will know, or maybe it won’t matter, that the stewards of the planet have maxed out oil production, and we would be headed for terminal depletion – and we adopt Mad Max-like diplomacy to survive. By the way, the Mad Max dog is an Australian Cattle Dog, or Blue Heeler, and his name is Dogmeat and he has his own Facebook page. We had a Red Heeler when I was a kid, and her nickname was Tough Dog for a reason. Not mean. Tough. So I’ve always had a soft spot for Dogmeat.
Last week the International Energy Agency, a French-based organization, declared the US would blow past the Saudis in oil production, a mere eight years from now in 2020. Eat your heart out, Vlady. That may actually be the case, but in this article from the Houston Chronicle, IEA goes on to make other absurd predictions. They project that with Obama’s push for vastly higher corporate average fuel economy standards to reach 55 mpg by 2025, we will be “all but self sufficient by 2035”. Stop the press.
Projecting energy and other commodity markets employ plenty of eggheads but this is for sure: they have a dismal record for accuracy. Years ago when I was clearing out some archive junk back at our old office, I came across a DOE projection of energy costs from 1980. The projected cost of natural gas then was $3 per therm, not dekatherm, by 2000. I think in 2000, natural gas was actually selling for 10% of that projected price, i.e., 30 cents per therm. Right now it is selling at the hub for 37 cents per therm. These long term projections are worthless as are promises to reach some goal by 2050.
Pumped up domestic production (pun alert) will put some downward pressure on prices, all else equal. And like the President says, “As I’ve said before”, the general populous doesn’t care about saving energy or being green unless it improves their own bottom line or somebody else is picking up the tab. When the benefits of saving energy and being green outweigh (another pun alert), the desired 4 ton hulk SUV, folks may instead buy a reasonable minivan or even a, gulp, station wagon.
Achieving a 55 mpg average in the projected market of energy independence is most likely not going to happen. The only thing holding me to “most likely” is the diesel engine, which to my knowledge, and I stand at least a 50/50 chance of being wrong on this, is unavailable in any domestically produced automobiles. It is entirely conceivable to design a diesel hybrid that is tire-squealing fast.
Stored electricity can pour enormous power to rubber on the road. A 1972 Datsun with a converted power train to a few dozen twelve-volt batteries, and a couple forklift motor drives, will blow away a modern Corvette, for example. People do this as hobbies, but I surely wouldn’t, Shirley. A fast diesel hybrid would be really cool, but boring, as I like manual transmissions, but it should satisfy many in the mass market. Note, however, that huge hulks like the Chevy Suburban would still have awful mileage – moving a four ton monster requires gobs of energy, period.
Despite every president from Richard Milhous Nixon (does anyone know anyone named Milhous?) promising to do something about dependence on foreign oil, it appears likely that we are going to get there, or at least virtually get there via greedy money grubbers developing new technology to extract energy stores here in the states. Ironically, the feds, who remember are supposed to want us to get off foreign oil, have yet to devise a way to greatly curtail this new gusher of energy supply, because it comes from beneath privately held land. If North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and other states with massive stores of oil and natural gas were a giant national park purchased by the federal government, like Alaska, we wouldn’t be in this position. I wouldn’t be writing about the Mad States of Saudi America.
Think of the fallout if this happens, and we no longer need 20% of our oil from the Middle East. The US has patrolled the region and kept the relative peace, sort of, since WWII, at an estimated cost of $70 billion per year, per The Wall Street Journal. This is the first estimate I’ve seen for this, and it is interesting because I have always heard from the peak oilers that oil from the Middle East is heavily subsidized. According to my calculations from information gleaned from the referenced WSJ article, the value of oil the US purchases from the Middle East is $131 billion per year. By golly, I would certainly agree with the peak oilers on this one. Why not get out of there and let the Chinese and Russians keep the rockets and bombs to a dull roar for themselves. Maybe even the Europeans would be forced to do something for themselves for once.
The potential implications here are extraordinary, but it remains to be seen how Washington will dork it up.