Thursday, February 23, 2012
If high energy prices were to damage President Barack Obama's re-election prospects, it would be ironic.
In 2008, Steven Chu, Obama's (and, sadly, our own) future secretary of energy (sic) lamented, "Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe." The president, when asked whether he thought $4-a-gallon gas prices were good for the American economy, said, "I think that I would have preferred a gradual adjustment."
How gradual? Like, what, four years? Or is it eight?
Well, get used to it. You can't take three steps without stepping over some potential 10-billion barrel reserve of dead organisms.
According to the Institute for Energy Research, there is enough natural gas in the U.S. to meet electricity demand for 575 years at current fuel demand, enough to fuel homes heated by natural gas for 857 years and more gas in the U.S. than there is in Russia, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and some place called Turkmenistan combined. Oil? The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that the United States could soon overtake Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world's top oil producer. There are tens of billions of easily accessible barrels of offshore oil here at home—and much more oil around the world.
Yes, gas prices have spiked an average of 14 cents a gallon in the past month and about 30 cents a gallon since last November, according to AAA. Oil prices jumped to a nine-month high—more than $105 a barrel—after the Iranians shut down their own energy exports to Britain and France so they could start a much-needed nuclear program, which is, no doubt, for wholly peaceful purposes.
Given the fungibility of commodities and the track record of civilization in the Middle East, we'll likely always have to deal with occasionally painful fluctuations in the price of energy, regardless of what we do at home—drilling and new pipelines included. Still, fluctuations have a lot better track record than price controls.
Subsidizing quixotic green companies or creating carbon credits won't stop the rules of basic economics. If the gas crunch starts hitting the economy, it's doubtless that we will get an earful of populist hand-wringing and that we'll hear the administration once again blame wealthy speculators and nasty oil companies.
Yet in the end, high gas prices are part of the plan. This is what the administration wants.