“The Truth about Oil,” Time Magazine‘s cover story concerning our country’s dependency on oil (Time Magazine, April 9, 2012), got me excited. It led me to believe that the inside article was going to be a cross between a breathy Harlequin novel, an intense 60 Minutes expose and an interesting dialogue concerning policy alternatives, normally, found on Public Television’s News Hour. Perhaps unfortunately, the article, while refreshing in its take concerning the minimum impact of increased domestic oil production on the price of gas, had no sex, no serious plot lines involving bad or good guys and most important, only a weak discussion of alternatives to dependency.
The author, Bryan Walsh, deserves credit for pulling together a lot of data and stories concerning the production of oil and its negative economic and environmental effect.
But the piece drops the ball concerning ways to remedy the historic, sometimes dysfunctional, love affair between the U.S. and oil. This is surprising, given the author’s view that the marriage between oil and the nation is now a disaster in the making. As he states, quoting approvingly from Michael Klare’s The Race for What is Left, future oil supplies will be “expensive, dirty and dangerous” because of the need to rely on shale, sands and deepwater drilling. There will be no easily accessible oil-based lunch counters.
Despite his criticism of the results of the search for oil, Mr. Walsh seems to indicate that because of world wide demand and continued tension in the Middle East, the intense relationship between oil and the U.S. will be permanent. “The prices of all commodities fluctuate but oil’s irreplaceability–its the fuel that makes us go…ensures that those (historical) oil spikes hurt.” In another place in the article, he states that “there is no substitute for oil which is one reason it is prone to big booms and deep busts, taking the global economy with it…oil remains by far the predominant fuel for transportation.”
Would you choose to stay in a love (maybe love-hate) affair like the one described by the author and projected in Time Magazine’s article…a marriage bad for you and I, bad for the economy, bad for the environment, and bad for the climate…if you had a choice or choices? Surprisingly, in this context, the author’s recommendations to respond to the big problems, he defined–increasing fuel efficiency vehicles, diversifying the energy supply including not just oil and gas, but wind power and solar power, nuclear power and bio fuels–are very tepid.
I am convinced Mr. Walsh would have realized how weak his recommendations were had Time Magazine provided him with a more distant deadline. But Time has to march on.
Increasing wind, solar, and nuclear power will have little impact on transportation. While valid, perhaps, as part of an overall energy policy, they will have very little to no impact on oil’s monopoly of the dominant source of energy for our cars and trucks. Presentation of these initiatives in the article fills up some space but diverts reader’s attention from the need to find alternatives to oil.
Second, Over the Barrel finds it curious that the author neither mentioned increased production of methanol from natural gas as a substitute for oil nor the development of open fuel standards and flex fuel automobiles. Their combined use would lessen dependence on oil and lower the price of gasoline at the pump. The fact is that methanol is much cheaper to produce from natural gas than gas is to produce from oil. Methanol also burns cleaner than gas. Over the Barrel believes that increased sensitivity to resolution of environmental issues related to production will accompany the growing need for increased use of natural gas and its conversion to methanol. The alternative, as pictured in the Time article, is permanent dependency on tight hard to get at oil and predictable excessive environmental damage as well as continued higher prices for gas.+