From somewhere — inside the White House or the Department of Energy — Barack Obama is getting some pretty awful advice.
It's bad enough that he's been persuaded that there's a Nirvana Land of windmills and sunbeams in the future of electricity. But much more gravely in halting drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, he's committing a fearsome folly. If exploration and drilling in the Gulf doesn't resume, Mr. Obama, or his successor, will find the price of gasoline high (probably more than $5 a gallon) and military action against Iran will be proscribed.
It goes like this: After 18 months the supply of replacement oil from the Gulf dries up, due to the normal decline in production from old wells. Very soon, this loss exceeds 1 million barrels a day and begins to increase world oil prices. World oil production today is 86.5 million barrels a day; of this, the United States gulps down an amazing 20 million barrels a day. This delicate balance, helped by the global recession, keeps the price bouncing between $70 and $80 a barrel.
Worst case is not only do we lose production in the Gulf, but any global upset — such as military action in Iran — will stress this oil production-demand balance further. Result: price rises. Political solution: none.
The folly of the Obama action is that every new hole drilled in deep water is going to be safer-than-safe. There's a well-known pattern: Disasters produce an aftermath of safety. The nuclear industry thought it was safe before the Three Mile Island meltdown, but it went back to the drawing board and produced new institutions for safety monitoring and study, as well as revised the very idea of defence in-depth. The Obama caution is the danger, not the possibility of another spill.
The second energy disaster in the making is with electricity. The Obama administration has signed on to a vague idea, pushed by environmentalists and post—industrial schemers: It goes by the appropriately loose title of “alternative energy.” In real-world terms, alternative energy can be narrowed to some solar and wind. In fact, the only mature technology is wind. It works fine when the wind is blowing. The heat wave in the Eastern states in the past week makes the point: The wind doesn't blow when it's most needed.
There's nothing wrong with wind, except that its most passionate advocates often favour it not for its own sake but for what it is not: nuclear power. Paranoia over nuclear power — always the first choice of the world's utilities, if all things are equal — is a part of the cultural-political landscape in America. Faced with this, the Obama administration has saddled up two horses and invited the nuclear industry to ride both as they diverge. It has thrown away the $11 billion spent on the first national nuclear-waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, even as it has offered loan guarantees for new reactors.
Coming down the pike is a surge, a really huge surge, in electricity demand as plug-in hybrid cars and pure electric cars are deployed. The plan — if you can call it that — is that the load of new uses will be spread by “smart meters” on the “smart grid,” and this will direct or coerce consumers to charge their cars in the middle of the night.
Fat chance. If consumers were that financially or morally conscious, they'd long since have cut their electric loads and driven smaller cars.
Want to be politically unpopular? Start telling people when they can refuel their cars. That's known around the tea-party circuit and elsewhere as government intervention.
Do you take yours with sugar? — New York Times News Service
( Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of ``White House Chronicle'' on PBS. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
In halting drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, he's committing a fearsome folly.