Monday, April 13, 2009

Everybody Loves Oil

As part of my ongoing quest for knowledge during the downturn, I started another course at Stanford called "What's the Real Deal with Oil, Gas and Coal," taught by Prof. Margot Gerritsen. A mathematician by training, her academic career has evolved towards studying ways to make energy extraction and production more efficient and environmentally friendly. An opinionated realist, she agrees in the need for alternative energy, but believes in a more immediate need to improve our management of fossil fuels.

I respect Gerritsen's perspective, especially when looking at the chart that she provided above. Yes, we must reduce our dependency on oil imports. Yes, we need to make up for eight years of lost time. Yes, I believe that American ingenuity can turn alternative energy into a viable option. But let's put the cart in front of the horse.

I've been noodling on this chart for the past couple of weeks because it's revealing. We hear policy wonks in the Obama Administration talking about a 10-year window to reduce the U.S.'s dependence on oil imports from the Middle East and Venezuela. Here's how the Obama Administration plans to reach that goal.

Very noble. But I wonder if, according to Gerritsen's chart, the American thirst for oil could nullify any policy towards greater fuel efficiency. I can understand the economic incentives, but I'll bet the policies required to make this work will move at a snail's pace through the political landmines in Congress.

The solution for now is simply to use less. Complain all you want about politicians and red tape. If you want to stop our reliance on foreign oil, you can either reduce your own oil consumption and/or consider new ways to extract oil in the U.S., which includes opening up ANWR, re-opening off-shore drilling, or selling swaths of the Rocky Mountain range to shale extractors.

Easy solutions, tough choices.

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