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Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Gulfs in our Energy Security"

Jeff Frankel argues that energy security does not mean minimizing imports of oil and maximizing domestic production of energy. Instead, it means insuring ourselves against future variations in supply that might damage the economy or interfere with our national defense needs. When approached in this manner, it's important to have large domestic deposits available under some scenarios that lead to long-term reductions in the available supply of oil. Since the economic and strategic damage could be large if one of these scenarios were to occur, it's also important to give them substantial weight when thinking about insuring ourselves against the risk of long-term reductions in our access to outside sources of energy. What this means is that current thinking on energy security -- termed "Drain America First" below -- is not the optimal energy security policy. It extracts rather than preserves the domestic oil reserves that would be needed if one of the scenarios actually occurred:

Gulfs in our Energy Security, and the Louisiana Oil Blowout, by Jeff Frankel: In the wake of the April oil well blowout off the coast of Louisiana, policy-makers are rethinking the issue of off-shore drilling. Clearly the last decade’s neglect of safety rules by federal regulators needs to come to an end. But what larger implications should we draw for domestic oil drilling? ...
Ever since September 11, 2001, “energy security” has received increased emphasis. ... Usually it is taken as self-evident that the energy security goal argues in the direction of increased exploitation of domestic oil resources: “Drill, Baby, Drill.” But some of us have long thought that a more appropriate slogan for the policy of using domestic reserves as aggressively as possibly would be “Drain America First.” A true understanding of energy security could tip the balance the other way instead, in the direction of conserving American energy resources. Oil wells such as the Deepwater Horizon site, once it is capped, should be saved, their future use to be made conditional on a true national emergency, such as a long-term cut-off of Persian Gulf oil...
Public debate is hampered by the lack of a working definition of energy security. A goal of ending US imports of oil would not be attainable, in the foreseeable future, given the gulf between domestic deposits and our consumption. ... A goal of ending imports from specific geographic regions such as the Mideast would not be relevant, because oil is mostly fungible. ...
What, then, should be the goal of energy security policy? Imagine that at some point in the coming half-century, there is a sudden cut-off in oil exports from the Persian Gulf...
The goal of policy now should be to take steps that would reduce the impact of such a shock in the future, creating non-military response options. The solution is to leave some domestic oil underground, or underwater, for use in such emergencies, and only in such emergencies. Reserves in the Gulf of Mexico are precisely the ones we should save. Think of it like the SPR, but without going to the trouble of bringing the oil above ground only to put it back underground.
The argument doesn’t work as well in the case of oil reserves in the North Slope of Alaska. Experts say it would take more than a decade to start pumping... The continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico may be the best location for designating certain deposits as reserves...
Even in the case of known oil deposits off Louisiana and Texas, there would be a certain lag between the date of a geopolitical crisis and the date when the oil would start flowing. But this is no reason to dismiss the idea. Oil shocks such as 1979 and 1990 led to immediate sharp increases in the world price of oil — and caused or at least contributed to US recessions – not because the supply of oil physically fell, but rather because everyone was afraid that it might; as a result, rational speculation increased holdings of oil in inventories, bid up the price, and had the same macroeconomic impact as if the supply cut-off had already gone into effect. The point is that, if there were to be a sudden new mideastern oil shock, the knowledge that some replacement supplies would come on-stream domestically within a few years and so the economy would not be left high and dry would help moderate the panic, and so even in the short term would allow lower inventories and lower prices than otherwise.

I am not claiming that my proposal, to conserve offshore Gulf oil deposits for an emergency, would solve all our energy problems. ... But, on the margin, a barrel of Gulf of Mexico oil would be far more valuable under crisis conditions than it is today.

    Posted by on Sunday, May 23, 2010 at 05:49 PM in Economics, Oil | Permalink  Comments (14)


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