Gingrich fuels the fantasy of U.S. energy independence


Gingrich: visions of energy surpluses, like sugar plums, dance in his head (AP)

Last week, the Republican presidential candidates held yet another debate, this one focused on foreign policy. Unfortunately, Newt Gingrich took the opportunity to further confuse voters about the state of U.S. oil supplies and to trot out once again the ridiculous notion of U.S. independence from oil imports. Now, I don’t expect much truth from politicians on the campaign trail, but Gingrich’s latest misleading statements only serve to foster the public’s lack of understanding about energy issues.

Here’s what Gingrich said:

You said earlier that it would take too long to open up American oil. We defeated Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan in three years and eight months because we thought we were serious.

If we were serious, we would open up enough oil fields in the next year that the price of oil worldwide would collapse. Now, that’s what we would do if we were a serious country. If we were serious…

CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer came back to the point, asking Gingrich to elaborate on the impact of sanctioning the Iranian Central Bank, which would effectively cut off 4 million barrels a day of crude, much of which flows to Europe. Gingrich’s response:

Well, I say you — the question you just asked is perfect, because the fact is we ought to have a massive all-sources energy program in the United States designed to, once again, create a surplus of energy here, so we could say to the Europeans pretty cheerfully, that all the various sources of oil we have in the United States, we could literally replace the Iranian oil.

Now that’s how we won World War II.

The comment drew wide applause, and why not? After all, we’d like to believe our energy problems are relatively easy to solve — something that can be addressed with our can-do spirit, and perhaps less government regulation. The problem, as Art Berman points out on The Oil Drum, is that the U.S. would have to produce far more oil than it ever has to bring about the price collapse Gingrich suggests. In fact, we’d have to find more than six domestic fields equal to Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay in one year, Berman estimates. Prudhoe Bay took 11 years to enter production.

Explaining U.S. energy consumption is a little like explaining the national debt: the numbers are so large, people have difficulty comprehending the scale of the problem. We are producing more oil domestically thanks to hydraulic fracturing of shale formations, but it isn’t nearly enough to make us energy independent. Nor will opening new areas for offshore drilling. Those may help to offset imports, but they will never replace them.

I recently did a series of radio interviews around the country, which were prompted by crude oil topping $100 a barrel. The assumption was that gasoline prices would rise, and many of the hosts I spoke with were confused that pump prices were actually falling. The fact is, most consumers won’t get too worried about our lack of an energy strategy until prices begin rising again, which will probably begin early next year. When they do, statements like Gingrich’s will actually work against a solution. It feeds the notion that there’s a secret conspiracy to keep oil prices high.

The reality is that our energy needs are going to require conservation, development of both conventional and alternative sources, and a higher price for whatever sources we develop. In other words, sacrifice and commitment. That, of course, isn’t a message that’s likely to get anyone elected.

Loren Steffy

8 Responses

  1. Smoove says:

    Wow…this guy Steffy is dumb…

  2. t c phillips says:

    As soon as our vehicles run on domestic natgas that’s how soon our leverage worldwide grows w/o invading anybody. There’s a reason why it’s $4 here, $8 in Europe and $13 in Japan…it’s because we are a super rich nation who’s a little slow on the uptake but the penny is sure dropping…daily. God Bless USA

  3. Another guy says:

    Whatever you think the EUR numbers are for US petroleum, it is beyond question that we cannot just “open up” oil fields in the next year and replace oil imports. Does Gingrich even pretend to have numbers backing him up on this? For example, which fields, exactly, does he propose to drill to replace 4MM bbl/day of production? How many drilling rigs would it require? How much pipeline laid? His website indicates that his #2 energy proposal is to remove restrictions on oil shale development in the western US. Really? Oil shale? That’s no easier that finding and drilling 6 more Prudhoe Bays.

    This is just fantasyland. I’d be interested to hear if Newt has an answer that actually involves consultations with geologists, engineers, and others who actually understand the issues.

  4. Dave in Houston says:

    Was Steffy given his job on because the Chron figured it was somewhere to put him where he couldn’t do any harm because no one would read his articles? Maybe he just hates the subject and would rather write about fashion or ballet, something, anything but oil.

  5. Tommy says:

    Politicians, journalists, and financial analysts alike should just keep their mouths shut when it comes to predicting oil production and energy needs. Each have their own interests involved when predicting these numbers and never give the whole story.

  6. ntangle says:

    Optimism is a great thing, but in moderation. It doesn’t trump physics or economics.

    Economics is the fly in the ointment for substantially more oil production in the US as well as for broader adoption of EV’s. When the companies with the deep pockets (IOC’s) and the know-how can get their feedstock cheaper elsewhere, with favorable tax treatment to boot, they’re stupid to spend most of their E&P budget domestically. Meanwhile, our trade balance suffers from its perennial hemorrhage of dollars.

    EV’s and CNG are still too pricy for most folks’ cars, but if the economics changes a bit more, watch out. Such as a battery price/technology breakthrough, cheaper fuel cells (more efficient than ICE’s) using CNG, or a further escalation of the price of oil.

  7. Peeper says:

    Steffy needs to move over to the sports department.

  8. Dollar says:

    ” Nor will opening new areas for offshore drilling. Those may help to offset imports, but they will never replace them. ”

    How do you know this ?

    No one knows, till they drill and find out. Its my understanding the seismic work done offshore is 30 years old.

    A few years ago, I listened to peak oiler pessimists like Berman, tell us the Bakken field was nothing. That the wells would play out fast and it was not enough oil to matter. They used the old ” divide estimated reserves by daily US oil usage ” to compute that the oil would run out in months.

    And all that peak oil crap has turned out to be just that, crap.

    The Bakken is producing 400,000 bpd and its growing. And they’ve yet to drill out ND, this field estends on up well into Canada.

    And that is just one field.

    Hey, lets drill and find out, before we let the pessimists sell us down the river with some dream of an electric car society.

    Pessimists never accomplished anything, they were defeated before they ever got started.

    Berman can take a hike.