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September 30, 2010
Energy Tribune

About four years ago, we launched Energy Tribune. The goal was to be a news aggregator as well as a publisher of original reporting on the global energy sector. Given that this is my last day as the managing editor of ET, here are a few thoughts about what has happened over the past quadrennium:

  • Talking about carbon dioxide levels is a whole lot easier than actually reducing them. Throughout my tenure at Energy Tribune, the factions who fear a global climate change disaster have become more shrill in their predictions of gloom and doom. And yet despite their warnings, and despite the high profile meetings in places like Copenhagen – and the upcoming climate confab in Cancun – there is still no international agreement on limiting carbon dioxide emissions. And there won’t be. Why? The answer was clear long before the meeting in Copenhagen and it’s still clear today: politicians in the developing countries of the world will not, can not, agree to a global carbon tax or a hard cap on their emissions because they know that there is no near-term, inexpensive alternative to hydrocarbons that can provide the scale of energy that their people need to escape dire energy poverty. (For the record, I’m agnostic about carbon dioxide. My approach: if you believe it is bad, then what’s your solution? My solution, which I detail in my latest book, Power Hungry: N2N, natural gas to nuclear.)
  • Despite all the bluster and blather, there’s still no viable alternative to oil. Despite the Macondo well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, despite years of rhetoric from right-wing ideologues who take every opportunity to demonize the oil-producing countries of the Persian Gulf and the left-wing ideologues who take every opportunity to demonize the oil and gas industry, despite the catastrophic, multi-billion-dollar invasion of oil-rich Iraq – a war that will be remembered in future decades as a colossal strategic blunder by the US – oil retains its strategic importance as an irreplaceable substance.

    If oil didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it. Nothing else comes close in terms of energy density, cost, scale, flexibility, ease of handling, and convenience. Why was BP out there in 5,000 feet of water drilling the Macondo well? Because that’s where the big oil reserves are. And companies like BP, and Petrobras, and Exxon Mobil, and all the others will continue drilling in the offshore because petroleum, despite its myriad shortcomings, is a miraculous substance.

  • Finally, thankfully, it appears the political tide is starting to turn against the corn ethanol scammers. For evidence of this, look at followthescience.org, an ad hoc group that is one of the oddest coalitions in modern US politics. Where else can you find an interest group in which the Natural Resources Defense Council is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the American Petroleum Institute and the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association? But the environmental lunacy of the corn ethanol is so obvious that those groups have decided to unite in their effort to defeat the ethanol scammers’ efforts to get additional subsidies for their fuel. Specifically, they are fighting the ethanol industry’s appeal to EPA that could allow an increase in the volume of ethanol that is blended into the domestic gasoline supply from 10 percent to 15 percent.
  • The increasing pushback against wind energy will continue. Over the past four years, US wind generation capacity has more than tripled, going from about 10,000 megawatts to over 35,000 MW. But with that expansion has come increasing controversy such as what’s seen in Laura Israel’s new documentary, Windfall. Add in the fact that increased use of wind energy will likely have a minimal impact on overall carbon dioxide emissions, as well as the huge subsidies that the industry receives, and it’s certain that the controversies over wind energy will only grow more heated in the years ahead.
  • The shale gas revolution caught nearly everyone by surprise. But then, maybe that’s not surprising. Analysts have been underestimating the ability of the oil and gas industry to innovate and find new resources for decades. Just for review, in 2005, Lee Raymond, the famously combative CEO of Exxon Mobil, declared that “gas production has peaked in North America.” Raymond, who retired from the oil giant in 2006, said that his company was intent on building a new pipeline that would bring Arctic gas from Canada and Alaska south and that more natural gas supplies would be needed “unless there’s some huge find that nobody has any idea where it would be.” Well, it turns out there was a huge gas find in shale. And now, massive gas resources in the Marcellus, Haynesville, and Barnett shales are coming to market. Indeed, so much gas is available that some of the smartest guys in the gas industry are telling me that $4 may be the long-term ceiling on US natural gas prices.
  • George Mitchell, the father of the shale gas revolution, deserves more recognition for what he accomplished. Mitchell, the former CEO of Mitchell Energy, didn’t do it alone, of course. But his persistence in trying to find the technologies that could unlock methane from shale was instrumental. If Al Gore can win the Nobel Prize for promoting fears about the danger of carbon dioxide, surely Mitchell could win a similar accolade for proving up technologies that could provide clean, abundant, inexpensive energy to millions of people around the world.
  • A heartfelt thanks to Michael and Alex Economides. Back in 2005, Michael Economides called me and said that he wanted to start an energy-focused publication and he wanted me to run it. After a false start with an outside partner, we launched Energy Tribune in 2006. The publication has had plenty of challenges. But Michael and Alex allowed me a lot of freedom. And the publication came along at a critical time in my career. It offered me the stability I needed to produce two books: Gusher of Lies and Power Hungry. And those books have dramatically changed my profile and have allowed me to have a modicum of success in the publishing world.

Where do I go from here? I’m moving on to pursue other opportunities. I will continue my work as a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Energy Policy and the Environment. I joined the think tank on April 1, just a few weeks before Power Hungry was published. And I like it. I am bored by partisanship. The Left-Right, Democrat-Republican, Liberal-Conservative divide in America largely results in a win-at-all-costs attitude where facts – and in particular, mathematical and scientific realities – are the first casualties. I am a political independent, a member of the Disgusted Party. And as part of that, I only want to work with the smart people. And there are lots of smart people at Manhattan Institute. In addition, the job gives me a platform where I can focus on the themes that I explored in both Gusher of Lies and Power Hungry: that the myths about “green” energy are largely just that, myths; that hydrocarbons are here to stay; and that if we are going to pursue the best “no regrets” policy with regard to energy, then we should be avidly promoting natural gas and nuclear energy.

In the future, I’ll likely be writing for my own website, robertbryce.com, as well as for other venues that have been publishing my work over the past few years. I may also be contributing an occasional piece to Energy Tribune. See you around.

Original file here: http://www.energytribune.com/articles.cfm/5438/Farewell-My-Final-Column-...

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