Romney’s energy plan is nothing but a string of wishful thoughts

TW: climate change denialism, colonialism

Pretty much everyone has already commented on what could be charitably called Romney’s inconsistencies, as there’s even a blog series within MaddowBlog devoted to discussing that specific issue. Much of the conversation so far in the presidential election has focused on social policy, like his reversals on same-sex marriage and women’s reproductive freedom, or on his continuing history of misleadingly vague statements with regard to his tax returns and other economic issues. With these other issues having dominated the major media discussion so far this election, it’s understandable that (one article aside) the utterly incomprehensible mess that is Romney’s energy proposal has largely been unexplored.

It’s fitting that at last night’s Republican National Convention a speaker mentioned Romney’s belief in an “unlimited future,” as his view of the future seems not only unlimited but divorced from any sort of reality. His planned policies are an insistence that the basic underpinnings of the United States’ energy policy are not subject to natural laws – we can refuse to address fuel efficiency, ignore the need for increased mindfulness on energy use, and pretend that there is no approaching limit to either domestic or global fossil fuel reserves. This is even more than a total omission of the risks of climate change and the developing problems with our energy supply – this is a fairytale fantasy devoid of any internal logic.

The rabbit hole has three main arguments:  that we should more heavily subsidize fossil fuel development of onshore resources, lift any and all restrictions on fossil fuel development of offshore resources, and a lot of muddled nonsense that veers between endorsing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) but only for fossil fuels and calling for the United States to in all but name colonize Canada and Mexico. Supposedly, following those three provisions will create a fossil fuel reserve for the United States that is entirely produced here or in our two ostensibly sovereign neighbors that will provide for the country indefinitely.

Let’s be generous and take the report’s own figures for onshore oil and natural gas resources it wants to tap (and I hope you remember Romney’s history with figures), which it quotes as an additional 19 billion barrels of oil and 94.5 trillion cubic feet to our reserves. While that might sound like a lot, it’s actually not. That oil (which the proposal notes is 62% of our onshore reserves) would only fuel the United States at current usage rates for slightly more than three years, assuming we cut off all other sources. That natural gas (which the report cites as 41% of our onshore reserves) would meet domestic demand for a little over four years. This is seriously presented as a plan that would shift the United States to domestic or near-domestic energy production by 2020 – by which time, if this plan were implemented immediately, domestic onshore oil reserves would have been exhausted going but current consumption rates, and our domestic onshore natural gas would be nearing the same fate.

But never fear, there’s always offshore drilling! The reports touts that as a second component to energy independence in between chiding Obama for not “[o]pening greater access and streamlining permitting” to those wells. I can’t for the life of me imagine why he and other Americans would be so reticent.

Deepwater Horizon
(Originally from here.)

Certainly there are risks, but as the proposal cheerily notes, there’s potentially as much as 2.3 million additional barrels to be produced per day by tapping every possible offshore oil well in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic Coast. Why, that best case scenario is just over 12 percent of daily domestic demand! Given the United States’ Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) estimates, there’s enough offshore oil to keep producing at that rate for just shy of three years – what a great long-term plan for energy independence!

Alongside rather optimistic claims about what still cripplingly low production rates domestic production can expect, the energy plan points to a Glenn Kessler article, claiming that massive oil reserve discoveries will magically freeze the ratio of reserves to production (P/R ratio), keeping the United States indefinitely with ten or so years of oil. Even accepting the unrealistic assumption that all estimates are unduly conservative, the often unexamined truth is that our P/R ratio has remained steady since domestic production peaked in the seventies because the oil companies with the help of federal subsidies have poured resources into new extraction methods. That’s why we lead the rest of the world in both hydraulic and non-hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and other unusual ways of pulling every drop of black gold out of the ground – because nearly all domestic production needs to use those expensive methods. If we limit ourselves to using fossil fuels and again limit ourselves to domestic production and once more to never actually addressing consumption rates and patterns, our future is limited to environmentally-risky, low-profit, heavily resource-demanding oil production, whether on or offshore.  The only way we can make these huge predictions in terms of our reserves is if we include exceptionally difficult to reach oil pockets.

Romney’s plan seems to realize that, because it proposes subsidizing exploration, records-keeping, and other traditionally unsubsidized costs to oil and natural gas producers, in an attempt to make tapping those wells worth companies’ time. Even imagining the funds for that will appear by fiat, this ludicrously optimistic look still seems unable to quite claim that there remains enough of the reserves in the United States to meet domestic demand – so it also presents the idea of a North American Energy Partnership with Canada and Mexico. This alliance would apparently encourage technology sharing so that our neighbors could extract more of their oil, which will naturally be exported to the United States, as we’re the largest and wealthiest of the three countries’ markets.

This of course ignores that in certain contexts cooperative efforts like technology sharing almost identical to that endorsed by this plan is already happening, and that the reason it’s not in other contexts is because it would either reduce exports into the United States (like the Keystone Pipeline) or is a project unlikely to yield much or any of a return (like much of Mexico’s offshore reserves). It’s unclear how much of what Mitt’s proposing to change would be even more coercive efforts to streamline Canadian and Mexican oil production to the United States’ market versus deals that can be presented as doing that while in fact only bolstering oil industry profits. Whether Romney’s more interested in nationalism or corporatism, I’m fairly certain the ways his proposal would change the relationship between the United States and Mexico and Canada would be favorable to the average citizens in none of those countries.

Ultimately, the entire report reads like a mythical depiction of the United States. Here, it insists, there is so very much oil and natural gas. There’s actually more than we can even anticipate that we have. In fact, there’s so much that we need to assist companies in keeping track of it all! Naturally, there’s so much we don’t even need to consider ways we can make energy use more efficient. Likewise, the environmental impacts of either extraction or consumption are irrelevancies we can easily omit. Even if all of these issues ever so unexpectedly don’t pan out, we can always “assist” importation from Canada and Mexico, never mind if the specifics might not have those results.

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3 thoughts on “Romney’s energy plan is nothing but a string of wishful thoughts

  1. […] The most substantial investigation of the $10 million bailout that I could locate was penned by the previously mentioned Glenn Kessler. In the style of Tom Raum and Calvin Woodward, he complained about the Obama […]

  2. […] every major pitfall to the Republican policies on climate change during the 2012 election from the bafflingly unrealistic expectations to open disregard for indigenous communities and other specific populations particularly at risk of […]

  3. […] I’ve written about energy proposals somewhat from that angle myself, where policies fairly neatly cleave into two adversarial camps. […]

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