The economy is on the rebound. Oil prices are down, down, down. So, what’s with that Putin face, Punky?
It’s bad. It’s bad. So say analysts who point to all that oil-patch activity now screeching to a halt. It’s a calamity. Oh, the humanity.
Bad? Tell that to the average motorist. Gasoline prices halved from six years ago save the average household $750 a year. If Saudi Arabia wants to keep up current production, prices will fall further, and won’t we all be sad?
All right. Whatever gasoline’s price, it has always been too cheap — with environmental costs, government subsidies, and our troops’ dying in oil-producing lands. Yes, that cost.
Cheaper gasoline means less conservation. That’s the most pertinent of the mixed blessings from dropping prices.
However, let us consider whom the plummet in oil prices hurts the most. No, not Jed Clampett with a pumper in his backyard. No, not the fracking operation plumbing the Barnett Shale.
Those harmed the most by today’s oil prices are the Tar Sands Mafiosi: the Trans Canada Corp. and Koch Industries.
Trans Canada pawed its way to black gold way up north in the sumptuous boreal forest of Alberta, B.C. Since then, it has sought to build a pipeline to the Texas coast so that it can ship the result to places unknown.
To make its case that this corporate whim is a national imperative, over the last 15 years Trans Canada has spent roughly $7 million lobbying Congress
Let's acknowledge that's a pittance to Koch Industries. Reuters reports that Charles and David Koch, who have pledged almost $1 billion to swing the 2016 elections, have a hand in nearly a quarter of the tar sands oil being imported into this country.
So, did we say that low gasoline prices are bad? Well, yes. Ask the Koch brothers. Tar sands are costly crude.
Not only that, but they are dirty crude. The dirtiest we know – not that said matter concerns Trans Canada and Koch Industries.
Processing the gunky, glumpy bitumen in question is very energy-intensive, so intensive that it uses almost as much energy as it produces. In fact, by 2020 the processing of the tar sands oil is projected to emit as much carbon pollution as all the cars and trucks in Canada. Adding insult to the planet is that the tar sands are strip-mined.
But the cost factor is what we can all hope to harness in stopping or slowing this eco-catastrophe. Remember the expected synfuels explosion of the 1970s? Big Oil pulled the plug on the processing of oil shale into petroleum because of the relative cost.
If the low cost of oil right now is causing fracking operations to fold, one can imagine the damage this imposes on costly tar-sands operations.
Oil is dirty by nature. Fracking for oil is dirtier – with its excessive use of water, its emissions of methane, hydrocarbons and dust. But harvesting tar sands is the dirtiest.
The actual and environmental costs of these forms of oil development should serve as motivation to continue to do what President Obama has done more than any other American leader – push for clean alternatives.
This might shave profits for the tar-sands dons, but judging by their expense accounts for influencing poor environmental policy, they don’t seem to be hurting.
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.