Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Charles Featherstone Challenges Peak Oilers

Charles Featherstone issues a challenge to peak oil advocates, and that is something along the following lines. Noting that oil futures actually diminish in price in the distant (read: six years away or so) future, Rockwell suggests that the markets actually know something that the rest of us don't, and that is that the present situation is based on structural bottlenecks such as refinery downtime, inadequate pumping and shipping facilities, and so forth. Thence, the challenge:
It's a simple challenge – if you think you know exactly when peak oil production will hit, down to either the year or even the month, then pool your money and invest in crude oil futures and options on the NYMEX or the International Petroleum Exchange (IPE) in London. Go long; that is, buy contracts or the ability to buy contracts to sell oil. In a world market that ought to be clamoring for crude as the gap between demand and supply widens, and when only Daniel Yergin is going short (if he's putting his money where his mouth is), you should be sitting pretty.

You'll make a killing. You'll have more money than you know what to do with. And you'll have taught us all a thing or two.

Now, I don't happen to buy his line of thinking, for the simple reason that he doesn't really bother to check what's happened to oil futures over the last six months; used to be, you could get oil for 2011 delivery in the mid-40's. Now, you can't get it anywhere near that price. But, he makes a good point further on down the road:
I know, a lot of you don't believe in free markets and profits. ... No, the truth is that too many of you peak oilers believe far too much in the efficacy and power of government. At some point you are all, even those of you who are demanding immediate action, going to have to give up on government. The various bureaucratic centralisms that govern the world right now – especially the Brussels and Washington varieties – don't have anyone's or anything's long-term interests at heart, regardless of what they say. Except maybe their own. If the disaster is as imminent as many of you fear, it is far too late for government to act anyway. There's no way to change that. Electorates in the industrialized world aren't going to vote for the technocratic governments of wise engineers and environmentalists that so many of you seem to believe is necessary to properly address the problem. I cannot imagine such a group leading a coup to seize power either.
Exactly the problem. I've wailed long and hard about the necessity of not having an energy policy; the problem with desiring one is the best-funded interests will always buy the most politicians. You can, as the Engineer-Poet has, complain that your favorite project gets cancelled because of the wishes of General Motors, or that this or that other project -- say, solar cells -- doesn't get enough subsidy or whatever. But the bottom line is that this is what you will always get when you get the government involved. It is simply unavoidable. The reaction, the proper thing to do, should be getting the government out of the energy business.

And business is what energy needs to be first and foremost. Minus the fiscal accountability needed in a business, money gets allocated by political fiat, not by whether something is likely to work. To that end, I close with a quote from Rockwell:

Have a little faith and work for the future you want, rather than grumbling about how everyone else – like me – who doesn't see things your way is an "idiot" and that we are all "doomed."
Couldn't have said it better myself.

Update: I incorrectly attributed this initially to Lew Rockwell. My apologies for the confusion.