What’s the Future of Beleaguered Fossil Fuels?

This article first appeared in The Orange County Register.

Perhaps no economic issue — even trade — is as divisive as the energy industry. Once a standard driver of economic progress, the conventional energy industry has become increasingly vilified by the national media, sued by blue state attorneys general and denounced throughout academia. Some suggest that the industry should be demonized and hounded much as occurred in the case of tobacco.

Yet, is this attack entirely justified? Unlike tobacco, energy is a huge economic driver, and conventional fossil fuel industries employ roughly 2 million people nationally, while hosts of industries — notably agriculture, manufacturing and warehousing — depend on reasonable energy prices and consistent delivery. Overall, fossil fuels last year accounted for 81 percent of all U.S. energy consumption.

The one great exception is California, long a major oil-producing state, where fossil fuels are about as popular as herpes. In order to enhance its obsession with promoting climate “leadership” — likely to reduce emissions globally by a mere 0.4 percent by 2030 — the state has declared war on this industry, even though most Californians still depend on the gooey stuff, particularly for transportation. Once, we produced a lot of fossil fuel, but now we import a majority of it from abroad, taking an economic asset and turning it into a permanent deficit.

Doom or future boom?

In the past, advocates for “green energy” tied their agenda to concerns over “peak oil,” suggesting that renewables will save us from dependence on an increasingly scarce resource. More recently, given the huge increase in U.S. energy production, the argument has shifted to the notion that there’s too much oil, and that prices will not support the industry.

Others suggest that the industry be undermined for environmental reasons. Yet, the reality is that most advanced countries — and developing countries even more so — depend heavily on coal, oil and gas. Some of these countries, like China, talk a good game, but continue to construct ever more coal plants, seek to buy more oil, including from the United States, and nurture an expanding automobile sector.

Seeing the demand, frackers and offshore drillers have reason to stay in the game. Indeed, according to some projections, an improving global economy and a decline in production from the energy bust will drive prices up, perhaps to well over $100 a barrel, within the next three years.

Prospects for energy-related development have been improved by the ascendency of the Trump administration, which has a strong fossil fuel constituency. Energy Secretary and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry wants to make the U.S. “dominant” in the global energy market. Increasing U.S. energy production also plays an important geopolitical role in challenging the power of global menaces such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela.

Sensible transition needed

As is so often the case, at the extremes — say, total climate skeptics and global warming hysterics — there can be no possible middle ground. Yet, there is room for reasoned positions that accept at least some of the reality of climate change, but wish to do so in a way that does not decrease incomes and living standards for the middle class, particularly for families… Read the rest of the article at The Orange County Register.