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Sunday, March 12, 2006

50 years

It took monkeygrinder and khebab to remind me that 50 years have elapsed since Hubbert's prediction of peak oil for the lower-48 United States. If you read khebab's tribute in depth, they provide some new insight into the world's current status by looking at only the top four oil exporters and graphing their production data. The data from the top-4 Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, and Norway looks a bit lumpy, but with the latest data from Norway added in (we lost ~1/2 million barrels per day), we may have hit a downturn.

The post also discusses the possibility that these exporting countries will trend to keeping more of their oil supplies for domestic uses, and thus making less available for the rest of us. Since the population of Norway remains under 5 million, as of now I really don't think this amounts to that big an issue. However, I wouldn't hesitate to imagine that they would favor their closest (in terms of politics) neighboring countries for selective export. As for the others, I would certainly rank Russia as the big bear for increasing domestic uses amongst the top 4; the same goes for their natural gas supply.

Khebab also raises the possibility of increases in energy taxes, with Norway figuring prominently in the argument.
A high gasoline tax does not necessarily equate to a lower standard of living. Norway, with the highest gasoline tax in the world, has the highest standard of living in the world, perhaps partly because their car ownership per 1,000 people is about half of what it is in the US.
We all should find it disquieting that a nation in the top 4 of exporters would also have what amounts to such a stingy attitude toward use of their own private cache of natural resources. I would suggest that the Norwegians have long seen the hand-writing on the wall and have prepared for the long haul.

It will take a lot of hand-wringing for Americans to get past their hesitation over the prospects of yet another tax. The simple fact that improvements in energy conservation have the unintended, yet quite obvious, effect of reducing revenues will provoke more questions.
To support its December rate-increase request, the Connecticut utility Yankee Gas Services said it needs more money because too many of its customers have lowered their bills by heeding calls to conserve energy. ... And a November report commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (ed: gack!) included the proposal that Congress replenish the federal Highway Trust Fund by imposing a special tax on gas-saving hybrid cars (in that those cars consume less fuel than regular cars and therefore pay less in gasoline tax).
Somehow the market will need to find a way to close this feedback loop. I would imagine that some optimal minimum tax/maximum revenue value exists in the equation.

In practice, everyone pushes for revenues. Recently, I went on a business trip and I innocently asked the hotel clerk about walking back to the airport. Knowing full well that I could easily make the trip by foot, I thought he may have some additional advice to give. Surprisingly, he said that "nobody ever does that", "it might rain in the morning", "it's a long ways, maybe a mile and a half", and "a cab is only about $10". As I walked away, shaking my head, I said something to the effect that "you Californians don't like to walk anywhere", but in the back of my mind, I realized his rationalized, yet unspoken, philosophy ran counter to my own designs. He probably only wanted to funnel revenues to his colleagues, in effect scratching their back while they scratched his, while I basically wanted to conserve energy. Suffice to say, the nice relaxing stroll took me perhaps a half-hour, and a local cab driver lost a sliver of business. I say, get used to it.


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