Saturday, April 19, 2008

OPEC and oil prices

So, you saw in the "From the Column -- More About Gas Prices" post below that the cost of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline is up 51 cents over this time last year, and a gallon of diesel is up $1.18 over the same period.

That is unbelievable.

Here's something else it is: Inexcusable. It's inexcusable for the world -- especially the United States -- to be held over a barrel (sorry) by OPEC. They are doing this to us because they can, and because we put up with it. The question shouldn't be, "How do we get OPEC to increase production?" The question should be, "How long are we going to put up with this?"

The failure of leadership that has put us in this position is the fault of politicians of both parties, along with the president and the Congress (which, I might add, has been led by both parties during Bush's administration). Yes, Bush and the Republicans are responsible for instituting and defending multi-billion tax breaks for Big Oil. But so are Pelosi, Reid & Co. responsible for blocking efforts to cope with the crude crisis -- efforts that would include drilling, at least temporarily, in the much-ballyhooed Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and tapping this country's strategic oil reserves. If Bush and the Republicans are the lap dogs of Big Oil, so are Democrats held hostage by unreasonable environmental advocacy groups.

So what are we going to do about it? It's time to tap the reserves, drill in ANWAR, drill in the Gulf of Mexico, do whatever we can to tell OPEC that we'll be happy to buy as much oil from them as we can get for the equivalent of, say, $40 a barrel (maybe $45 if we're feeling generous), a respectable increase from the $31 a barrel oil cost when Bush took office in 2001. We'll make up the difference with domestic supply. In the meantime, let's put every available scientist (and reassign a bunch more) on developing an alternative to oil-based gasoline. Auburn University is a leader in this area with its research into switchgrass. It's not hard to imagine the gains we could make if we emphasized this area of research as a national priority.

My guess is that it wouldn't take long for OPEC to re-evaluate supply and demand -- as in, a lot more supply and a lot less demand -- and next month's Monthly Oil Report would read a lot differently.

Incidentally, it was all but forgotten in the excitement about the Pope's visit to the United States this week, but British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was also in Washington on Wednesday to meet with President Bush. According to the Montreal Gazette, Brown planned "to discuss collective action to bring down oil prices."

What does that mean? Brown said this in a press availability at the White House on Thursday:

We agreed to work, and President Bush has just referred to this, for an early world trade deal that will give new confidence to the international economy at this time. An enhanced dialogue between oil consumers and oil producers, with rising output from the oil-producing countries, should help stabilize and then cut the price of oil, now at over $110 a barrel.
Um, yeah, except OPEC doesn't intend to increase production, what with those obscene profits being what they are and all.

So, we're on our own.