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A free floating commentary on culture, politics, economics, and religion based on a passionate commitment to the truth and a desire graciously to refute that which is contrary to it….
"He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
--Titus 1:9, Revised Standard Version
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If the speculators are not to blame, what about the oil companies, which have failed to increase output in spite of record profits? Profiteering, say some. However, that accusation doesn't stand up to much scrutiny either. The oil price is set in a market. For Shell, Exxon et al to hoard oil underground would be to leave billions of dollars of investment languishing unused. Others fear that oil is pricey because it is running out. But there is little evidence to support the doctrine of “peak oil” in its extreme form. The Middle East still seems to contain a sea of the stuff. Even if new finds elsewhere have been rarer and less accessible than in the past, vast quantities of oil could now be profitably stripped from tar sands and shale.
The truth is more prosaic. Finding and developing new oil fields is an expensive and time-consuming business. The giant new fields in the deep water off Brazil are unlikely to produce oil for a decade or more. Furthermore, oil is perverse. When prices are low, oil-rich countries welcome the low-cost, high-tech and well-capitalised oil firms. When prices are high, countries like Russia and Venezuela kick them out again. Likewise the engineers, survey ships and seismic rigs that oil firms need to find and produce new deposits are expensive right now. The costs of finding oil have, temporarily, doubled precisely because everybody wants to give them work.
So the oil shock will take time to abate. Some greens may welcome that, seeing three-figure oil as a way of limiting greenhouse emissions. Conservation will indeed increase. But everything high prices achieve could be done better by sensible carbon taxes. As well as curbing oil use, high prices have put tar sands in business which create far more carbon dioxide than conventional oil. Profits are going to ugly oil-fed regimes, not Western exchequers. And the wild unpredictability of prices will blunt the effect of dear oil on people's behaviour.
From this perspective, governments should speed up the adjustment—or at least stop delaying it.
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