Yesterday, I turned to Alexander Cockburn’s CounterPunch Diary to see if he had anything to say about the highly critical comments people have been making about CounterPunch contributors Gilad Atzmon and Israel Shamir. Instead, I found a (mostly) good article about the Keystone XL pipeline. Cockburn rightly argues that the whole thing is a boondoggle. It will not make domestic oil cheaper, for the obvious reason that the whole purpose of the pipeline is to pump oil to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas, so the resulting products can be shipped overseas.
Unfortunately, Cockburn begins his article this way:
I’ve never had much time for “peak oil” (the notion held with religious conviction by many on the left here, that world oil production either has or is about to top out – and will soon slide, plunging the world’s energy economies into disarray and traumatic change.) In fact there’s plenty of oil, as witness the vast new North Dakota oil shale fields, with the constraints as always being the costs of recovery. Oil “shortages” are contrivances by the oil companies and allied brokers and middlemen to run up the price.
Contrary to the lurid predictions of declining US oil production, disastrous dependence on foreign oil and the need for new offshore drilling, not to mention the gloom-sodden predictions of the “peak oil” crowd, the big crisis for the US oil companies can be summed up in a single word that drives an oil executive to panic like a lightning bolt striking a herd of snoozing Longhorns: glut.
The fact that the global economic slump has resulted in an oil glut does not in any way disprove peak oil theory, which is concerned with a long-term trend. (One would think that a Marxist would be able to understand the concept of a trend.) Moreover, Cockburn gives the impression that the North Dakota oil shales are a new discovery. They aren’t. Geologists and engineers have known about them and the Canadian oil sands for decades. (The rate of new oil discoveries has been declining since the 1960’s, by the way.) For a long time, the high cost of recovering oil from these sources made it economically unfeasible to do so. In recent years, however, high oil prices have made such recovery profitable, which is why these sources are now being tapped. Also, it’s because of the high price of oil that companies like BP are willing to undertake risky off-shore drilling ventures – such as the one that led to the Gulf oil spill – especially since the price is expected to continue rising in the future.
Domestic oil production has increased during the Obama administration, yet gasoline prices have remained high in the midst of the worst recession since the 1930’s. This is because the technology required to recover the remaining oil in largely tapped out wells has become increasingly expensive. That’s why it’s delusional for Michele Bachmann to claim that she can bring back $2 a gallon gasoline by allowing more oil drilling. Barring a total collapse of the world economy, we will probably never see $2 a gallon gasoline again.
Cockburn should stay away from scientific issues. From global warming to anti-vaccine quackery, he has shown that he doesn’t understand science. He even seems to have an animus toward science. Every time, for example, that evolution comes up, he starts droning on about how William Jennings Bryan didn’t believe in evolution, which has nothing to do with anything.
And don’t get me started on Atzmon and Shamir.