WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama says there is no easy answer to the problem of rising energy prices, dismissing Republican plans to address the problem as little more than gimmicks.Speaking of bumper stickers, remember “Yes We Can”, Mr. President? No one understands the concept better than the oil and gas industry. The main thing holding domestic energy companies back from making a stronger commitment to future domestic supplies is uncertainty. Capital hates uncertainty, avoids it like the plague. Your rhetoric may appease your doctrinaire base, but it makes domestic energy producers hold back, fearful that you will punish their success, or that you will change the rules on them in the middle of the game.
“We know there’s no silver bullet that will bring down gas prices or reduce our dependence on foreign oil overnight,” Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address. …
Obama said Republicans have one answer to the oil pinch: Drill.
“You know that’s not a plan, especially since we’re already drilling,” Obama said, echoing his remarks earlier in the week. “It’s a bumper sticker.”
Erasing uncertainty is the #1 thing you can do as a national leader if you truly desire to lower gasoline prices. Not only could it change the psychology of energy investing, there is still time for companies to change their 2012 investment plans.
Below the fold is my humble 10-point plan: Things President Obama could (but won’t) do to reduce domestic gasoline prices by November 2012.
1. Commit to a strategic goal of North American energy security. That includes reasonable and responsible domestic drilling. That includes taking the lead on the Keystone XL Pipeline; we could find a way to make it happen while addressing the legitimate environmental concerns of Nebraskans. It includes a commitment to maintaining the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System and opening ANWR.
2. Ditch the anti-industry, anti-capitalist rhetoric. It is not the President’s or the government’s place to decide when an industry’s profitability is “high enough”. High oil company profits fund more drilling; more drilling means more future supply and lower prices. Besides, American oil companies are not owned by a cabal of wealthy executives, but by America’s pension funds, mutual funds and private investment accounts. “They” are “us”.
3. Stop targeting the oil industry for punitive tax treatment. States such as Texas and Louisiana have production tax abatement programs that have successfully encouraged new drilling. If you don’t believe that the threat of increased taxes discourages drilling, just ask Governor Perry or Governor Jindal.
4. Realize that Uncle Sam is in the energy business and is a partner in industry’s success. Oil and gas royalties are the federal government’s #2 source of revenue, after the income tax. Offshore slowdowns hurt not only industry and jobs, but government revenue.
5. Recognize that industry does not need to be led by government; industry needs to be unleashed and encouraged to innovate. The resurgence of the domestic energy sector was rooted in the private sector, not matter how much President Obama and Dr. Chu would like to take credit for it. The growth in North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas happened in spite of the federal government, not because of it.
6. Trust that no oil operator wants to be the “next BP”. The BP spill cost that company something on the order of $40 billion. Industry safety and environmental commitment is motivated more out of self-interest and less out of fear of the government. When it comes to federal regulation, the nation would be better served by Sheriff Taylor, not Barney Fife.
7. Return offshore permitting to the pre-Macondo pace. Your overreaction to the BP Spill has cost on the order of 500,000 barrels per day of domestic oil production from the Gulf of Mexico. The ridiculous “Worst Case Discharge” calculation as a routine part of offshore permitting is engineering malpractice, in my humble opinion. The professional staff of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement is capable of reasoned regulation, but they currently operate in fear of their political masters.
8. Declare hydraulic fracturing & well design to be the regulatory domain of the states, not the EPA. Geology and environment vary widely; Pennsylvania is not Louisiana is not North Dakota is not California. It is insanity to think that one broadly-applied set of rules can be applied to regulate industry without suffocating development.
9. Rescind the recently-enacted royalty rate increase for new onshore Federal oil and gas leases. Secretary Salazar’s stated rationale for increasing the government’s take by a whopping 50% – from 12.5% to 18.75% of gross production – was to equate onshore royalties with the offshore royalty rate. That makes no sense. Higher royalties mean less drilling, poorer economics of production and premature abandonment of wells. Besides, an IHS-CERA Study recently showed that the federal government’s total take of offshore cash flows makes the Gulf of Mexico the second-most punitive fiscal regime in the world, after Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. [Update: In keeping with the First Rule of Holes, rolling back the royalty rate increase may be the first thing the government should do if it is serious about reducing energy prices. - Ed.]
10. Encourage development of a nationwide distribution system of natural gas as a transportation fuel. Natural gas is clean, abundant and nearly 100% domestic. Its potential as a transportation fuel has scarcely been tapped.
Bonus #11: Get real about the promise of alternative fuels. Recently you said: “You’ve got a bunch of algae out there; If we can figure out how to make energy out of that, we’ll be doing alright.” Maybe so, but I will stick my neck out and say it ain’t gonna happen, at least not in my lifetime, not on a scale that will impact pump prices.
Energy policy will be a President Obama’s key vulnerability in November. His goal has always been to encourage alternative fuels by raising conventional energy prices. Alternative energy may poll well, but the average voter who fills his tank with $4+ gas on the way to the ballot box will certainly “Hope for Change”.
Cross-posted at stevemaley.com.