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Oil companies, not environmentalists behind refinery shortages. The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) today exposed internal oil company memos that show how the industry intentionally reduced domestic refining capacity to drive up profits. Internal memos from Mobil, Chevron, and Texaco show different ways the oil giants closed down refining capacity and drove independent refiners out of business. In related news, petroleum industry analyst Tim Hamilton showed that from January 17th to April 18th 2005 gasoline prices jumped 65 cents per gallon and refiner profits rose [pdf] by 61 cents per gallon.
posted by dejah420 (80 comments total)

 
Like this is a surprise.............

When I was in college, in the early 80's, I had an Econ teacher that would tell us that the shortages of the 70's were man (and OPEC) made. He said that shortages occur gradually, and the shortages of the seventies were too dramatic not to have been manipulations.
posted by lee at 7:16 PM on September 7, 2005


Who has ever suggested that environmentalists are behind shortages? The environment, perhaps...

A recently linked National Geo article from last year stated that storm surges and the imapcts of hurricanes in the Mississippi delta were caused in part by oil industry development, cutting canals through swamps, and subsidence from draining underground reservoirs.

Let alone any posited link between an enhanced greenhouse effect, warmer surface waters and more intense storms.
posted by wilful at 7:21 PM on September 7, 2005


Who has ever suggested that environmentalists are behind shortages?

Oil companies, the Republican party, and their stooges.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:30 PM on September 7, 2005


Hey! I just read over on fark that the sky is blue! Can you believe it?
posted by schlaager at 7:35 PM on September 7, 2005


um , no duh .

when you elect oil people you get what you voted for
posted by mishaco at 7:51 PM on September 7, 2005


Who has ever suggested that environmentalists are behind shortages?

Wasn't that on Ben Stein's list?
#476 - George Bush did not force the environmentalists to cause an oil shortage. Accusing George Bush of this is rank imbecility.
posted by umberto at 7:51 PM on September 7, 2005


Yea havent you heerd that the only reason they havent built more refineries is red tape forced on them by envrionmentalists.

It sure doesst surprise me though. The rich need to make all that money now before bush's tax cuts sunset in 2009 or 2011, or whenever that happens.
posted by SirOmega at 7:53 PM on September 7, 2005


The first link should really point to the article in question.

And anyone who advocates calling on the government to freeze prices shows little knowledge of how an economy truly works.
posted by knave at 7:53 PM on September 7, 2005


"It is a sad testament to the anti-competitive nature of the gasoline market, however, that it took regulators, legislators, whistleblowers and consumer groups to force an oil company to sell a refinery for over $100 million, rather than demolish it."

Shell to keep Bakersfield refinery open long

Scarcity-rent seeking mf'ers. And to top it off, they're selling *our* oil products to us with monopoly rents.

Before I caught the Georgist religion last year I had no real philosophical framework, outside of state socialism, to measure how fucked the status quo is from the optimal.

I have little confidence in the American public waking up and seeing how well the big guys are screwing us over with insider sweetheart deals wrt domestic resource extraction (Alaska's Citizen's Dividend is a good first step though ... Alaska is supposed to be libertarian, and I think such Georgism is consonant with all forms of political philosophy other than our current form, plutocracy).
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 7:56 PM on September 7, 2005


umberto: zzzzzzing!

calling on the government to freeze prices shows little knowledge of how an economy truly works.

Tell it to your commie pal R. M. Nixon, bud!
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 7:59 PM on September 7, 2005


So does the threat of dire prosecution against "people exploiting the situation by gauging consumers" apply just to mom & pop gas stations or does it also apply to Big Oil too?
posted by PurplePorpoise at 8:01 PM on September 7, 2005


Who has ever suggested that environmentalists are behind shortages?

Google Swarm and again and just for grins, one more.

Hey! I just read over on fark that the sky is blue! Can you believe it?

I don't really see Fark very often. Have they changed format and are now doing multi-link paragraph articles now? But, ya know, if you're feeling homesick for fark; here ya go: Boobies!
posted by dejah420 at 8:01 PM on September 7, 2005


there will be a time to discuss all of this.
posted by hellbient at 8:05 PM on September 7, 2005


just to mom & pop gas stations

actually, retail gas is NOT a profit center. Way too much competition at the street level, and customers are more and more price-sensitive at these levels. There's no way you'd get me to invest in a gas station these days.

Without their sodas and crap they'd probably lose money.

The majors have been getting OUT of the retail gas biz.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:07 PM on September 7, 2005


ah, purpleporpoise, I see you were referring to post-disaster gouging.

This is clearly a more difficult issue. If retail can't charge scarcity rents, asshole speculators aka free-market capitalists will buy up stock to sell on the black market, so IMV the law and law enforcement needs to focus on all levels of the supply chain, ugh.

Heh, for gasoline, a VAT of 90% might not be a bad idea. Just tax away all price rises that exceed costs+profit margin.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:15 PM on September 7, 2005


Thanks for the edumacation, folks. That level of bullshit hasn’t travelled as far as Australia, the price gouging story is far more believable and understood here, even amongst our government – it perhaps helps that we don’t have oil industry execs running the show.

While cartel profiteering is yet more evidence that capitalism requires fetters, there is surely some upside to the recent price surges, in changing individual expectations and behaviours towards less gasoline use where possible. It would just be better if this was via a socialised mechanism (taxes in other words) that turned higher prices into investment in non-oil based transportation, rather than something that benefited a small percentage of the population at the risk of impoverishing all.

Of course, nobody’s mentioned peak oil yet!

For the record, I'm currently paying AU$1.39 a litre, which works out to ...{thinking music}... US$4.38 a gallon. Still much cheaper than Europe, but we have long distances to drive and US style urbanisation, toether with shitty public transport. Thank god I ride a bike to work.
posted by wilful at 8:53 PM on September 7, 2005


more evidence that capitalism requires fetters

IMV, not capitalism per se, but just rent-seekers. Economic rents -- monopoly, scarcity, natural, and ground rents -- are a major part of any economy (somewhere around 30% or more of the US economy), and are eminently taxable.

I'm something of a socialist, but would be willing to forego much state intervention in people's business if just ground rents were taxed away, removing the speculative value of land, kicking rentiers parasitically living off of others' wages in the 'nads, and greatly reducing the burden of income taxes.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:05 PM on September 7, 2005


And you thought peak oil was real.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:31 PM on September 7, 2005


Are you saying that the oil companies are just in it for the money!?
posted by muppetboy at 10:01 PM on September 7, 2005


muppetboy: so are thieves. there's a difference between "making a profit" and "abusing the system." there are echoes of enron here, only this one, nobody's going down for; they learned their lessons.
posted by trigonometry at 10:25 PM on September 7, 2005


I guess I'm surprised that so many folks think all of this is totally obvious. Price manipulation is something I cynically thought was happening, but didn't think this could happen (sigh) in America. How many more times will I say to myself "I've now lost all faith in Humanity", only to have to repeat that phrase to myself again a few weeks later.

Maybe loosing faith in my common man is a natural part of growing up (late twenties), but it seems like I've had so many awful realizations about this country and its people over the past 5 or so years. I felt actual patriotism right 9-11, but now a few years later I'm much more negative than I was before. Maybe the high just makes the low seem lower.

It seems so awful that people are allowed to manipulate energy prices, harm poorer people, and generally muck up so many people's lives. But then again, I guess its still pretty marvelous that I get to write all of this and not be in jail. But is that the price we have to pay for "freedom". A big part of me still feels subjugated by the man... except the man isn't someone who was elected.
posted by pkingdesign at 10:53 PM on September 7, 2005


Who the hell sells black market gasoline? And what is the price for 91 octaine?
posted by Balisong at 10:57 PM on September 7, 2005


What about all the other things environmentalists are responsible for? My, how short-sighted we are.
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 11:07 PM on September 7, 2005


**misses Two Elks lodge**
posted by Balisong at 11:17 PM on September 7, 2005


Man, I actualy saw Bill O'riley of all people bashing the oil companies, claming they colluded and price-fixed on his show the other day. Crazy shit.
posted by delmoi at 11:42 PM on September 7, 2005


Who has ever suggested that environmentalists are behind shortages? The environment, perhaps...

Just about every conservative with a microphone. It's like they just reach into their bag and pull out whatever cannard (environmentalists, liberals, feminists, etc) they feel like they can blame whatever ill on.
posted by delmoi at 11:48 PM on September 7, 2005


Who the hell sells black market gasoline?

Good question. I guess the logistics of this don't seem that remunerative when dealing with retail quantities (20gal lots); black market gas is I guess just a 3rd world thing where shortages are endemic and organized crime has time to move in.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:56 PM on September 7, 2005


Good question. I guess the logistics of this don't seem that remunerative when dealing with retail quantities (20gal lots); black market gas is I guess just a 3rd world thing where shortages are endemic and organized crime has time to move in.

This was big in Iraq, I bet, when their refinery system was dead and gas cost $3 a gallon to truck in, and sold at the pump for 5¢
posted by delmoi at 12:33 AM on September 8, 2005


Simple question for those who know so much more than I do: If oil companies can manipulate prices, why don't they do the obvious thing: jack them up high, and KEEP them up high?

Oil prices were very, very, very low for several years around the turn of this awful century; how'd that happen, if oil cos are an oligopoly and set prices where they want them?

(Relevant only as a point of interest: Gasoline was cheaper than bottled water; depending on the water, it still is.)

And why are there always cries of conspiracy, calls for investigations, etc., when prices rise, but never any interest when they fall? Does nobody care?

Pray enlighten me.
posted by clicktosubmit at 1:04 AM on September 8, 2005


Delmoi, if you have a strong enough stomach to watch O'Rielly for a while, you realize he has no coherent philosophy whatever. He's that most loathsome of creatures, the bubba populist, appealing to whatever's expedient and the lowest common (common in every sense) denominator: the inchoate conviction that "I'm getting screwed and it's someone else's fault!"

For the "someone else," plug in: oil companies, Japan (then), China (now), immigrants, big bankers, Wall Street, our perennial friend the drug menace... endless enemies. In (even) less civilized times, "the Jews" were on that bogeymen list, and in (even) less civilized places, they still are.

Not all that different from "Rush" Lunkhead, I think.
posted by clicktosubmit at 1:15 AM on September 8, 2005


Oil talk? Will it be blended with politics, denial versus paranoia, culminating in argument over the inevitable bummer that is peak oil? Instead, how about we talk about flowers. I like them yellow ones.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:28 AM on September 8, 2005


trigonometry wrote:
there's a difference between "making a profit" and "abusing the system."

That opinion is not one shared by those in power. Their opinion is that the system exists so that they can abuse it. They also believe that you and I exist so we can consume, and generate more profits for them. Aside from that, we're considered useless (unless we're in the military, where we make dandy cannon fodder). Our best interests are not among their motivators.

Most of the government stupidity and incompetence we've been seeing for the last four years are a direct result of our allowing the corporatists to take over our government. I'm no fan of politicians, but in my long working career, I cannot think of more than a handful of business executives I'd trust with a government.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:38 AM on September 8, 2005


If oil companies can manipulate prices, why don't they do the obvious thing: jack them up high, and KEEP them up high?

They do what they can...for all intents and purposes CVX is sucking up the same level of monopoly rents as Microsoft is... 35% gross margin, half the gross profit going into SG&A (ka-ching), 25% of after-tax profit going out as dividends.

IMO, the main limit on their flexing market power is market-sharing (keeping disruptive players out) and keeping us consumers pumping gasoline and not switching to EV or other alternative fuels (even at $12/1000cf (all-time high), $1 of natural gas has the energy content of ~$2 of gasoline right now). $3/gallon is also energy-equivalent to 8c/kwhr of juice (but electric cars are 3x as efficient as gasoline, and overnight rates are 4c/kwhr, so "filling up" an EV car can cost the equivalent of 50c/gallon.

Oil prices were very, very, very low for several years around the turn of this awful century; how'd that happen, if oil cos are an oligopoly and set prices where they want them?

Dunno really, but there are multiple levels of market action here: global crude outputs (OPEC lost its discipline and oil crashed to $10/bbl), refinery inputs, wholesale arrangements, and retail (independent franchisee or company-owned). Lot of mergers happened after oil dropped to $10/bbl, 1999, right?

(Relevant only as a point of interest: Gasoline was cheaper than bottled water; depending on the water, it still is.)

This is one of the stupider conservatard bon mots floating around.

And why are there always cries of conspiracy, calls for investigations, etc., when prices rise, but never any interest when they fall? Does nobody care?

The FTC and the GAO (pdf) used to care when prices rose. Now, not so much. Funny that.

Pray enlighten me.

Ever hear of Enron, or Standard Oil for that matter? It's kinda like that. Major market players with vertical and horizontal near-monopolies have market power, especially when the Feds decide market oversight isn't its thing. It took state-level political intervention for Shell to sell its Bakersfield refinery to Flying-J rather than just close it, the current Feds would have let it go.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:58 AM on September 8, 2005


I cannot think of more than a handful of business executives I'd trust with a government

yes, this is another reason why I am not a pure libertarian. The libertopia would essentially be government by corporation(s). Sign me up for that! not
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:02 AM on September 8, 2005


This was big in Iraq, I bet

Riverbend:

"The Americans have gasoline. The militias get gasoline. It's the people who don't have it. We can sometimes get black-market gasoline but the liter costs around 1250 Iraqi Dinars which is almost $1- compare this to the old price of around 5 cents.
...
"I took my turn at 'gasoline duty' a couple of weeks ago. E. and my cousin were going to go wait for gasoline so I decided I'd join them and keep them company. We left the house at around 5 a.m. and it was dark and extremely cold. I thought for sure we'd be the first at the station but I discovered the line was about a kilometer long with dozens and dozens of cars lined up around the block."

posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:09 AM on September 8, 2005


> Who has ever suggested that environmentalists are behind shortages?

Speaking as possibly the most rabid treehugger on metafilter, I may not have caused the shortages but I certainly stand up and cheer for them. If I ever find myself able to turn all the oil on Earth into water by pushing a button, you can count on me to push it. Damn the suffering. No gain without pain!
posted by jfuller at 4:14 AM on September 8, 2005


You must be an awfully unique person, jfuller. Do you use any kind of transportation at all, or do you walk everywhere? Maybe you ride a horse to go to the grocery store? (Of course, that grocery store will be empty soon after you push that button.) Do you weave your own clothing from organically grown fibers? Perhaps that computer you're posting from is made of wood, hmm?

You sir, are a hypocrite. And an ass.
posted by pjern at 4:45 AM on September 8, 2005


Well, the ass I won't debate, that's a gimmie for you.

But how does it make one hypocritical to mention a major change one would make to the world if one ever has the power? If all the oil suddenly became water, I believe that would affect me just the same as everyone else.

Or did you mean the cheering for shortages and higher prices? Do you think I somehow have access to petrol at 1939 prices, while everybody else has to pay today's tab? ? I don't. The price is going up for me exactly as it is for you.

So your "hypocrite" notion doesn't fly. May I say I hope it's because you can't afford any J4?
posted by jfuller at 5:09 AM on September 8, 2005


So...you're suicidal?
posted by alumshubby at 5:32 AM on September 8, 2005


jfuller, but what would the effects be if all the oil on Earth disappeared? A massive switch to other fossil fuels as replacements along with massive price rises across the board. Vast increases in burning and processing of coal quite possibly leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions. Price rises would impact the most on the poor, throwing hundreds of millions into fuel poverty, killing many. Global infrastructures for supply of food, water and other necessities would be devastated killing even more. It would reduce global stability as nations come to terms with obtaining access to replacement energy sources, almost certainly leading to increased chances of war. And that's just for starters.

On the plus side I work in renewable energy so I guess I'd be minted.
posted by biffa at 5:36 AM on September 8, 2005


As a reality check, those "memos" were from the mid 90s to 2001. A new refinery hasn't been built in this country since about 1970. The primary reason for that is low prices, high labor costs, and tightening environmental regulations.

My opinion is we're all to blame. We want big SUVs, we want heat in our homes in the winter, we want all the electricity we can have, and at the same time want clean air and water.

Nothing is going to change until the American people and Government finally sit down and make some decisions about a long term strategy (and stop making good 15 second sound bites).
posted by Psharden at 5:41 AM on September 8, 2005


If I ever find myself able to turn all the oil on Earth into water

plain or sparkling?
posted by PenguinBukkake at 6:24 AM on September 8, 2005


nobody’s mentioned peak oil yet!

Soon we're going to need an equivalent to Godwin's law for "peak oil". Well, now that it has already been mentioned... the 'peak oil' thing is one more reason why oil companies might have recently been reluctant to build refineries. They have probably all known for many years that we are going to see the beginning of declining world oil production. I would bet it will start well within the time for which you have to plan ahead when building something so expensive as a refinery. Plenty of uncertainty I suppose, but building new refinery capacity would be a very large bet against the oil production peak coming soon, which may be more of a risk than the famously conservative oil industry is generally willing to take.
posted by sfenders at 6:28 AM on September 8, 2005


On the other hand, high prices means less/smarter consumption, pressure on the automobile market to supply hybrids, and therefore less air pollution. There might be an upside to gouging.
posted by Rothko at 6:36 AM on September 8, 2005


"If I ever find myself able to turn all the oil on Earth into water by pushing a button, you can count on me to push it."

Yes, and cause a greater catasrophy than any of us could ever imagine. Sheer idiocy.

When I think about the price for a gallon of bottled water these days (which no one seems to have a problem with) and then consider the amount of technology and refining that has to go into turning crude into gas, it's a wonder it gas prices did stay so low for so long (and let's not forget the fact the rest of the world has been paying much more for quite some time). Of course, no one would give the oil companies any props for managing to keep it reasonable for so long. I suppose some worlds would collapse in on themselves if that happened. Dont' get me wrong, I'm fuckin' pissed I'm paying 3.65 a gallon right now and YES, I do think there is price gouging going on, but...

Crude oil has gone up from $45 dollars last year, at this time, to over $70 now. Now unless the big oil lobby has some inroads with the Saudi's (and opec in general) that the rest of our government is unaware of, a price increase strikes me as expected.

Jumping a full dollar in a few days, however, can be seen as nothing other than the rape of the consumer. I don't expect accountability from this administration because I believe they will never accept any - no matter what the consequences. They will still have their 45% approvals. But I also think the concept that 'big oil' is only out to rape and pillage is contrary to everything these big whigs were taught in business school. Driving the consumer market to hybrid vehicles is not healthy for their business structure. I'm not saying they aren't in this for the profits, but c'mon, are you going to tell me environmental companies selling air filters and water purifiers aren't in it for the profits? Please.

Sucks but maybe this is the kick in the ass needed to create some truly viable and cool looking hybrid's. Lexus just came out with a hybrid SUV!!
posted by j.p. Hung at 7:26 AM on September 8, 2005


Gasoline was cheaper than bottled water;

Sorry, but that really is an annoyingly stupid comparison. It would be both more accurate and more relevant to say that gasoline and water are both cheaper than bottles.
posted by sfenders at 7:37 AM on September 8, 2005


The very first thing George W. Bush did in response to Hurricane Katrina was to offer a helping hand—not to the people stranded on rooftops in New Orleans, but to his friends in the oil industry. These were the same people who gave him $52 million in his last campaign. The president released millions of barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve so the oil companies would have enough fuel to make gas and keep the country going. But the companies don't need this oil. They're already swimming in it.
posted by fungible at 8:47 AM on September 8, 2005


"If I ever find myself able to turn all the oil on Earth into water by pushing a button, you can count on me to push it."

Yes, and cause a greater catasrophy than any of us could ever imagine. Sheer idiocy


See, here's my problem with this last remark. We (human beings) thrived for centuries as a species without using petroleum products at all (in parts of the world, we still do).
Now supposedly, we're stuck depending on the stuff forever?

Just because some rich Nazi-sympathizer (Henry Ford) went off all half-cocked in pursuit of his vainglorious vision of putting a car in front of every house (I know I'm oversimplifying and mixing historical myth and fact here, but please grant me some creative license) without thinking through the long-term consequences of his utopian/narcissistic industrial vision?

I'm tempted to side with JFuller and say that I'd push the hypothetical oil-destroying button too, just out of a desire to see us all forced by circumstance to actively use our imaginations to collectively solve (rather than exacerbate or postpone solving) our deeper problems.

Bottom line: The human race can and ultimately would recover if all the fossil fuels in the world disappeared tomorrow (though, no doubt, we would whine about it the whole time). It might not recover, however, if we keep burning fossil fuels at current rates and make the planet unliveable. What's so hard to grasp about that?
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 9:42 AM on September 8, 2005


The human race can and ultimately would recover if all the fossil fuels in the world disappeared tomorrow

Not at present levels; there would be a large population die-off. Many points of our food supply chain are highly dependent upon petrochemicals, from growth to harvesting to distribution.
posted by Rothko at 10:07 AM on September 8, 2005


there would be a large population die-off.

Doesn't change the truth of this statement: "The human race can and ultimately would recover."

Besides, in the other scenario (that is, the one in which we just keep using fossil fuels like crazy), we eventually end up with the same outcome (large population die-offs), only with a much slimmer likelihood of recovery.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 10:26 AM on September 8, 2005


Please don't price-compare things shipped to us in supertankers and sold to the consumer in bulk vs. packaged goods. Gasoline is the only thing I buy with no direct "retail" interaction (going into a store, picking out a product, interacting with a clerk) ... it's almost like wholesale now.

it's a wonder it gas prices did stay so low for so long (and let's not forget the fact the rest of the world has been paying much more for quite some time)

uh... this is because their governments have been taxing the shit of gasoline.

Of course, no one would give the oil companies any props for managing to keep it reasonable for so long.

managing to keep it reasonable??? huh? make sense you not.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:18 PM on September 8, 2005


Doesn't change the truth of this statement: "The human race can and ultimately would recover."

How? We don't have any energy technology nearly as efficient or plentiful as fossil fuels, and we've harvested most of the useful materials off the surface of the earth. I don't think a stable civilization could recover to the same level as before, past a Bronze or Iron Age, unless we can invent a better technology to replace what we're using now.
posted by Rothko at 12:24 PM on September 8, 2005


"Doesn't change the truth of this statement: "The human race can and ultimately would recover.""

Sure, after another very long dark age. A big die-off would mean a concordant loss of the human knowledge base and technology base. We'd have to go back to burning wood and tilling the fields, and in a generation or two all these wonderful technologies would be forgotten. Medieval Times, anyone? Oh, and without real steel or bronze, too - there are no ores that can be extracted without massive industry, no highly pure deposits that you can walk up to and hack a chunk of iron or copper out of (as once were found on Cyprus - Kyprios, the Copper Island, fueling the Bronze Age)... and how many of you know how to smelt and forge? Smith is a common name, but there aren't very many of them anymore.

On preview, Rothko said the same thing - but it wouldn't be even a Bronze Age, with no actual ores to mine and metallurgy skills being exceedingly rare. More like a Salvage Age, as we take what we can from all the products of industry that would be left rusting in place... and once they're all rusted away... skin and bone, wood and stone.

Probably better for us to transition carefully and rationally to a different and sustainable energy base, but expecting humans to do anything that's actually rational is folly.

I agree with sfenders above, if you look at this from the Peak Oil POV, then the oil companies KNOW that PO is coming, because they saw it happen here in the US in 1970 for domestic oil production, which necessitated us importing more and more. Therefore they probably have a pretty damn good idea about when the peak is actually going to happen (tho they'd never actually tell us) and are allocating their investments accordingly.

There's no downside for them to not invest in refineries that they know there won't be supply for post-peak, if it also allows them to drive prices up and pocket as much cash as possible before the peak. That's actually a highly sensible business strategy - a win/win situation. If the peak never happens, they still have the cash.

And, yeah, strangely, driving the price up also has the effect of forcing the market to look for alternative fuels or to increase its fuel efficiency, which is probably a benefit for everyone, since it may actually help a lot to cushion any economic slowdown as a result of peak oil.

And isn't it interesting how BP/Arco is now advertising very heavily about "taking the alternative out of alternative fuels?"

I'm not saying the oil cos are being good and honorable and looking out for us all, because of course they're only after as much profit as possible, but they also know that if there's no market and the economy collapses, they won't make any profits... and all the dollars they've stashed might become worthless.

sfenders, the Godwin equivalent for peak oil can only be called a "Hubbert." :)
posted by zoogleplex at 12:45 PM on September 8, 2005


I don't think a stable civilization could recover to the same level as before, past a Bronze or Iron Age,

See, I'm talking about survival; you're talking about lifestyle preference and creature comforts. The Greeks, Romans, Egyptians--hell, every other human culture since the beginning of recorded history seemed to get along pretty well mostly without fossil fuels (sure, with lower life-expectancies and lots of other day-to-day inconveniences to be sure, but the point is, not only did the human race survive without using fossil fuels, it thrived). So how can it credibly be argued that this is a survival issue (and to clarify, survival is really the only sense in which I meant we could "recover" earlier)?
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 12:46 PM on September 8, 2005


Do you really want to see the last 10,000 years of civilization and advances tossed out the window, and have us reduced back to wandering tribes squabbling over what game might be left over?

The reason we invented all this stuff is because life really sucks when all you're doing is surviving. Obviously there are drawbacks to technology, but it sure beats the alternative.

Sure, we'd survive. Just like a pack of dogs turned out into the wild. A rather unworthy end for a species that's supposed to be intelligent.

But this thread is about oil co's ripping us off, so let's return to that, shall we?
posted by zoogleplex at 12:55 PM on September 8, 2005


Do you really want to see the last 10,000 years of civilization and advances tossed out the window, and have us reduced back to wandering tribes squabbling over what game might be left over?


No, but frankly, I'd rather see that than the all-out extinction of the human race.

Probably better for us to transition carefully and rationally to a different and sustainable energy base, but expecting humans to do anything that's actually rational is folly.

On review, what zoogleplex said. Although personally I think it's pessimistic to think we'd necessarily enter a new dark age. My ideal would be to gradually transition toward a more controlled, conservative use of fossil fuels and industrial technologies, in general--not to eliminate these technologies by any means, just to reprioritize and gradually scale-back our use of them wherever possible.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 12:59 PM on September 8, 2005


(And sorry to derail, BTW...)
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 1:00 PM on September 8, 2005


See, I'm talking about survival

Sure, but unless you've got extaordinary wilderness suvival skills (and are near a wilderness you can use them in), you aren't talking about your survival, or mine. If all the petrochemicals disappear tonight, we're going to die within the year. Meaner and tougher people than us are going to grab all the food, and there won't be any more arriving from where that food came from.

We're going to have to get the petro-monkey off our backs, but if you think we can do it in a day, you're um . . . mistaken.

Be careful what you wish for.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:12 PM on September 8, 2005


you aren't talking about your survival, or mine

Seriously? I think you and I are probably more resilient than you let on. But if you're right, then it's a shame, because I'm pretty sure my grandparents had the requisite survival skills to last a year in some post-industrial age hell scenario (but then, they were outdoorsy working class types, who lived through the great depression, and could hunt, fish and farm for themselves using whatever resources they had handy).

I think your view of what humanity needs to thrive is myopic, that's all I'm saying. The Greek and Egyptian civilizations, for example, still rank among history's most culturally vital civilizations, and they weren't petrol-based. Not only did they survive, they found time to compose epic poems, erect enormous monuments and public works, and to make other goods and crafts that rival the quality of our best manufactured goods.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 1:32 PM on September 8, 2005


We're going to have to get the petro-monkey off our backs, but if you think we can do it in a day, you're um . . . mistaken.


Well put--I agree 100 percent. That's why the serious, level-headed planning has to start now (if it's not already too late) and has to be given priority.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 1:35 PM on September 8, 2005


Bronze Age and Iron Age culture depended on surface metals. We've mined those already.

For some amusingly unsettling ideas about post-petroleum culture, I recommend Margarat Attwood's excellently unsettling Oryx and Crake.
posted by cleardawn at 1:48 PM on September 8, 2005


And you would not enjoy living in the Greek or Egyptian eras, either. I'm not talking about creature comforts; I'm thinking brutish, nasty and short.

Possibly your grandparents did have the skills to survive without petroleum. Probably my relatives in rural Vermont do now, since they all only recently stopped farming full-time. Some of them even know how to handle oxen. Could they could protect their food from bands of armed thugs? I don't know. If I woke up tomorrow and had no transport or energy, probably the best thing for me would be to pack up the family with all the food we could carry and start walking North. If we made it to Vermont, maybe we could contribute.

Planning for the End of Oil should begin like, last year. We should be subsidizing alternative energies big-time, even if they are economically non-competitive. We aren't going to, though, as long as Big Oil is in control.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:10 PM on September 8, 2005


It's really too bad no one has had the balls in the USA to start weaning people off gasoline. If say Jimmy Carter had instituted a tax on gas and diesel of $0.01 per gallon with an additional $0.01 every six months the US would be in a better place. But considering that would have been wildly unpopular it's no shock it didn't happen. I think it's a big failing of the US style of democracy, sometimes the short term painful, long term good never happens. Parlimentry styles seem to have a touch more back bone on these kinds of issues.
posted by Mitheral at 2:40 PM on September 8, 2005


Well, in the meantime, what should we do about these oil companies rigging the profit game? What can we do, if anything? Can we force them to admit that yes, they know the oil peak is happening now or soon? Perhaps by trying to force them to build a few more refineries? Because if we could try to force them, they'd either have to admit they were cheating and build some, or they'd have to admit that they're not building any because they know that there soon won't be enough oil to run through them.

Aren't there anti-trust laws that prohibit price collusion on near-monopoly commodities?

Of course the hope that they'd be applied under this government is surely forlorn...
posted by zoogleplex at 2:57 PM on September 8, 2005


Bronze Age and Iron Age culture depended on surface metals. We've mined those already.

We can always melt down stuff we've made for scrap, e.g., the scavengers in Riddley Walker.
posted by Rothko at 3:34 PM on September 8, 2005


We want big SUVs, we want heat in our homes in the winter, we want all the electricity we can have, and at the same time want clean air and water.

Huh? Ok. SOME idiots want SUVs - and that is a big poblem. But at this point we all NEED heat in the winter and electricity to survive... so I don't get your point.
posted by tkchrist at 4:10 PM on September 8, 2005


"we all NEED heat in the winter and electricity to survive... so I don't get your point."

Sorry to belabor the point, but this claim isn't factually accurate, tkchrist. We (meaning, here, members of the human race) do not NEED heat in the winter and electricity to survive.

Some particular individuals may need heat and electricity to survive--older or younger individuals, or individuals who are injured or ill. But most healthy individuals actually can survive relatively comfortably without either of those things, and in many parts of the world, they routinely do.

Electric heat, and so on, are relatively recent developments, after all. Until a couple of hundred years ago, we literall didn't use electricity (or many petroleum-based products) at all. Meanwhile, there were millions of us on the earth, building elaborate canal systems, making works of art, talking, eating, going to the john, and in general, doing the same kinds of things we do now, and not one of us drove to work.

True, some resources are probably already too scarce to support current population levels, that's for sure. So survival without a viable fossil-fuel alternative could get pretty hairy at some point in the near future, but that's where we've got to start putting some of that amazing human ingenuity we're always patting ourselves on the back over to good use, to solve these problems.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 4:37 PM on September 8, 2005


> we all NEED heat in the winter and electricity to survive

For several of the Earth's billions of people right now, false. They're presently living with no heat and often not so much as a light bulb. The instant disappearance of all the buried hydrocarbons wouldn't mean squat to these folks.
posted by jfuller at 4:52 PM on September 8, 2005


"We can always melt down stuff we've made for scrap, e.g., the scavengers in Riddley Walker."

Heh... do you know how hot a fire you have to get to melt copper, let alone steel? Even if it's salvaged from modern items?

The Bessemer process runs well in excess of 3,000 degrees F (iron melting point 2,795 deg. F) and requires high-pressure air or oxygen. Most steel manufacturing is done with even more advanced techniques using either gas-fired or electric furnaces. More primitive methods of smelting metals require huge amounts of "coke" fuel and back-breaking labor, for a very low yield.

Copper melts at 1,981 degrees F, tin a little less than 500 degrees. That will get us "gun metal" bronze (90Cu/10SN), like what they used to make cannons out of... in the 17th century. Here's a nice table of many common alloys, with melting points handily added.

Anybody here know how to build a bellows furnace, and how to make charcoal (old school - new school) or coke? ;)

BTW, I looked all this stuff up on the Internet in seconds; we wouldn't have that luxury if things went south. I should hand-transfer this with acid-free ink onto high-quality vellum...

I'm just trying to demonstrate how far we can fall, and how hard it would be to climb out, especially now that all the easily-recoverable metals are gone, and salvageable stuff will last only a generation or two before it corrodes beyond usefulness.

We're a lot better off being smart about things, and working hard to change the way we use energy, to keep it focused on important things.

all-seeing: we used to burn a whole hell of a lot of wood. :)
posted by zoogleplex at 4:55 PM on September 8, 2005


Some particular individuals may need heat and electricity to survive--older or younger individuals, or individuals who are injured or ill. But most healthy individuals actually can survive relatively comfortably without either of those things, and in many parts of the world, they routinely do.

Ok. Sure. Humans - as a species - can survive without electricity. But THIS civilization can't. And certainly not a civilization any where near our population.

can survive relatively comfortably

Wow. I would debate that - as in even relatively "comfortably." I have been to several third world countries where a sizable portion or the population exists without electricity and it SUCKS. Modern medicine and communication petty much are dependant on electricity. And as we saw in NOLA - life can be very dangerous with out those things.


Meanwhile, there were millions of us on the earth, building elaborate canal systems, making works of art, talking, eating, going to the john, and in general, doing the same kinds of things we do now, and not one of us drove to work.

Millions? I would say from the Middle Ages on - after the development of large semi-modern city states - life was fairly miserable and short for most people. I'd say only a few ate well, made art etc.

Anyway.

Nobody is going to voluntarily give up electricity or heat in winter. What you might be able to do is get people do use those things more sustainable and with reduced impact. And I think that is where human ingenuity better come into play.
posted by tkchrist at 4:56 PM on September 8, 2005


For several of the Earth's billions of people right now, false.

There wouldn't be several BILLION people on this entire planet if it were not FOR these technologies.

It's no accident - nor is it a natural exponential equation - that world populations exploded in the last century.

So if there was no electricity, hydrocarbon fuels etc - even if billions on the planet do not directly use these things - billions would die slow miserable deaths. And that won't happen here in the west, my friends. It will happen in these places - where you say it doesn't mean squat to - FIRST.

Shit rolls down hill.
posted by tkchrist at 5:05 PM on September 8, 2005


erect enormous monuments

Ahem. With slavery.
posted by tkchrist at 5:09 PM on September 8, 2005


> We're a lot better off being smart about things

Also, it would be lots of fun to flap our arms and fly. For the human race as a whole (which is what it would take, at this point) being smart is not one of the options. The human race as a whole couldn't match brains with a dull-normal gibbon. As one of the Despair, Inc. posters has it, "None of us is as dumb as all of us".

Therefore, any solution that depends on intelligent planning followed by coordinated execution is on all fours with solutions that depend on benevolent aliens saving us.

As of now, one and only one thing is going to happen. During the present century we're going to run out the tail end of the oil, and the coal, and the tar sands, and the oil shale, and anything else anyone can think of that burns. Some rich countries may be able to convert to nuclear, plus little dribs and drabs of other stuff. Everybody else fights over the hydrocarbon crumbs, on their way back to the stone age (which isn't far, for lots of 'em).

No amount of conferences and treatys and "planning" is going to divert this outcome by a millimeter--due to the fact that after conferences and treatys and "planning," nothing else happens. Look here: Norway is going to miss its Kyoto goals. If Norway can't or won't, what do you figure others in more difficult situations (Russia, China, India) are going to do?
posted by jfuller at 5:21 PM on September 8, 2005


"I have been to several third world countries where a sizable portion or the population exists without electricity and it SUCKS."

As a result of Stepdad #1's idea to "get back to nature" back in the 70's, we moved to Maine and lived there for several years without electricity or running water, using wood heat only, and trying to grow our own food. It really sucked.

And if it hadn't been for modern society (and a grocery store) being a few miles away (and we had a telephone), we probably would have died of starvation, because the soil up there isn't so great (highly acidic), even when mulched with compost and chicken manure. The only staple-type food we had any luck with was potatoes, tho we got lots of veggies, tomatoes and beans to work well. But not in sufficient quantity to feed us all the time. The only other thing that grew well was, well, weed!

The wood heat worked really well though, so we wouldn't have frozen even in the lethal Maine winter... however, getting the wood all cut (chainsaw) and split (by hand) and in the woodshed required many, many hours of work. I've tried cutting wood with a two-man handsaw, and it is seriously difficult and time-consuming work.

"erect enormous monuments

Ahem. With slavery."


Yeah tkchrist, I've been watching all the Rome stuff on the History Channel this week, and realized that their equivalent for cheap oil energy was cheap slave labor. 10,000 or more slaves working simultaneously, often to the death, to raise the Colosseum, for instance. Make no mistake, people, reverting to barbarism would put strong, violent men back in charge, and enslave almost everyone else.

"During the present century we're going to run out the tail end of the oil, and the coal, and the tar sands, and the oil shale, and anything else anyone can think of that burns."

I'm afraid I must agree with you, jfuller. I don't have a lot of faith in humanity's ability as a whole to actually do the things we need to do to survive this. I'm hoping we can actually establish a permanent presence off this planet - preferably living in interplanetary space, mining the Asteroid Belt and comets for raw materials, before the energy we need to make that happen runs out.

Not holding my breath, and kinda hoping I don't have to live through a massive slide down the ladder... :( There's always some hope though, so I won't give up.
posted by zoogleplex at 6:17 PM on September 8, 2005


can survive relatively comfortably

Wow. I would debate that - as in even relatively "comfortably." I have been to several third world countries where a sizable portion or the population exists without electricity and it SUCKS. Modern medicine and communication petty much are dependant on electricity. And as we saw in NOLA - life can be very dangerous with out those things.


Maybe so, from your perspective. I'm just not sure.

Ask a person living in a "third-world country" about their life and they might say it sucks, but they might also say that, like anyone else's, it has its ups and downs. People can be surprisingly resourceful and resilient in the face of adversity. And we always seem to find a way to carry on as a polite society.

My grandparents, for example, looked back nostalgically on the Great Depression precisely because the shared hardship of the period fostered such a strong feeling of community.

But really, my point is just that civil societies that provide material comforts to their citizens (at least for some group of oligarchs) long predate industrialization, so as much of a stretch of the imagination as it is to consider, there may be room for a considerable amount of down-sizing in our energy reliance as it is, without having to make drastic cuts to our overall quality of life, as long as we're willing to make reasonable sacrifices in the short term.

Worst case, we have to ration energy.

erect enormous monuments

Ahem. With slavery."

Yeah tkchrist, I've been watching all the Rome stuff on the History Channel this week, and realized that their equivalent for cheap oil energy was cheap slave labor.


Yeah. The totality of circumstances is depressing, really.

But if it's already a hopeless cause, then there's no point in dwelling on how hopeless it is, right?

I still like to think there's hope that all the distracting chatter in the echochamber will eventually die down, a sobering silence will sweep over everyone, and we'll finally realize it's time to stop waging the "culture wars," and just work together, alongside experts from the academic and scientific communities, to solve the myriad technically complex and difficult problems the world faces in the very near future.

That said, I think all that stuff is about as likely to happen as me hitting the lottery. And I don't play the lottery.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 6:51 PM on September 8, 2005


Worst case, we have to ration energy.

Let me qualify this statement: I mean, ration it a lot.

Meanwhile, we'd need to be working feverishly on viable alternatives.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 7:02 PM on September 8, 2005


Make no mistake, people, reverting to barbarism would put strong, violent men back in charge, and enslave almost everyone else.

Woo Hoo!
posted by Smedleyman at 3:41 AM on September 9, 2005


As we defend ourselves - ostensibly or otherwise - from "tear-ists" getting their hands on - someone elses, but we need it - oil, so too should we have a strong defense against this type of corruption.

This is for now and unfortunately our life's blood. Allowing someone to monkey about with it is rediculous.

On the other hand, I'm happier with greedy bastards in charge of it than some fundimentalist 'visionary' or someone like jfuller who would push that button.
And to be fair to jfuller - I include myself in the 'Do not trust near the button' crowd. (There are still too many damn people on my planet though)

The greedy bastards generally don't generally let their greed impede their survival instinct. I suppose it's a hedonism thing. The fanatics on the other hand...
posted by Smedleyman at 3:49 AM on September 9, 2005


The greedy bastards generally don't generally let their greed impede their survival instinct.

Damn is this true. Especially smart greedy bastards.

I did this survival class in college where we went on a four day - just the clothes on your back - survival test. you could have at most a small two or three blade swiss army knife. No super out door gear (there was little of that in the early eighties anyway).

This was in March. In Eastern Washington at the Turnbull Wildlife Refuge. There was snow on the ground. They divided up the areas so that each group (tribe) only had so much resources - water etc. A couple of tribes were deliberately given everything others nothing. We were told, oddly, it was a competitive situation and we would be graded on how well we did against others. This was a trick of course. LSS. Those who passed the test learned quickly that compromise on personal creature comforts and sharing resources stopped pilfering and time wasting disputes and that pooling labor got shelter erected faster, etc. Even the conniving Alphas like me recognized that pretty much right away.
posted by tkchrist at 9:50 AM on September 9, 2005


compromise on personal creature comforts and sharing resources

Indeed. Lots to admire about those Spartans. They were tough. They were ruthless and efficient. And, uh, they ain't around no more.
Many hands make light work. I mean hell, you don't get fat unless you figure out easier ways to do things.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:25 PM on September 9, 2005


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