That sound you hear is the spigot being turned off in Saudi Arabia . . .
Here’s an old WSJ op-ed on oil prices by Peter Huber and Mark Mills. The summary is that oil prices aren’t high because there’s a lack of oil, they’re high because oil is in a bunch of nasty countries. An excerpt:
In sum, it costs under $5 per barrel to pump oil out from under the sand in Iraq, and about $15 to melt it out of the sand in Alberta. So why don’t we just learn to love hockey and shop Canadian? Conventional Canadian wells already supply us with more oil than Saudi Arabia, and the Canadian tar is now delivering, too. The $5 billion (U.S.) Athabasca Oil Sands Project that Shell and ChevronTexaco opened in Alberta last year is now pumping 155,000 barrels per day. And to our south, Venezuela’s Orinoco Belt yields 500,000 barrels daily.
But here’s the catch: By simply opening up its spigots for a few years, Saudi Arabia could, in short order, force a complete write-off of the huge capital investments in Athabasca and Orinoco. Investing billions in tar-sand refineries is risky not because getting oil out of Alberta is especially difficult or expensive, but because getting oil out of Arabia is so easy and cheap. Oil prices gyrate and occasionally spike — both up and down — not because oil is scarce, but because it’s so abundant in places where good government is scarce. Investing $5 billion dollars over five years to build a new tar-sand refinery in Alberta is indeed risky when a second cousin of Osama bin Laden can knock $20 off the price of oil with an idle wave of his hand on any given day in Riyadh.
The one consolation is that Arabia faces a quandary of its own. Once the offshore platform has been deployed in the North Sea, once the humongous crock pot is up and cooking in Alberta, its cost is sunk. The original investors may never recover their capital, but after it has been written off, somebody can go ahead and produce oil very profitably going forward. And capital costs are going to keep falling, because the cost of a tar-sand refinery depends on technology, and technology costs always fall. Bacteria, for example, have already been successfully bioengineered to crack heavy oil molecules to help clean up oil spills, and to mine low-grade copper; bugs could likewise end up trampling out the vintage where the Albertan oil is stored.
So, we release the oil and the Saudis shut down their production. Gas prices don’t move and we have no oil stockpile left.
The CATO link in the post below also has this:
A conservative estimate finds that the SPR has cost taxpayers at least $41.2–$50.8 billion (in 2004 dollars), or $64.64–$79.58 per barrel of oil deposited therein. Accordingly, the “premium” associated with the insurance provided by the SPR is quite high relative to market prices for oil, even during 2005.
Oil, when CATO wrote this, was in the $60 range. Prices, obviouslly, have since doubled and I wonder how much CATO’s analysis would change taking into account what must be a new average price per barrel in the SPR as well as the current price of oil.