by Morry Secrest, Director
The two powerful hurricanes, Katrina and Rita, which struck the Gulf coasts of Louisiana and Texas within two weeks of each other, were an awesome display of Nature’s power. Cities have been badly damaged and towns have been simply erased. Millions of people were displaced from their homes and hundreds of businesses have been crippled or totally destroyed. The attention of the entire United States has been riveted on the pictures and reports of damage.
Another form of damage has occurred which will have its effect in the coming months. This effect is less dramatic than the wind and water of the two hurricanes, but more widespread both in duration and in the number of people who will be affected. This is the damage done to the oil industry in the Gulf region of the United States.
Because the crude oil production facilities along the Gulf coast have been damaged, the United States will first of all suffer shortages of all petrochemical products such as gasoline, diesel fuel, home heating fuel oil, natural gas, and a hundred varieties of plastic. People in the United States will become aware of the price increases that accompany the shortages. Next, the corporate oil industries will seek to import more oil from around the world to make up the shortage of crude oil in the United States. This will cause the price of crude oil around the world to increase and remain at that increased level until facilities along the Gulf are repaired sufficiently to make up the difference. This could take months.
Almost every country around the world will feel the worldwide effect of higher oil prices. One result will be that new oil fields will be sought out and developed. The oil industry corporations have identified hundreds of oil-bearing fields around the world that are not developed. The reasons for not developing a potential oil field are several: The oil field might be very remote, making the cost of transporting the oil too high. The field might be too small, in which case the cost of drilling for it would never be fully paid for out of the profit from the field. Politics might restrict the availability of a field, requiring additional expensive safeguards to satisfy requirements. Other obstacles may also exist, each adding new costs to the expense of recovering the oil. Fields that are not developed for these reasons are called “marginal” fields, and there are many of them around the world.
Every one of these reasons can be overcome when the price of crude oil rises. Thanks to the recent rise in the price of crude oil due to the two hurricanes, development of marginal fields is even now in the planning stages, according to the Wall Street Journal.
This development will put even further stress on the local environments, and on the world ecology.
Is there anything we can do? Yes! We can reduce our dependence on oil.
We have many options to choose from. A family which currently uses two gallons of fuel a day for its transportation needs might set itself a budget of one gallon of fuel a day. The habit of presenting a high-school graduate with a brand new car as a graduation present might change to a gift of a moped instead. We might look beyond recycling to dispose of the plastic wrapping material that is thrown away after one use, and instead seek ways of obtaining goods without the packaging.
Many grocery stores allow a 5-cent reduction on each shopping trip for those shoppers who bring their own cloth shopping bag and thus avoid using either paper or plastic bags. There are many other alternatives, described more completely in many books and magazine articles over the last three decades.
I personally don’t recommend that we go back to the early 1800s when transportation was primarily by horse and buggy. Rather, I recommend that we look for alternatives, even though they might cost a little more. Since we must spend more money anyway, we may as well have our money go to entrepreneurs who are developing new ways to meet our needs that do not use foreign oil. And most importantly: as demand for crude oil goes down, the price for crude oil will also go down ... and so will the incentive for drilling new oil fields.