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Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted March 28, 2012

The Marshall Institute’s William O’Keefe has a must-read on Fuel Fix for folks puzzled by the recent AP analysis that discounted the effect of domestic drilling on global crude pricing, which is the key component (76 percent) in fuel costs.

Remember, the AP said its statistical analysis of 36 years of monthly, inflation-adjusted, gasoline prices found no correlation between the level of production from U.S. wells and prices at the pump.

O’Keefe:

“The AP attempts to use a disconnected statistic, domestic production, to make an erroneous correlation to counter arguments in favor of more U.S. exploration and development. In doing so, the wire service offers the public a political statement in place of objective analysis.”

O’Keefe continues:

“To begin with, domestic oil production has been steadily declining since its peak in 1970 when it averaged 9.64 million barrels per day (MMbbl/d). From 1978 to 2010, domestic production reduced 37 percent. In that same period, the price of gasoline increased by nearly 60 percent—climbing from a national average of $1.61 to 2.56 per gallon. This data seems to suggest what many of us already learned in ‘Economics 101’; there’s an inverse relationship between supply and demand. That means that as the availability of a product/service (ie. oil, wheat, gold, etc.) declines, prices will rise.”

And:

“The AP even concedes this point mid-way through the story, noting ‘if drilling activity rises around the globe for a sustained period of time, gasoline prices can fall as that new supply eventually finds its way to market.’ Yet, it then implies that crude oil prices are insensitive to changes in supply as if it is a unique commodity. The story ignores what has happened to prices when for example a hurricane disrupted production and refining in the Gulf coast region, or when Nigerian or Libyan oil production has been disrupted. The price of crude goes up and then down when supplies come back on line. So when other factors are relatively stable, an increase in supply relative to demand will lower price. How much depends on the increase in supply.”

O’Keefe then moves to the lost energy opportunities resulting from current policies:

“… a policy of NO and a self imposed moratorium on increased exploration has probably resulted in hundreds of thousands of barrels or more not being produced. Adding those unproduced barrels to the current global supply would put downward pressure on crude oil prices which translate into to lower gasoline prices. Instead, there has been a policy of NO to the eastern Gulf of Mexico, NO to offshore drilling, NO to Alaska’s coastal plain, and NO to Keystone XL. With a more enlightened energy policy our oil production over the course of this decade could increase by a million barrels a day or more. That is not trivial.”

O’Keefe is certainly right on that, because, as noted here and by energy analyst Geoff Styles in a recent blog post, the key to the situation is the United States’ actual ability to impact global crude markets by affecting daily spare capacity – the amount of available crude above current demand. Styles writes:

“Traders have to think about how prices are really set, and they understand that it's the interaction of the last few million barrels per day of supply, demand and spare capacity that really count, along with inventories. An extra million or two barrels per day – a quantity of which North America is certainly capable – can make a huge difference in oil prices.”

Supply matters. Although the administration implies agreement by talking about releasing oil from the strategic reserve, the president seems only to believe that markets can be affected by lowering demand while saying, in effect, that current domestic oil production is good enough.

Most Americans disagree. Recent polling shows strong support for the Keystone XL pipeline and for greater oil and natural gas production here at home. They believe more of our own supply would make a difference with markets that are moved by expectations and strong leadership.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.