The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Doing the Math on Our Energy Choices

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted June 17, 2014

A thought-provoking op-ed piece by the Manhattan Institute’s Robert Bryce in the Wall Street Journal last week (subscription required), in which he “does the math” on one group’s goal of reducing fossil fuel use 20-fold over the next few decades. It’s a must read if you fancy getting from Point A to Point B in a reasonable amount of time, warm houses in the winter, cool ones in the summer and other aspects of modern living supported by these fuel sources.


Global hydrocarbon consumption is now about 218 million barrels of oil equivalent energy a day, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, which includes 83 million barrels of oil as well as about 75 million barrels of oil equivalent from coal and about 60 million barrels of oil equivalent from natural gas. Reducing that by a factor of 20 would cut global hydrocarbon use to the energy equivalent of 11 million barrels of oil a day, roughly the amount of energy now consumed by India, where 400 million people lack access to electricity.

The math: The average person on Earth used about 1.3 gallons of oil-equivalent energy a day from hydrocarbons in 2012, Bryce writes, so a 20-fold decrease would mean allotting everyone 8 fluid ounces of oil-equivalent energy from hydrocarbons a day.

The impact, Bryce writes:  

Today, the average resident of Bangladesh uses about half a liter of oil equivalent—slightly less than 17 ounces—a day. Under (the 20-fold) prescription, the average Bangladeshi would be required to cut his hydrocarbon use by about half.

It’s an apt illustration. Energy policy prescriptions like this are proscriptive – and so often the restrictions most dramatically affect those who can least afford the impacts.

More math: While renewables contribute significantly in an all-of-the-above energy strategy, Bryce points out they’re not able to make up a 20-fold cut in fossil fuels – a fact some skirt by pointing to inventions and technologies that aren’t widely available, aren’t efficient or reliable enough or don’t yet exist.

It’s understandable if the off-oil/off-natural gas crowd isn’t much concerned with the real-world impacts of what they preach. That’s somebody else’s problem. Yet, in their dream world, as argued in this post, things are colder, harsher, not as healthy and far more problematic – an existence we’d argue would be hard to explain to everyone else.

Choose energy, America.


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.