Stop Vilifying Oil

Today I would like to say something in defense of oil. Perhaps more accurately I want to suggest we stop vilifying oil because we need it. Now of course BP is guilty of negligence and bad practices in this awful oil spill. But I'm making a different point, hear me out. In his first Oval Office address about the BP oil spill, President Obama pivoted off the oil spill to ask Americans to embrace a clean energy future. He called for a national mission to move from the reliance from oil and spoke of the need to overcome a lack of courage and candor. But candor does require that we admit, much as we might wish otherwise, there are no known technologies that can move us off petroleum for the next 20, or even 30 years.

While we may be able to find green sources of energy to power our homes and factories in the future, nuclear, solar or wind, as a fuel in transportation, there is really nothing that can remotely compete for the cost, affordability, efficiency and reliability of petroleum. That is why it has been the life blood of the industrial world for almost a century. Now we can use it more efficiently, we can stop wasting it on making plastic bottles and cans, and we should of course, extract it more safely. But even 30 years from now, in all likelihood, we will be using oil as a transport fuel for planes, trucks and some cars. That's the reality. And if we do need this oil, we should also be careful about demonizing oil companies. They are, after all, engaged in a legal activity to provide a product that we consume--all of us--by the millions of barrel every day. So why blame the oil companies for providing the oil, rather than all of us, the consumers, who are being hooked on it. The existing technologies that we know of that are green have some limits on how widely they can be applied and they remain costly. We should keep funding them. But the only serious prospect for clean energy future would be to discourage the use of oil and coal which is even dirtier, by taxing both of them, Carbon Tax, and using the money to fund new technologies all together, ones that have the same quality that have made oil and coal so irresistible. That means new taxes and smart efficient-focused government spending. And that would take a lot of courage from the White House, Congress and from all of us to support it.


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Brian Skeels | Jun. 25, 2010
My hats off to Mr. Zakaria! I agree totally. One point I'd like to add to his 20 to 30 year assertion is that the oil and gas industry has developed a vast delivery infrastructure so that the public has ready access at work, home and traveling to access energy on demand. It costs billions of dollars and decades to build and maintain. Whatever the energy source of tomorrow will be, everyone needs to bear in mind that the infrastructure costs and time need to be factored to both build up the new energy on demand depots and dismantle the "old" oil and gas infrastructure. Another related point, we focus on car and truck transportation when we think of oil and fossil fuel energy. But what about the plastics, chemicals, aerospace, and lubricants industries? If we ween ourselves off fossil fuels and don't look for any more petroleum, where is the feedstock for these industries going to come from?

Mark Williamson | Jun. 25, 2010
Mistakes can be made in any business. Just because a muffin got burned doesn't make all bakeries bad. I know it was a lot more than a burned muffin. If there were alternatives, that's one thing, but we have no alternatives for automobiles and trucks. Electric cars don't get enough mileage for our state-- where it is about 70 miles to the nearest big city and public transportation is not available. Have you driven behind or been standing on the sidewalk when a grease burner (bio-fuel) is giving off fumes of poly unsaturated fats. I don't mind having grease on my potatoes but I don't like it in my lungs. Hydrogen fuel, dangerous and when burned uses up oxygen making water vapor. What is wrong with water vapor?? Think how slick the roads would be if every car was streaming warm or hot water out of the exhaust and the algae starting to grow on the road surfaces. And just how much energy does it use to produce hydrogen and to compress it to a usable state and the expense of making it safe? Ethanol is not the answer either. Using up all the corn making the cost of corn increase makes everything that corn is used to produce cost more. Carbon dioxide is not a bad thing. Our plants need it to survive and give us enough oxygen in the process. If the oxygen content were to rise it would be a dangerous situation as well. A higher oxygen content makes thing more flammable and rust quicker. Electric arc as in the brushes of an electric motor produce ozone but ozone does not stay ozone very long before it binds with something else and produces oxygen. There are a lot of gasses that are bad if you try to breathe them in in large concentration. More study of the formations before permitting of wells and maybe early detection systems should be in play. Better cementing of the surface pipe and cementing the long string from bottom to the top should prevent most problems. One man made the decisions that resulted in the worst spill in our history so are we going to throw them out and send them scurrying to Brazil where they can do the same thing but maybe even worse? We need the fuel, oil, grease and plastics that drilling produces. Drill Baby Drill.

Curtis Doyle | Jun. 25, 2010
Right On, let's not chop off the hand that supplies us with the only natural resource that's available to keep the industry turning

Del Forbes | Jun. 25, 2010
While I agree we should not vilify oil and placing yet another tax on it is not the answer, oil is already taxed and the monies collected from those taxes are not being spent properly, so how can we expect big brother to spend additional revenues appropriately. Now the problems with in our industry rest within the culture we rush too much and in our rush, shortcuts are taken and this time the shortcut resulted in catastrophic events. I submit others have taken similar shortcuts but they were much luckier than BP. We have to change, we have to look at human behavior and not just the management systems or the equipment. Why do people knowingly not follow a rule or take a shortcut. There is our problem and very little is being done about that.

Michael Dougherty | Jun. 25, 2010
Fareed, as in character, is very matter of fact with his viewpoint and provides a simple, clear and concise overview that the general public can understand. I agree with his overview regarding our reliance on oil shall continue for at least a generation, but don't agree that the industry has supported alternative energy sources to the level they could have. This has been a hot topic for decades and I've personally seen and heard actions within the O&G companies (I worked as a consultant at BP for nearly six years) that show their unwillingness and even flat out resistance to invest more in R&D efforts of other energy solutions. That's where we are now. In the past 5-10 years slowly seeing a change and that should continue accelerating so an infrastructure can be built to create the same economics of scale such as O&G production. No, let me vilify BP or the industry for mistakes, but instead use this as a spring board to invest far more money into those R&D efforts into solar, wind, hydro, biochem, etc. The O&G companies should be leading the way in that effort since they have the deep pockets, but if they only use less than 5% of their revenues (I think BP is far less despite their ads but not certain), then other businesses should continue to step up and progress despite them. Its time to invest further in our own US energy sources.

Burton Dave | Jun. 25, 2010
IMHO the article is very good. We need to drill wherever we can in the short term, We need to double the price of hydrocarbon product with taxation to stabilize businesses in alternatives, drive technology and generate revenue to fund the alternatives. The Pickens plan looks like an excellent starting point to me. That is the alternative to liquid fuels, use compressed gas. There is a lot of gas in the US that can be produced easily and that has nothing but benefit, lower importation costs for energy, jobs, less reliance. There should also be an attitude shift in terms of energy such that battery technology and electricity plays a greater part in transportation. It's ridiculous to argue an outcome based on current technology, what is needed is a plan to make current technology work such that the evolutionary process can take hold. The biggest problem is around the lack of understanding by the general populous and the politics exploiting it. The US already has what it needs to move forward with its natural resources, technology, money and market size. I could go on. Bottom line is drilling is good at present, gas should be better utilized and alternatives should be made viable through taxation of oil products.

Pragjibhai Patel | Jun. 25, 2010
Fact is fact, it is difficult to understand for common people. Most of the time people say comments without understanding the subject. I agree with the statement made by Fareed.

Stéphane LOMBO | Jun. 25, 2010
Many people don't know that oil made the world economy thrive and proper even more. Because it was a more efficient source of energy than coal.

Thabo Buthelezi | Jun. 23, 2010
Pls. note I am commenting on my personal capacity as I am also in the oil game, not for Shell. The current oil situation should not make people act short-sighted over a mistake!! In this scenario, we can't cry over spilled milk or should I say rather oil, let's learn tough lessons from the experience and introduce tougher measures in drilling and all the E & P process and move forward. The reality is the global community is hungry for energy in all its forms and we can't afford to write the obituary of this vital and lucrative industry. comments from South Africa!

Tom Fuller | Jun. 23, 2010
Stop vilifying oil, and then "Now of course BP is guilty of negligence," in the same article? Brilliant...

Charles R. | Jun. 22, 2010
A tax to stifle consumption is your answer? I agree we should not demonize oil it is the life blood of any industrialized nation, but to call for a tax is insane. We had that little talk about 230 years ago. No taxes.

Joel Dill | Jun. 22, 2010
THANK YOU SO MUCH!! Now if only Americans could grasp this.

David | Jun. 22, 2010
How can you find BP guilty of neglect when that has not been proven? I never believed in innocent until proven guilty and all the news points that to be true (BP hung without a trial). These oil companies inject billions of dollars in taxes and oil royalties into the economy and lets not forget about the jobs they provide. I, for one, am glad some companies are making a profit, lets not force them out and drill in countries outside the US. As for new taxes I for one say NO, we pay enough and this administration wants a cap and trade, just watch these companies leave and go overseas. Lets not forget about the VAT tax that we may have shortly.

Shirley Bridwell | Jun. 22, 2010

Theresa Hadaegh | Jun. 22, 2010

JR | Jun. 22, 2010
I agree with most of what Fareed said until he got to the "Carbon tax." That's just a hoax for government officials to get rich....

F. Scott Browning | Jun. 22, 2010
I agree with everything this man wrote except the last two lines. It will never happen when we have a government like we have today. I don't agree with any kind of Carbon tax as I believe the oil companies pay more than their fair share now. I know because I have worked in the oil business for fifty years. We were just getting to a point where the oil field was not a dirty word in the USA and then this happened. BP had a very bad mishap and I don't completely agree with all that is being said about what they could have done better. I do know for a fact that BP is one of the more safety conscience companies around. But some DA engineer probably trying to get noticed thought he would cut a corner here and there and this is what it got us a tragedy; that is costing all of us that work in this business.

Christopher Anderson | Jun. 22, 2010
Well said. A sound opinion in a a disturbing world of political and emotional panic. Getting people back to work and keeping the lights on is the leadership and direction we need. This is a plea for the common man. Safety and security is served by good sense and better practices going forward. I would support a clear practical course out of this crisis from the White House. The Maria Antoinette phrase: "Give them cake" is what I think of when callous intransigent opinions are offered to the contrary.

FracPup | Jun. 22, 2010
"Now of course BP is guilty of negligence and bad practices in this awful oil spill. But I'm making a different point, hear me out." How can you ask people to stop vilifying oil when you have charged, found guilty and sentenced BP before an investigation has been completed. You need to act as you wish others to.

John Bell | Jun. 22, 2010
I am amazed that Fareed Zakaria can make such libelous statements as "Now of course BP is guilty of negligence and bad practices in this awful oil spill." How does he know the outcome of all the investigations, how does he know "BP is guilty of negligence and bad practices?" The short answer is of course that he does not know and as such, should be careful of what he says as it could prejudice any future legal action. (posted by a lowly BP employee who is fed up of reading all the nonsense being written by so called experts about what actually happened)

Gere | Jun. 22, 2010
As an unemployed, traveling construction planner in the oil refining industry in Texas, I want to know what so many of you proponents of a new tax on gas, along with, in your opinion, wasteful gas guzzling personal trucks, are going to propose when everything you use to communicate and work with gets dramatically more expensive to own and operate due to your forcing the working man to submit to your siren call for the destruction of the US oil industry? This mans post is what the Gores and Kerrys of this world have been secretly seeking to see happen in this country for more than 15 years now and they are using Rahm Emanuels "never let a good crisis go to waste" strategy to foist it onto a lot of the red states across this country, I use a diesel pick up to travel with my RV from job to job, which are rarely located in the scenic location spots across this country. I actually "need" this type of vehicle in my daily work and existence. A few questions come to mind as I see another rush to tell me how to live my life takes shape in the minds of the DC bureaucrats. For one thing, diesel is a direct by product of a barrel of oil which requires zero refining to produce, yet costs 30% more at the pump. Why is this the case. Everything we ship across the country, whether it be by rail, truck or hot shot delivery uses this same fuel to get it there. Increasing prices on this alone will, for all intents and purposes, put food out of the reach of millions of the current unemployed population. Those who have been out for over a year have very likely already exhausted their UE claims, so this is almost certainly going to affect them adversely should it gain traction and get passed. Who exactly has decided, that in the middle of what at best can be described a jobless recovery, and is likely more accurately a depression, that we should start drastically overhauling our transportation and energy needs when so many are just barely keeping their heads above water as it is. We have spent our kid's piggy bank savings trying to provide ctadle to grave entitlements to younger workers who have yet to contribute much into the kitty for their benefit package, so just exactly where is all this funding supposed to materialize from? The money is not there and our federal and state taxes are already set to double or triple as it is, what with the spending spree this administration has embarked upon.

Capt. D.N. Huele | Jun. 21, 2010
An excellent article. We're all guilty whether we travel by car, ship, plane or train. We all use fossil fuel so lets stop blaming the people or their companies that are supplying us with what we need in our daily lives. True, newer and greener energies will develop in the future, certainly, but in the meantime lets all try and pull together in a safer and more efficient use of what we have. Stop pointing fingers at events, however nasty they may be, caused in the process of supplying fuel which, in fact, we depend on so much in our daily lives and businesses.

Mike | Jun. 21, 2010
I think people need to wake up and smell the coffee, oh by the way that coffee got to you somehow, more then likely by something burning gas-- diesel fuel or natural gas. We aren't ready to go to alternative fuel yet, no way in heck. I work in the oil and gas drilling industry for 33 years and thanks to BP we are getting the biggest kick in the teeth that I've ever seen over this oil spill. I think BP's violation records tells it all-- 760+ violations last year to Exxon's 1 violation. Something about this moratorium stinks. One other thing, if oil is so bad and deep water drilling is too, why did Obama give Petrobras 2 billion of our tax dollars to drill deep water offshore Brazil.

Kanayo Madu | Jun. 21, 2010
I agree with Fareed Zakaria. However, it baffles me that all back-up methods in this sensitive location failed to work and the riser collapsed. In addition, all remedial measures by BP haven't really stopped the flow over 7 weeks after. But I really do not think the Petroleum Industry should be vilified unnecessarily, and President Obama and the Congressmen in Capitol Hill should have the courage to do and stand for what is in the best interest of the American people in the long term. Contrary to what people may think, Offshore Drilling is not DOA, it is a good alternative in the short run while they figure out how to develop greener alternatives on a wider scale.

Proforma Safety | Jun. 21, 2010
The important learning is to keep safety as top priority, before schedules and costs. The cost of shortcuts is measured in lives, not minutes, and our workers and our environment are more valuable than any rig, schedule, project or earnings report. Proforma Safety offers suggestions for how to restore faith in the safety of our industry.

Jerry | Jun. 21, 2010
You are 100% correct. I'm glad someone gets it.

Bob Mason | Jun. 21, 2010
I am, for myself, quite tired of hearing the phrase "we need." This usually involves some elite wisdom or other. If we "need" any of these exotic solutions, then by all means let the market prevail. You can bet that an economic solution if available will be quickly adopted by the public! The media does not help in the weaning process.

Patrick Ofili | Jun. 21, 2010
I do support what Fareed has said for there are no immediate and long lasting energy sources like oil and gas at the moment. Industries in place have their technologies and equipments being powered by it and so it is cruel to condemn the oil companies. BPs bad practices and lapses are inexcusable, but it does take great expertise, money and technology to extract oil in deep offshore locations and since demand for oil is always there,these companies have to be commended on their continuous operations. Ever thought about what it takes to drill in Alaska and Russia?

JT | Jun. 21, 2010
I believe in a consumption tax based on the type of vehicle one chooses to own and operate. A base tax of $0 for the most energy efficient vehicles with a linear increase to $1000s of dollars a year for low MGP private cars and trucks. This punishes those who choose to use energy wastefully and could help to break our cultural addiction to oil by building a new energy-conscience culture. This would amount to a consumer tax that could be extended to homes, boats, etc. The taxes would go to energy research, paying off the deficit or funding constructive social programs- not for new wars.

KENT CAREATHERS | Jun. 21, 2010
Someone needs to ask the President and Congress men how they get to work everyday. I know they don't ride a bike. Also how does Airforce One fly, not by electricity but jet fuel. The media needs to ask them this now.

Terry | Jun. 21, 2010
I agree with all his comments. We do need to reduce our dependence on oil. And yes, we need to make long range plans to reduce that dependence. It will not happen over a few years. The government could sponsor private companies with subsidies if the company has a promising source of alternate energy. We need to stop bending to the pressure from lobbyists and big business and truly start to looks for alternative energy sources. Otherwise, 50 years from now we will still be at the pump filling up our "flying" cars.

DK | Jun. 21, 2010
I agree with everything Fareed says except for the "new taxes" comment. The government should let the free market system determine winners and losers. Time and time again we have seen economies destroyed by governments attempting to centrally manage. It does not work.


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