Strange things are happening in the world’s energy markets. To almost everyone’s surprise, a massive campaign by the Saudis to undermine the growth of alternative energy producers is proving to be a near-complete failure.
Thanks to government incentives, concern over climate change, and some impressive technological advances, the growth of alternative energy seems to have finally decoupled from price shifts in the oil market.
Low oil prices are creating some odd economic distortions. With the exception of a brief window during the financial collapse, we have been operating for 15 years under a general expectation of relatively expensive energy. Business models adapted around those expectations, with companies sensitive to high oil prices adopting leaner practices and a majority of our manufacturing activity centered on energy development.
This sudden drop is curtailing investment among oil, gas and coal producers, but energy-reliant businesses continue to be wary of expansion, fearing lower prices won’t last. They are mostly just stashing the premium from cheaper energy rather than investing in growth. Until the impact of cheaper energy on consumer spending starts to build, creating new growth pressures, we may actually see lower oil prices produce a counter-intuitive slowdown in the economy.
From The Big Picture: How the oil price decline is impacting business investment.
From Governing: Impact of declining oil prices on state revenues.
From The New York Times: Low prices are finally starting to impact the bottom line at major producers.
From the Solar Foundation (.pdf): The number of jobs in the solar industry is increasing at more than 20% a year, now double the employment level in the coal business.
From Green Tech Media: China is determined to own the solar market.
From Science 2.0: The latest in science denial from the left, the fight over nuclear energy as a response to climate change.
From CNN Money: Important statistic to watch, the foreclosure rate in Texas. While foreclosure rates continue to decline nationally, they rose 15% last year in Texas, and more than 300% in North Dakota. Right now those foreclosures in Texas are concentrated in the state’s western oil belt. If the numbers start to rise more significantly in Dallas and Houston expect trouble.
Whoa – 10 dollar a barrel tax on crude? Did not know how to process this so I went looking for people to tell me how to think about this proposal. Looked at a few videos of people that may not be experts but play one on TV. So this is how one went – ” Gasp – 10 dollars on 30 dollar a barrel oil is a 33 percent increase. Do we expect people to spend that extra amount at the pump (eye roll). I am ok with a gas tax increase but this!!” The next talking head says – (visibly shaken) – I too am OK with a tax at the gas pump but This would never, ever get traction. What is Obama thinking? (Falls off chair and writhes on floor)
So what I take from this, is that if oil was at 120 dollars a barrel, a 10 dollar tax would be easier to take. (It seems like it would be a 90 dollar increase but that is my crazy thinking) I am still not sure why a tax on a gas at the pump would be more acceptable that a tax on crude? It seems the latter might be more fair?
A white police officer in Chicago is suing the family of a nineteen-year old black man, Quintonio LeGrier, he shot seven times and killed for alleged emotional emotional distress. The officer in question, Robert Rialmo, also accidentally shot and killed an innocent bystander, an elderly grandmother, Bettie Jones, who was also black when one of Rialmo’s bullets passed through LeGrier’s arm and hit her square in the chest.
In fairness, it should be said that Rialmo’s account defends his actions by saying that LeGrier was trying to assault him with an aluminum baseball bat, although the LeGrier family lawyer has responded by saying that there was no immediate threat to Rialmo’s well-being at the time and that the officer’s actions were clearly overkill.
I’m interested to hear Lifer’s take on this, though from a moral standpoint, what this officer is doing is nothing short of obscene. He’s not the one who died and he even killed an innocent bystander who had nothing to do with this tragedy, yet HE’S the one claiming emotional distress? What about Bettie Jones’ family?
More broadly though, what is it about Chicago that makes Rialmo feel that he can get away with this? CAN he get away with something like this? And to what extent will those around him in the police department and his scumbag of a lawyer go to see that it does? Your thoughts?
Could it be that this policeman is playing on the sympathies of the “police matter too” crowd? Chicago is such a zoo of contradictions and abuse that what seems totally illogical to us may be routine there. I hope Lifer responds to this.
That last link was nice, but the same web site had a short-term Oil + S&P 500, and while it’s a bit short-term in its coverage, it shows a decoupling of the two starting in ~2013:
“Strange things are happening in the world’s energy markets. To almost everyone’s surprise, a massive campaign by the Saudis to undermine the growth of alternative energy producers is proving to be a near-complete failure.”
Why the hell do we still rely so much on Saudi Arabia? Why do we give them so much leeway when they’re more responsible for modern Islamic extremism than any other country (yes even Iran, since Iran is Shia and ISIS is Sunni)? This is the most bizarre alliance I’ve ever seen. They try to undermine our energy development, push massive amounts of Wahhabist propoganda, founded a theocratic absolute monarchy (basically the EXACT state the US was founded on opposing) and sometimes directly help some of the terrorists we’re at “war” with and yet we never talk about them. Maybe now that we’re becoming less reliant on foreign oil the US government can grow a backbone and stand up to them. Seriously I’d rather be aligned with Iran than Saudi Arabia right now, as bad as that sounds.
What’s so interesting now, Griffin, is that OPEC is no longer able to manipulate the oil markets. With the advent of fracking, the ability of the cartel to hold production over the head of the U.S. and other western powers was real. No more. With fracking’s ability to ratchet up production quickly, they can respond to any cuts OPEC might make. Of course, this benefits the U.S. the most as we have developed fracking into an art form. That and renewable energy becoming more dominant has really stuffed a sock in the cartel’s windbag. This is what Lifer has been explaining to us: there is a shifting paradigm now away from traditional fossil fuel toward renewable energy and it is going to be as significant as technological change. Terribly exciting but fraught with the problems of adjustment.
The real question is – who is going to be best positioned to make the shift first? With the global weaknesses we are seeing, the U.S. will be in the best position to benefit “IF” the politicians don’t get in the way. Interesting times.
Why do we give them so much leeway when they’re more responsible for modern Islamic extremism than any other country (yes even Iran, since Iran is Shia and ISIS is Sunni)? This is the most bizarre alliance I’ve ever seen. I
agree with your observation.
Home of Wahhabism.
I think that’s exactly the dynamic that’s going to play out, but give it time. Its only been a few short years since the fracking revolution made clear that the game has changed in oil, and the old alliances will need to be reconfigured.
I think the Saudi move to crush US oil production was at least as motivated by worry about losing US led immunity for its bad behavior then by a pure dollars and cents calculation.
I think to the Saudis, the old US-Saudi relationship is more valuable to them then the money they’re going to lose.
And I think that as the US becomes less and less dependent on Saudi oil, they are going to be finally held accountable for their actions.
But it will take years, of course. These things won’t happen overnight
“If only” it didn’t have to be America holding yet another middle eastern country accountable……As long as the U.S. insists on dedicating massive financial and personal resources to police the world (ostensibly for “our” protection, but one has to wonder if it’s more egocentric than that) – other neighboring countries will not.
THAT has to change. Petroleum independence is the opening salvo to a changing world order. When will American politicians learn that we cannot change the culture and politics of third world countries through military supremacy alone.
“Until the impact of cheaper energy on consumer spending starts to build, creating new growth pressures, we may actually see lower oil prices produce a counter-intuitive slowdown in the economy.”
Consumer spending is a function of income or borrowing. One certainly could argue that the consumer is better off with cheap gas because money is freed up for other things, but that doesn’t change total spending. It just goes into a different pocket.
Long term, *stable* cheap energy is better than expensive energy, but a crash from $115 to $30 causes a lot of dislocation and destroys a bunch of capital. The fact that I save $150 a month feeding my Hemi-powered truck sounds good until I lose an oil company client that was paying me $150 per hour.
Here’s a good article from a year ago about why the drop in oil prices wasn’t going to be a great thing for the economy. http://realinvestmentadvice.com/falling-energy-costs-and-economic-impacts/
Doug, we agree! The biggest problem is that the economy is so heavily dependent upon the fossil fuel industry for so many tangential sectors. Long term, of course, I’m delighted that renewable fuels are becoming more acceptable and available; short term, I think you’re right. $30 oil does more harm than good. We simply haven’t prepared for this scenario. Too much dislocation in jobs, revenue. Too much disruption. Shifting to new paradigms is always messy and this will be no exception.
Frankly, one could argue this situation a bit inevitable given so many sectors’ utter dependence on fossil fuels. It couldn’t last forever, but the bigger question is how we plan to capitalize on this opportunity now that it’s before us. Given that we’re in a presidential year, how do our candidates intend to capitalize on it? I won’t hold my breath waiting for any serious proposals from the Republicans, but Clinton needs to get out front and center on this issue. She’s obviously for clean energy – solar and the like – but what about the short-term and the impact on our economy with all this uncertainty going around?
You sound like the guy from the auto body shop wanting for freezing rain instead of snow the other day at the gas station I was at. He wanted to make money no matter if someone gets hurt in the process. Snow means less accidents less money, freezing rain, more accidents more money. The oil companies care only about money, and just like the auto body guy, they could care less about who gets hurt in their search for the all mighty dollar.
Not saying that that is what you believe Doug, just saying that high energy prices hit the lowest on the totum pole the most. Don’t want to see anyone get hurt because of low oil, but on the flip side, a lot of people were getting hurt do to high oil. Feeling sorry for the energy sector due to low oil cost, is like feeling sorry for. Doctors because no one is getting sick.
Or feeling sorry for cops because no one committing crimes.
“Strange things are happening in the world’s energy markets. To almost everyone’s surprise, a massive campaign by the Saudis to undermine the growth of alternative energy producers is proving to be a near-complete failure.”
That couldn’t happen to a nicer group of people. There can certainly be some short term instability, since that regime has basically been bribing the population into political tranquility, but in the long term I think it’s better for all that those mo-fos don’t have that much influence over the market and can’t fund all the nut job Islamic zealot groups so much anymore.
Concerning Houston area real estate, I’m so glad the house is paid off and I have no need to sell.
Me, too, Fly, but all those energy sector lay-offs are going to force many to sell the biggest (and maybe “only”) asset they have. That’s when markets get soft. Supply and demand is still predictive in this environment in real estate. The other point profiled in the Houston Chronicle today is that banks are anticipating insolvency within their loan portfolio, and are tightening lending requirements and hoarding cash to hedge against probable losses. There’s going to be plenty of pain to go around. Keep your day job (-:
My employer has been advertising for an additional person. So far, I’ve observed two major reactions in applicants.
One is a disappointment in the company’s lack of big oil glamor.
The other is please take me, please take me; I moved to oil and gas a few years ago, thinking it would be great for me and my family — now, not so much. Please take me.
Both reactions are caused by the same company. Thirty years of growth. Never a lay-off. Protective products that promote good health. New products in the pipeline. Growing markets.
I want the damaging, outsize influence of big oil to be done. But there may be a pain for a lot of people when/if that happens.
a lot of pain ^
At least we don’t have the Keystone Pipeline oil to worry about…..Haven’t heard a “peep” about this in the last few months…..Guess when it’s all said and done, 35 net jobs just didn’t cut it….Good for Obama. Except for the refineries on the Gulf Coast that were gearing up for the high sulfur condensate, everyone else is quietly happy….
Naomi Oreskes may be a victim of her own making. I’ve personally never bought into the GMO issue in deference to a more practical view in favor of common sense good nutrition. With lives growing ever longer (which doesn’t mean healthier) what we eat and how we live are good determinants of health. Until they aren’t. I’m much more interested in good general nutrition for people (especially children) than I am about Monsanto’s engineered corn – or, taking that thought further, about DNA modification if it will eradicate dreadful diseases. Practically speaking, we can’t all have a backyard garden and scientists we aren’t. We certainly don’t expect a man-made “Flint” problem, but we do have to have basic trust in the food that our grocers offer for sale.
What most people are confusing on the GMO debate, is the idea itself, and the use made of it. The idea is just to push what mankind makes since 7000 years – selecting the best of crops – to a new level.
The problem is the use made of it : the idea, in general, used by monsanto & others like that, is to make crop that is poison resistant, so that you can protect the crop from the vermin & the insects easily. This use of GMO shall be banned, not the idea in general. GMOs are just like a hammer, it can be good or bad. When it’s used to hammer my toes or to poison the rivers, it’s a bad use.
Unfortunately, most opponents don’t get the distinction, and blame GMOs for everything wrong in this world.
I’m not sure why this would be a problem, Glandu. Farmers spray fields with pesticides whether they are GMO or not. The type of GMOs that Monsanto is most associated with reduce pesticide use, in general, and give higher yields on a given plot of land. Two graphics in the link below are illustrative. First is the one after point 2, which shows that per-hectare use of pesticides is lower in the GMO-happy U.S. than it is in GMO-skeptical Britain or GMO-hostile France (it is, in fact, lower in the U.S. than in most developed countries). The second, and I think more telling, is after point 7, showing a strongly inverse relationship between the sowing of Bt wheat and use of insecticides. There can be problems associated with GMO crops, but indiscriminant use of pesticides is not one of them.
I’m not really concerned about safety issues with humans consuming GMO crops, but I do worry about possible environmental effects. There is already good evidence that monarch butterfly populations could be decimated by Bt-corn, for example.
In other news, famed science historian Naomi Oreskes was killed then her Toyota Pious was crushed during a head-on collision with a Humvee. Ms. Oreskes, after purchasing a bean burger had exited the McDonald’s near her San Diego home and headed the wrong way on the one-way thoroughfare. Police at the scene found little remaining of the hybrid car save for a single bottle of Bean-O that had rolled into the gutter after the crash.
Speaking from his hospital bed at the Institute of Anemia, recovering from a B-12 deficiency, Mr. Ned Ludd of the PPoA, (Precautionary Principle of America) eulogized Ms. Oreskes. “Naomi was a valiant and courageous spokesperson for the movement. She fearlessly drove down that one-way street to shorten her commute, and minimize her carbon footprint. This tragedy is a perfect example of the negative externalities associated with GMOs. Had soy beans been priced at realistic market value, Naomi would have persisted in her quest to grow soy beans in her window box. Sadly, she was tempted to the Dark Side, and made that fateful trip to McDonalds. We should all remember her sacrifice.)
So sad. She should have ridden her bicycle; maybe this tragedy could have been averted.
I just retired from a Water and Power Utlitiy. They have never missed a trend in their 100 year old history. The company is moving from fossil fuel, particularly coal to green energy. Something to think about. My we live in interesting times. The busting of commodities bubbles may finally force maturity on backward states .
Obama has proposed a $10/barrel of oil for cleaner transportation projects.
(I like this idea because a couple of months ago I found myself thinking that the low oil prices create an excellent time to raise gasoline taxes to, you know, fund some pot-hole-fillin’ activities. Great minds, and all that…. 🙂 If you live in Houston, you know where of speak.)
Odds of it actually happening? Zed. Because congress.
The most interesting commentary I have read on Obama’s $10/per barrel hike on oil is that it be imposed on imported oil rather than domestic oil. The oil industry is on its knees. As big a proponent as I am of renewable energy, I believe some realism is needed here. This fee might have made sense when oil was selling at $100/barrel, not now. What is needed is a shift in government support to renewable energy to allow the fossil fuel industry to quietly, slowly and relatively safely implode, while advancing a “ready” source of alternative fuels.
As for the fossil fuel industry’s refusal to accept the reality of alternative energy sources – those energy dependent companies who require energy to operate (transportation, industry, defense) won’t stand still. If the oil industry continues to drag its feet and refuses to embrace if not actively pursue renewable energy as part of its profile, they deserve obsolescence. Unfortunately, just as we have seen happen in industry, more than business is hurt. People are hurt; communities are hurt; the economy is hurt.
We have to be smarter than this as a nation. If there is a coincidental benefit for the environment, that would be super. I’d rather go through the front door to address that problem, but if the back door is the only one open, that’s what we’ll work with.
The proposed use of the $10 fee is laudable. Those are investments that we should have been making decades ago. I don’t think the fee will pass, nor do I believe it is appropriate at this time. We, as a country, need to commit to the development of a different kind of energy platform. It should be front and center in our federal budget.
Placing a national, modest dedicated tax on fuel is such a no-brainer that it boggles my mind. Yet, try even getting that idea calendared for committee discussion in either our state or federal legislatures. I would be willing to pay more per gallon if the funds went to programs and projects that are vital. That is the problem, isn’t it? Where the money goes………At present, TX is balancing its budget partly by withholding funds that are voter-approved for specific purposes from the entities for whom they are collected.
Trust. It’s a problem.
The hilarious thing is watching the GOP (I.e. the one always talking about how they really care about the middle class and working class jobs) fall all over themselves to protect the oil companies that have made trillions over the past few decades from such tyranny.
The energy sector are big donors, Rob. In today’s finance campaign structure, that counts. It’s part of the reason that they will not admit global warming is occurring with man as one of the chief causes. You get it, I know. Repubs would assert that Dems never saw a union they didn’t like and they are admittedly big players (or at least used to be) in campaign financing. It’s all in whose ox is being gored.
Rob, do you have a 401K? You may not be aware that you own an oil company or two. 🙂
If you’re concerned about the working class, you shouldn’t want this regressive $10/bbl tax. There is nowhere near $10 profit in a barrel of oil, so the oil companies couldn’t pay it even if they wanted to. The tax would flow directly to the pump.
Regressive tax. Looks that way, for sure, though someone with more expertise could tell me different.
The $10/barrel tax is a dumb idea. If you want to tax fossils fuels, make it a part of a larger carbon tax with some form of rebate to low income people to make it less regressive.
Texas is a bubble and will pop. The foreclosure rate is the indicator in the tea leaves, or entrails of the sheep.
Texas has a commodity-driven economy which makes it inherently counter-cyclical. When the wider economy is struggling, it usually thrives. When the US is booming, Texas lags.
For decades political leaders have promised to change this, but that would require them to do some things that make baby Jesus cry. Invest in education, especially science and math education. Put money into transportation infrastructure to develop dense, modern cities. Develop serious modern capital markets (why are there no stock or commodity exchanges on the Gulf Coast?). The last effort led by Enron failed partly because the state was unwilling to impose reasonable regulations on it. Build a political environment more friendly to racial and ethnic diversity. Foster closer partnerships between the state’s two major universities (Rice and UT) and technology industry leaders. And most of all, start to strip away the state’s dense network of preferences that favor third world industries like oil, gas, timber and agriculture.
Watching Texas’ Congressmen and Senators gut Houston’s campaign to build a rail system was pretty much the last nail in the coffin for me. I gave up waiting and left.
Chris, you’ll be interested that the new mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, is suggesting a radical shift in transportation thinking for the Houston Regional Area. I hope the prestigious Houston Regional Partnership and the appropriate analysts at the Baker Institute will offer studied responses to his suggestions. I am intrigued and pleased to see this modest, pragmatic new mayor offering so many forward-thinking ideas early in his term. I hope the right people are listening. Turner earned his creds through 25 years of working with members of both sides of the aisle in the TX Legislature. A diminutive man, Turner is unafraid to tackle big problems. He’s clearly got his work cut out for him in Houston.
It’s sad, but the egocentric state of mind in TX seems to engage intellectually (or pragmatically, whatever) best when it’s down. Focus on what’s most important to survive as opposed to the bravado of living big. Yeah, I’m ready. Apparently, so is Mayor Sylvester Turner. Bravo!
Lifer, I listened to a real interesting interview on NPR this past week. The man being interviewed was one of the architects of the AstroDome. Aside from the engineering challenges of building this design, there were significant challenges with financing it. It was (and still is) a publicly financed project. The architect shared the backstory of how Judge Roy Hofheinz went about building support for this project which was to be better than any other in the country – expressly to attract a major league baseball team to Houston. He expected and got great opposition from the conservatives in Harris County, but the coalition he quietly built with minorities tipped the referendum for public financing. Further, he recounted that the deal that was cut to get minority leader support and their voting block, was that the AstroDome would open as a desegregated facility. It was agreed by all to keep this “part of the deal” quiet, but that’s how the election was won. Politics, Texas-style!
I don’t know if you ever heard that story while you were living here, but it was fascinating to hear it told from one who knew the “nitty gritty” that was involved. Hofheinz was evidently a very pragmatic and colorful. Here’s a fun little piece of history on the AstroDome and Hofheinz that I didn’t know until I started researching what I heard on NPR. Enjoy!
Where is baby Jesus, and where is the whip to make him cry? Frankly, whatever the state, whatever the country, I like your program here.
An interesting thing happened on the way to a university-tech mash up. UT just bought 300 acres of choice real estate in Houston adjacent to the South Loop near the Medical Center. They have only a vague notion of what they will use this for, but “collaborative research center” is the buzzword they are using. Rice and some energy companies were positive, but non-committal (since there are no concrete plans). Alumni and legislators with UH ties were apoplectic – UT was encroaching on their territory, how did the Higher Education Coordinating Board allow this (short answer: UT didn’t bother to ask permission), this was a devious plan for UT to poach UH students and faculty. UH president Renu Khator was less conspiracy minded, but not enthusiastic. It is this sort of small thinking that makes it hard for UH to shed the “Cougar High” label and does no service to Houston at large.
The Texas Medical Center is also planning a collaborative campus extension for academic-industrial ties. The TMC desperately needs incubator space and a VC culture.
Houston should have spent the past decade lobbying hard to get UH to attract new high-profile faculty, upgrade the law and business programs, finance serious scientific research, and start upgrading student recruiting.
Instead, UH has diverted more than $100m from academics in order to build a nationally ranked football team.
So…I’m raising my kids in Chicago.
Lifer, your “so” list is getting longer………………..
Somehow I doubt that limited aspirations of the University of Houston was a big deciding factor in your move north. UH has always had low expectations, and frequently fails to meet even those. It has never been serious about changing its commuter school culture. I had thought that Khator might be trying to change that, but her response to the UT plans made it clear that she has not increased the school’s self esteem.
Come on Chris, don’t change the subject. Give us your impression of the GOP line up last night.
Didn’t watch it. I seldom watch the debates. Sounds like a missed the best one so far. What a miserable line up.
Too often just a bunch of people scoring gotcha points against each other. I can’t see how it has much of anything to do with governing. It’s mostly just about the horserace.
I went to a Rice basketball game instead and had a damn good time! And a free T-shirt. And egg rolls and pie! Plus I’d rather do the post-mortem part of debates anyway. Rubio blew it, but not as epically as Perry did. He might recover.
So Trump tried to abuse eminent domain and isn’t to least bit sorry or remorseful?? Color me shocked!!
Fly, what are your thoughts about the series “Mozart in the Jungle”? You’re a symphony musician, does this resonate with you?
I find Rubio in a way the most dangerous. Not because he’s worse then Cruz , but because, unlike Cruz, he actually has an outside shot of winning the general, especially if a black swan event happens close to November, such as a fresh terrorist attack or something.
So I’m as happy as anyone to see him stumble, but ideally don’t think this will have legs.
They ALL have memorized 30 second clips. It really shouldn’t have any bearing on someone’s ability to be Prez if they get froze up and repeat the same one a few times.
There’s enough legit reasons for Rubio to not be president to worry about that stuff.
I think one firm conclusion we can draw from the debate is that Christie has no interest in being Rubio’s vice presidential running mate.
Kasich seems to be the only one who has appeal to the others and that’s as much due to the large electoral vote OH offers than anything else. Once Carson stopped being an asset to Cruz, he was toast. Of course, we don’t have to go back too far to recall JFK selecting Lyndon Johnson for what his state brought to the table. And, it’s a good thing he picked someone who could step in and do the job, no? I still shudder when I think of a Pres. Palin … ugghhh….
Wish there were a Joe Biden in the group………..
Kasich just seems so darn reasonable, and if all you knew of him was what you saw in the debates, he’s almost the kind of Republican I could be talked into supporting.
That is, until you see his anti-abortion stuff and a rather unpleasant approach to poor people.
I totally agree, Homer. Thing is, most people don’t look deeply and Kasich is not perceived as a threat to the other candidates and thus isn’t a target for the other GOP candidates. Why waste valuable “attack” dollars on him until or if it is necessary? The media should be doing this research and reporting it, but they, too, are focused on the “front runners”. Kasich reminds me a lot of Dick Cheney – cold, competent, heartless.
I read The Weekly Sift to bookend Lifer’s blog. This guy really gets it. He has a deep understanding of politics and applies this understanding to what it will take to motivate Americans who otherwise don’t vote, or vote sporadically. Insightful. If Democrats could take his thesis and work it, this un-involved, under served large group of American citizens might just become engaged in voting on a regular basis. Sustained change.