Opinion

The Great Debate

Develop domestic oil reserves for energy independence

 Diana Furchtgott-Roth– Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. The views expressed are her own. —

President Obama is in favor of moving towards “energy independence,” but his new 2010 Budget specifically seeks to raise taxes on domestic oil exploration by $31 billion over 10 years, a larger tax increase than on any other industry. In addition, oil and gas producers would bear a disproportionately heavy share of other tax increases on business, more than $320 billion.

Surely a president who desires energy independence would leave oil companies alone so that America could develop greater domestic reserves.  But this is not the case.

The ostensible rationale for the tax increases is that the current tax system “distorts markets by encouraging more investment in the oil and gas industry than would occur under a neutral system. To the extent expensing encourages overproduction of oil and gas, it is detrimental to long-term energy security…” This wording, with reference to credits, lower tax rates, special treatment, and accelerated depreciation, is repeated eight times in the Treasury Department’s Green Book, a description of proposed spending and revenue changes in the budget.

President Obama believes that subsidies for renewable energy are acceptable, even though renewable energy is only responsible for 4 percent of America’s supply.  He does not consider expenditures of $60 billion on “clean energy investments” to be distortions.  But oil, which accounts for almost 40 percent of America’s energy usage, is a different matter, apparently deserving of higher taxes to limit overproduction. With fuel prices close to $5 a gallon last summer, we could have used a little overproduction.

NYMEX oil benchmark again in question

John Kemp Great Debate– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist.  The views expressed are his own –

The record differential between the front-month and more liquid second-month contracts at expiry last week once again raised pointed questions about whether the NYMEX light sweet contract is serving as a good benchmark for the global oil market, or sending misleading signals about the state of supply and demand.

The expiring January 2009 contract ended down $2.35 on Friday at $33.87, while the more liquid February contract actually rose 69 cents to settle at $42.36 – an unprecedented contango from one month to the next of $8.49.

Will Obama raise fuel taxes?

John Kemp Great DebateJohn Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own.

LONDON, Dec 8 (Reuters) – China’s decision on Friday to link domestic fuel prices to the international price of crude oil, but increase consumption taxes on gasoline and diesel sharply to spur more efficient use of energy in the medium term, raises the question whether the incoming Obama administration might be tempted to do the same.

China is taking advantage of a cyclical pull back in energy to push through a permanent structural increase in taxes and prices. The aim is to combine a short-term boost to the economy with longer-term and more consistent incentives for improving energy efficiency.

By consolidating a series of tolls and administrative charges into a single, easy to collect consumption tax, the government is simplifying the tax system, creating a new source of revenue, and ensuring the change will have no impact on the politically sensitive inflation rate.

Export window closes for U.S. oil refiners

John Kemp Great Debate– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

U.S. oil refiners have relied heavily on exporting surplus gasoline and especially distillates to help offset plunging domestic demand over the last eighteen months.

Record product exports have averted a much deeper crisis within the industry, an even bigger collapse in gross margins and a huge inventory build.

Bleak outlook for U.S. oil refiners

John Kemp Great Debate– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

Even by the standards of a deep-cyclical industry, the “golden age” of oil refining has proved remarkably brief, lasting no more than three years, before giving way to a new dark age.

Particularly in the United States, refiners have returned to the state of chronic unprofitability that plagued the industry before 2005.

Biofuels run into trouble

John Kemp Great Debate– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Despite a promising start, the U.S. experiment with renewable fuels is facing a serious challenge next year. Falling gasoline consumption, lower pump prices and contradictions within the federal government program are intensifying existing pressures on ethanol distillers and farmers already struggling to cope with over-capacity and collapsing margins.

ETHANOL ENTHUSIASM

Between 2000 and 2007, production of fuel ethanol quadrupled from 1.6 billion to 6.5 billion gallons, and the industry is on course to distill a record 9.3 billion gallons in 2008.

Ethanol production is not really economic at oil prices below about $60-70 per barrel (prices of grains and fats for ethanol conversion and processing costs are too high relative to oil). So the original boost to ethanol came from its use as an oxygenating additive in reformulated gasoline, rather than as fuel in its own right, when a number of states banned the use of MTBE.

from Global News Journal:

What should the world do about Somalia?

Islamist militants imposing a strict form of Islamic law are knocking on the doors of Somalia's capital, the country's president fears his government could collapse -- and now pirates have seized a super-tanker laden with crude oil heading to the United States from Saudi Arabia.

Chaos, conflict and humanitarian crises in Somalia are hardly new. It's a poor, dry nation where a million people live as refugees and 10,000 civilians have been killed in the Islamist-led insurgency of the last two years. A fledgling peace process looks fragile. Any hopes an international peacekeeping force will soon come to the rescue of a country that has become the epitome of anarchic violence are optimistic, at best.

But besides causing instability in the Horn of Africa, the turmoil onshore is spilling into the busy waters of the Gulf of Aden. The European Union and NATO have beefed up patrols of this key trade route linking Asia to Europe via the Suez Canal as more and more ships fall prey to piracy. Attacks off the coast of east Africa also threaten vital food aid deliveries to Somalia.

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