INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND
Recent energy price spikes, electricity outages in California, localized oil product and natural gas shortages, and extreme energy price volatility have ushered in a new era of energy scarcity. The process of managing and working off surplus capacities that marked the past two decades is complete. Supply constraints have emerged across the energy spectrum, not only in the United States but around the world, presenting fundamental obstacles to continued economic growth and prosperity. The challenge of the new era is marshaling capital to develop adequate resources and infrastructure to meet rising demand for energy, in a manner that is consistent with environmental goals.
The cause of these energy infrastructure constraints is evident: persistent under investment juxtaposed with strong economic and oil-demand growth. Their solution will require a complex set of well-coordinated domestic and international efforts. The fact that oil’s input into Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been nearly cut in half during the last fifty years does not mean that output can expand with no increase in energy. Nor does it break the link evident in the fact that virtually every U.S. recession since the late 1940s has been preceded by sharp rise in the price of oil. (See Appendix A.) The economic reversal now looming will, if it develops into a full-fledged recession, be no exception.
The United States faces a steep decline rate in its domestic oil fields and, to some extent, in its natural gas fields. Proven oil reserves have declined from about 26 billion barrels in 1990 to 20 billion today. Proven gas reserves had slipped to 164 trillion cubic feet in January 2000, from 177.6 trillion cubic feet a decade ago. However, this does not mean that ultimate resource levels were a major factor in the tightening of U.S. energy markets. The United States managed to produce 20 billion barrels during the decade in which the proven reserve levels slipped by 6 billion barrels, and it still has more proven oil in the lower forty-eight states today than it did in 1930, indicating a still substantial replacement rate. Even more important for the future, estimates of the amount of undiscovered oil outside the United States are still rising, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, while the global search for natural gas has barely begun. The world will not run short of hydrocarbons in the foreseeable future.
The problem is one of developing these and other fuels and getting them to the consumers who need them. U.S. investment aimed at accomplishing this failed to keep pace with rising demand in part because energy industry profits were dismal through much of the 1990s, hitting bottom during the oil price collapse at the decade's end. The situation was exacerbated because low returns coincided with tightening environmental restrictions and an uneven regulatory process, especially in the electricity sector. No new oil refineries are likely to be built in the United States, given the high costs of environmental compliance and historically low returns on investment. Meanwhile, U.S. product imports shot up by nearly 20 percent last year from 1999, to 2.25 million barrels a day, and appear to be growing even more rapidly this year.
Chronically low prices, adverse fiscal regulations, inter-state disputes about pipeline rights of way, and restrictions on land access have all undermined growth in natural gas availability—at the same time that its clean burn has encouraged wider use of gas to heat buildings and fuel power plants and industry. In both 1998 and 1999, investment hit bottom amid plunging oil prices, and extremely mild winter weather masked both the rapid growth in underlying demand for natural gas and the erosion of spare "deliverability." All these events prevented the run-up in prices that might have sparked investment earlier. Then, in 2000 and early 2001, extreme weather—a hot summer and a cold start to the winter—suddenly inflated the previously hidden underlying growth in gas demand. Lags in the supply system prevented a rapid response, leading to record low inventories and soaring prices. Some relief may now be on the way, given rising rig counts and increased imports from Canada, accompanied by fuel switching and closure of uneconomic industrial capacity. Yet questions remain as to how robust the domestic supply response will be, given high depletion rates in North America and a shortage of rigs and trained personnel.
The story in the power sector is similar. No new nuclear plants have been ordered in the United States in more than twenty years. For the last decade, well over 90 percent of all new power plants ordered have been gas-fired. In some states, such as California, environmental concerns raised the bar to impractical levels even for construction of conventionally fueled electric power stations. High gas prices, an unusually cold winter, an explosion at a major natural gas pipeline last August, maintenance closures at nuclear power plants, and a drop in hydroelectric power converged with incomplete deregulation to produce devastating shortages in the California power grid. The resulting public outcry has called into question the benefits of electricity deregulation, despite relatively successful programs in other parts of the United States. Spare generation capacity also looks to be in short supply in the New York State region, where brownouts could emerge in the summer of 2001 if hot temperatures inflate demand for air conditioning.
Other parts of the U.S. energy infrastructure are afflicted as well. Permits and rights of way are nearly impossible to obtain for new pipelines, especially oil lines, and tanker shortages threaten to occur again partly because of environmental regulations.
The 1998–99 downturn in U.S. oil and gas investment came against the backdrop of years of reduced oil-field development spending by state-owned oil companies in Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) countries. Internal political pressures impelled governments as diverse as those of Saudi Arabia and Venezuela to dedicate more of their oil revenue to social programs. This converged with an unexpectedly robust world economy in the late 1990s to virtually wipe out excess capacity. That, in turn, sparked anew debates about the depletion of conventional hydrocarbons in a way that sometimes obscured the true nature of the problem.
The enormous swings in energy prices over the last four years have affected different parts of the world differently. But it has been good for no one. In 1998, most of the world benefited as stunningly low crude oil prices filtered through consuming economies. Yet a handful of oil exporting countries faced a fall of up to 50 percent in their national incomes within a year—an experience that had severe political and economic repercussions. Governments changed in Algeria, Brunei, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Venezuela, as loss of income exacerbated other difficulties. The price collapse threatened to destabilize societies as diverse as Russia and Indonesia. The following year, non-OPEC producers Mexico, Norway, and Oman joined with OPEC to remedy the situation by cutting production, thus pushing the burden back onto the rest of the world—but not before resentment had built up against the industrialized nations for turning a blind eye when prices fell so low. Industrialized countries, developing-country energy importers, and energy exporting countries have common concerns about severe price volatility and its impact on the domestic and international "political economy." The challenge now is how to turn this common perception into effective joint action.
In the past, energy crises have appeared simply to fade away over time. Sometimes, as in the late 1970s and early 1980s, recession solved the problem by radically reducing global energy demand. At other times, technological improvements reduced costs and created new efficiencies on both the supply and demand sides, fostering complacency among policymakers. Government attention to energy issues has tended to fade as prices fall. That complacency could be justified so long as surplus capacities existed. But in a world of energy capacity constraint, complacency could shackle the U.S. economy for years to come. If it does not respond strategically to the current energy circumstances, the United States risks perpetuating the unacceptable leverage of adversaries and leaving its economy vulnerable to volatile energy prices.
The time has come for a fresh strategic assessment of U.S. energy policy—one that intelligently balances potentially conflicting objectives of energy supply promotion, sustainable economic growth, environmental protection, and national security. A comprehensive effort is required that will integrate energy with other policy goals, while developing new sources of supply and finding ways to prune expected demand growth in order to assure that clean and adequate energy supplies will be available. This Task Force offers a unique perspective on the problems at hand and the difficult choices that will be required to deal with them effectively.
The Past Two Decades: A Review of Policy
Through the 1980s and 1990s, the centerpiece of U.S. energy policy has been to foster, at home and abroad, deregulated markets that efficiently allocate capital, provide a maximum of consumer choice, and foster low prices through competition. U.S. policy also favored diversity of supply, both geographically and in terms of energy sources. Domestically, infrastructure needs have been left to market forces. This hands-off policy has generally led to lower real energy costs. But this, in turn, has brought a dramatic slowdown in efficiency gains and a potentially dangerous complacency about energy supplies, energy efficiency, demand management, and conservation.
Tax policy was not utilized—as it was in Europe and Japan—to discourage use of hydrocarbons or to promote environmentally friendly fuels. Transportation's share of petroleum use had risen to 66 percent by 1995 from 52 percent in 1970, and could hit 70 percent by 2010 if new technologies are not put in place. Improvements in automobile mileage standards could dramatically influence these growth rates in U.S. consumption, while keeping the automotive industry competitive.
At the same time as it was ignoring demand management, U.S. policy frequently allowed energy supply goals to take a back seat to environmental considerations when it came to land management, emissions, and other policy requirements. Even in foreign policy, where the United States has frequently stated its desire to see new acreage opened to oil and gas exploration, it has not backed up its words with active support of these goals. On the contrary, it has frequently used energy sanctions as an instrument of foreign policy, blocking targeted countries from trade or investment, while making energy goals secondary to other foreign policy objectives.
For the most part, U.S. international oil policy has relied on maintenance of free access to Middle East Gulf oil and free access for Gulf exports to world markets. The United States has forged a special relationship with certain key Middle East exporters, which had an expressed interest in stable oil prices and, we assumed, would adjust their oil output to keep prices at levels that would neither discourage global economic growth nor fuel inflation. Taking this dependence a step further, the U.S. government has operated under the assumption that the national oil companies of these countries would make the investments needed to maintain enough surplus capacity to form a cushion against disruptions elsewhere. For several years, these assumptions appeared justified.
But recently, things have changed. These Gulf allies are finding their domestic and foreign policy interests increasingly at odds with U.S. strategic considerations, especially as Arab-Israeli tensions flare. They have become less inclined to lower oil prices in exchange for security of markets, and evidence suggests that investment is not being made in a timely enough manner to increase production capacity in line with growing global needs. A trend toward anti-Americanism could affect regional leaders’ ability to cooperate with the United States in the energy area.
The resulting tight markets have increased U.S. and global vulnerability to disruption and provided adversaries undue potential influence over the price of oil. Iraq has become a key "swing" producer, posing a difficult situation for the U.S. government.
Another new element is adding to vulnerability: Deregulation has encouraged U.S. and other energy companies to focus more single-mindedly on maximizing their competitive positions. One tool has been to slash inventories—cushions that are expensive but are needed to smooth out the functioning of markets during temporary dislocations.
How Did Energy Markets Suddenly Become So Constrained?
By the end of the 1970s, a consensus had emerged that the world economy had entered a "permanent" period of tightness in energy supplies. But actually, the high prices that followed the 1973 and 1979 oil crises attracted increased investment in energy resources and energy efficiency. Oil use dropped initially in absolute terms, especially in the power sector, where robust growth of nuclear power and increased reliance on coal replaced it. At the same time, the oil shocks and other factors contributed to a slowdown in some major industrialized economies, further reinforcing the substantial drop in oil use. Higher prices also encouraged investment in conventional and non-conventional fuels, especially outside of OPEC, as well as in energy efficiency. As a result, for most of the late 1980s and early 1990s, real oil and natural gas prices returned to historically "normal" and more moderate levels.
New sources of oil supply outside of OPEC countries contributed to this price slide, as did increases in production from Iraq and Iran, whose capacities had earlier been constrained by war. Resource nationalism began to ebb, as deregulation and liberalization of markets seemed to provide energy consumers near-unlimited resources at low prices, whether in the form of oil, electricity, or natural gas. Surplus capacities along the entire energy chain—accumulated in the days of government-subsidized industry and falling demand—meant that there could be an expansion of energy use without significantly affecting underlying costs. These surpluses were found in all aspects of the energy industry, including refineries, tankers and pipelines, offshore and land rigs, other oil-field equipment, and power-generating capacity.
Concern about the adverse environmental impacts of higher energy use prompted public authorities throughout the industrial world to tighten regulations. These measures could be implemented without fear of price consequences because energy supplies were ample. New technologies were expected to continue reducing the costs of energy production, while at the same time creating adequate supplies to meet demand. Market deregulation and the emergence of futures markets reinforced the view that energy supplies would always be ample, while giving energy producers new financial instruments with which to mitigate price risks.
The persistence of surplus capacities also allowed policymakers to place a greater emphasis on non-energy goals than on timely resource development, without fear of economic consequences. Environmental restrictions on oil products were tightened, elaborate permit procedures for new infrastructure were created, and importantly, economic sanctions were imposed on key oil-producing countries for an array of foreign policy reasons. The U.S. government even moved 180 degrees away from its policy of the 1970s, and began to adopt secondary boycotts of certain oil-producing countries in an effort to combat terrorism. Sanctions policy was buttressed by the belief in many U.S. circles that economic warfare was partially responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The August 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait witnessed a major test of global energy security. That test was readily met, creating a deeper sense of complacency among oil-consuming nations. With the end of the Cold War, U.S. leadership was able to forge an international coalition to repel Iraq. Although oil-supply security was a major issue cementing the coalition, it could be assigned a back seat to issues of international order because of three critical factors:
Surplus Capacity: The United Nations (U.N.) embargo on Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil was made possible by the existence of extensive surplus production capacity elsewhere. In August, some 5 million barrels a day of production was taken off the market through the embargo. By December, all of the lost production was made up through increases from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Abu Dhabi, and other OPEC nations, which had been carrying vast spare capacity and were willing to assist the coalition against Iraq. Previous surpluses also had cushioned the market with unusually high commercial stocks of crude oil and products.
Strategic Reserves: The more than 1 billion barrels of strategic petroleum reserves in International Energy Agency (IEA)-member countries loomed over the market, depriving OPEC or other oil producers of market power. It also restrained speculators, who would lose financially if those reserves were released. In the case of the Gulf War, the IEA system fulfilled its original mission to serve as a deterrent to market manipulation by adversaries during a crisis. Its very existence served to damp prices under the new market conditions.
Market Mechanisms: The deregulation of petroleum and refined product markets in the 1980s and the growth of futures and forward markets provided rapid and effective adjustment mechanisms. These developments facilitated refiners’ orderly transition from Kuwaiti and Iraqi supplies to replacement oil from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Abu Dhabi, whether those refiners were in East Asia, Europe, or the Western Hemisphere.
What Has Changed?
Perhaps the most significant difference between now and a decade ago is the extraordinarily rapid erosion of spare capacities at critical segments of energy chains. Today, shortfalls appear to be endemic. Among the most extraordinary of these losses in spare capacity is in the oil arena. In 1985, when oil prices collapsed, OPEC was estimated to have some 15 million barrels a day of shut-in production capacity, equal to perhaps 50 percent of its theoretical capacity (Iran and Iraq were at war with one another at the time) and 25 percent of global demand. By 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, spare capacity globally was still about 5- to 5.5-million b/d, which was the amount of oil taken off the market by the U.N. embargo. That was about 20 percent of OPEC’s capacity at the time and about 8 percent of global demand. This winter, before OPEC’s seasonal cuts, spare capacity was a negligible 2 percent of global demand.
The surge in energy demand worldwide that combined with under investment to create these shortfalls has been stunning, especially in high-growth Asian economies. In the United States, oil demand has risen on average 1 percent-2 percent per year since the late 1980s. In recent years, the rate has picked up to at least 2 percent, reflecting not only strong economic performance but also the relative neglect of policies related to conservation and energy efficiency. U.S. energy efficiency as measured by the amount of energy used per constant dollar of Gross National Product (GNP) declined from 8,300 British thermal units (BTUs) per 1996 U.S. dollar thirty years ago to 4,600 BTUs in 1995. But it dropped only an additional 400 BTUs between 1995 and 1999, despite great technological advances in many sectors of the economy. The decline in petroleum used, measured in terms of thousands of BTUs per dollar of GDP, was even more radical in the twenty-five years to 1995, from $15.15 to $8.43, reflecting structural shifts in the economy and improvements in energy efficiency. However, as energy costs fell starting in the mid-1980s, promotion of energy efficiency slowed dramatically.
Although appliances have become increasingly energy-efficient, energy consumption patterns have loosened up. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the U.S. automobile sector, with the growth in demand for light trucks (pickups, sport utility vehicles [SUVs] and minivans) that burn more gasoline than smaller vehicles. The transportation sector accounts for an increasing share of petroleum use in the United States, rising from 52 percent in 1970 to 66 percent in 1995. This is expected to increase to 70 percent by 2010 unless new technologies are put in place. The United States is not unique in displaying this trend. Assuming no major breakthroughs in automotive technology, the IEA projects that 59 percent of the 41-million b/d increase in worldwide oil demand expected from 1995 to 2020 will come from the transport sector.
Efficiency has increased in the transportation sector, where average miles per gallon (mpg) for standard automobiles have increased from 15.1 in 1983 to about 21.5 in 1999. However, the potential to do much more is an attainable option. The average fuel economy of light trucks on the road is only 17.4 mpg. Ford and General Motors have vowed to improve fuel economy for certain SUVs by 25 percent by 2005, but across-the-board implementation of higher mileage standards for light trucks could substantially lower oil use in the United States.
SUVs account for 25 percent of the category of "Light Trucks," up from 13.2 percent of all light trucks in 1992, yielding an average annual growth rate of 14 percent. The average annual growth rate for the entire "Light Truck" category was 4.42 percent. If fuel efficiency of light trucks matched that of cars, U.S. fuel savings would equal about 910,000 b/d of crude oil. If the fuel efficiency of only SUVs matched that of cars, the fuel savings would be 225,000 b/d. That’s just one example of the result of disregard of demand measures, where demand management could well be the most efficient way to "develop" more oil supply in the United States.
By 2010, without government intervention, high-mileage "post combustion" automobiles such as the gas-electric and fuel-cell hybrids could make up as much as 15–20 percent of new vehicles but would still only trim U.S. crude oil demand by 600,000 b/d, according to private studies. However, in the period between 2010–20, such technology could begin to make a significant contribution to curbing the growth in energy use. Several major car companies have announced plans to introduce new prototype hybrid cars by 2003–04.
Since 1973, the share of oil in the U.S. energy mix fell from 49.5 percent to 41 percent in 1999. But this trend could slow in the coming years if rising natural gas prices discourage gas substitution for oil. Already, fuel switching back to oil has resulted in a 500,000 to 600,000 b/d increase in oil use in the United States in early 2001, according to Department of Energy statistics.
The share of natural gas has risen from 18.2 percent in 1973 to 24 percent in 1999. Nuclear power is an indigenous source of energy, unique in having the capacity to provide enough energy to last hundreds of years without emitting greenhouse gases. Nuclear energy represents 22.9 percent of total U.S. electricity generation and is expected to fall as older plants are retired and as new construction is thwarted by social concerns and by regulatory issues as well as waste-disposal obstacles. No new plants have been constructed in the United States for two decades, and if the licenses of existing plants are not granted extensions, license expiration could lead to a 50 percent reduction in nuclear generation capacity by 2020. The United States choice of an open fuel cycle (i.e., once-through utilization of nuclear fuel followed by geological disposal) is plagued by spent-fuel isolation issues. The alternative closed fuel cycle advanced in France, Japan, and other countries (i.e., reprocessing of spent fuel to extract and recycle plutonium) is plagued by large accumulations of separated plutonium and unfavorable economics. The proliferation danger posed by separated plutonium led to a U.S. decision in the late 1970s to pursue the open fuel cycle.
Also in the 1970s and early 1980s, companies began investing in renewable technologies, but as oil prices began to fall in the mid-1980s and some investors in renewable projects failed to turn a profit, this trend also slowed. Renewable energy sources, including biomass, solar, wind, and hydro, now represent less than 10 percent of total U.S. energy use. Technological advances that have led to cost reductions in some fuels such as solar and wind represent an area for expanded attention. But hydro is the dominant renewable resource and has minimal expansion potential in the United States.
Environmental factors have also led to a decrease in the share of coal in the U.S. energy mix from 30 percent in 1973 to 23 percent currently, despite the fact that the United States has among the largest coal deposits in the world. Still, more than 50 percent of all electricity generated in the United States is fueled by coal. Internationally, coal use is expected to double in the next fifteen years. Despite governmental and industry efforts to foster clean coal technologies, coal’s high carbon base has made it a subject of attack by environmental concerns. But progress has been made and can continue to be made in reducing coal emissions.
Influence of Environmental Restrictions
Besides influencing the mix of fuels used in the United States, environmental factors have also created market inefficiencies that have exacerbated the underlying tightening of energy infrastructure. Federal and state environmental regulations have created at various times anomalies in local and regional supplies. Refiners and distributors have lost much of the flexibility they used to have to move gasoline supplies around the country to keep local and regional supply in balance. Thirty years ago, U.S. refineries made gasoline, diesel, and heating oil to national standards. In recent years, petroleum companies have been required under environmental restrictions to formulate at least seven different varieties of cleaner burning fuels for national or wide-scale distribution. Nationwide, the U.S. market uses more than fifty different types of motor gasoline, comprising different regional and local environmental requirements, octane levels, and seasonal fuel requirements. This "Market Balkanization" as labeled by the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation, Inc. (PIRINC) has distorted markets, creating artificial supply problems as well as artificial barriers to free trade in products. The result is that local, pocketed markets with their own individual quality requirements have become extremely vulnerable to disruption and localized price spikes, raising the costs to consumers of meeting environmental goals.
The problem of Balkanization is easy to describe at a theoretical level. Uncoordinated state regulations require refiners to manufacture an increasingly larger number of types of specific products and to distribute and store these products in or close to final end-user markets in the states that mandate particular specifications that differ from one another and from general norms. With the refinery system of the United States—indeed of all of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries—constrained in terms of their ability to meet both new national and multinational specifications mandated by environmental authorities, the addition of particular state specifications stretches the physical refining and distribution system beyond its limits. The result is supply shortage and high price volatility affecting consumers in specific locations. The shortages that emerged two years ago appear inevitably bound to worsen in the decade ahead.
Boutique fuels problems have become especially acute in the gasoline and, to some extent, the distillate markets, which have become highly segmented. For gasoline, problems in the Middle West and California in 2000 are likely to be repeated this year and indefinitely into the future unless efforts are made to smooth out market segmentation. Last year, California and the Chicago markets became extremely sensitive to disruptions in local supplies. In 2000, as PIRINC has shown, a 2–3 percent—i.e., very small—supply shortfall in the Middle West region of the United States helped create sharp increases in prices of reformulated gasoline in the region. As a result, average prices there, as has recently been the case in California, rose by up to 50 cents a gallon versus better-supplied markets (e.g., the U.S. Gulf Coast region).
The distillate situation last year in the Northeast United States displayed similar bottlenecks. Differentials between New England and U.S. Gulf Coast distillate prices widened significantly—more than 12 cents a gallon both in December and January. The differentials reflected differences in inventories being held in the regions. The newly created Northeast Heating Oil Reserve partially helped to solve the problem. But it took much longer than it might have to reduce these market differentials largely because heating oil marketers were forced to use U.S.-flagged tankers to move distillate from the U.S. Gulf Coast to New England. Meanwhile, distillate was being exported from the Gulf Coast to Latin America and Europe, where price differentials were high enough to make such trade profitable.
U.S. Northeast and Atlantic Coast markets are "net importers" of product. The imports come from abroad (mostly Europe and Latin America), and from the U.S. Gulf Coast (via pipeline—mostly the Colonial line—and via tankers). The U.S.-flagged ("Jones Act") tanker fleet has been in long-term decline. Meanwhile, ever since President Ronald Reagan permitted the export of products, the Atlantic Coast and Northeast regions have had to compete with foreign markets for U.S.-produced products. Increasingly, there have been problems encountered in moving both distillate and gasoline into the Atlantic Coast market. When the pipeline is fully utilized and when imports are inadequate, there is a potential need to waive the Jones Act requirements on the U.S. product tanker fleet to enable non-U.S. flagged vessels to carry cargoes between U.S. ports. While Jones Act waivers are available, they are rarely granted. Streamlining procedures for issuing waivers to the Jones Act would facilitate the elimination of this market anomaly and free up supply within the U.S. market during severe logistics crises.
The failure to coordinate environmental policy in a manner consistent with energy supply goals is making itself felt in the pocketbook of the American consumer. Lack of coherent policy has led to lower attention to the kinds of demand-management programs and diversification strategies that will be needed to meet the dual challenges of environmental enhancement and energy security, including fighting global warming and expanding energy demand. Continued over-reliance on oil—with relative neglect of efficiency—has left the United States and other importing countries more vulnerable to disruptions in supply. With limited spare capacity, a significant accident anywhere in the world, including, for example, along Alaska’s pipeline infrastructure due to an earthquake, would affect global conditions. Accidents in two or more places would be even worse. It is in this context of limited surplus capacity that concern is raised about the resources of the Middle East. Gulf crude oil comprises about 25 percent of world supply today. Many analysts project it could increase to more than 30–40 percent over the coming decade. If political factors were to block the development of new oil fields in the Middle East, the ramifications for world oil markets could be quite severe unless measures are taken immediately to diversify to other energy fuels.
U.S. unilateral sanctions as well as multilateral sanctions against oil-producing countries have discouraged oil resource investment in a number of key oil provinces, including Iraq, Iran, and Libya. U.S. sanctions policy has constrained capacity expansion to some extent in Iran and Libya, although the unilateral aspect of the U.S. action limited its impact. In the case of Iraq, the U.N. sanctions imposed as a result of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait have had a severe effect on potential Iraqi production.
Sanctions’ role in constraining investment in several key OPEC countries has aggravated the global problem of spare production capacity, which is now less diversified among a number of large producers than was the case twenty years ago. The consequent lack of competition has contributed to high prices. Most of today’s spare productive capacity is located in Saudi Arabia. And Saudi Arabia’s high, and growing, level of production and the lack of significant spare unutilized capacity outside the kingdom have spotlighted that country’s critical role in determining the state of current and future oil markets, in turn creating unique political pressures. Iran and Iraq accuse Saudi Arabia of seeking higher production rates to accommodate the economic interests of the United States, Japan, and Europe at the expense of the needs of local populations, creating internal pressures in the Arabian Gulf region against a moderate price stance. Bitter perceptions in the Arab world that the United States has not been evenhanded in brokering peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have exacerbated these pressures on Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and given political leverage to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to lobby for support among the Arab world’s populations.
Several key producing countries in these important areas remain closed to investment. Encouragement of open investment policies in these countries would greatly promote renewed competition among the largest oil producers and the advancement of oil supplies in the coming years. A reopening of these areas to foreign investment could make a critical difference in providing surplus supplies to markets in the coming decade.
Removal of bureaucratic, logistical, and political obstacles to investment in Russia could also play a major role in promoting supply outside the Middle East. The deterioration of the Russian oil industry has been a prominent feature of international oil markets in recent years. While Russia has the world’s eighth-largest oil reserves, the country’s political and economic problems have discouraged investment by both domestic and international oil companies. As a result, oil production in Russia has fallen to about 6 million b/d in 1999, down from 12.5 million b/d in the late 1980s. Both Russia and the Caspian Basin countries show promise as key future suppliers of hydrocarbons. In fact these two regions could hold as much as 27 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil resources. But, bureaucratic, logistical, and political obstacles remain a hindrance to both the timely development of currently exploitable reserves and new discoveries.
Oil resource development in Latin America, which offers great strategic benefits to the United States, has also slowed in the past year or two as sharp declines in oil fields in Venezuela and Colombia have not been offset by new oil fields coming online. Political uncertainties in both countries are thwarting foreign investment, and state revenues are tight, discouraging spending in oil and natural gas fields by government-owned oil monopolies.
But it would be a mistake for the United States to continue to rely largely on development of key oil resources in the Middle East and Russia as the linchpin of energy policy. Instead, U.S. energy policy must also focus on reversing the decline in interest in energy efficiency and conservation at home. The experience of the 1970s has shown that energy security and energy price competition is enhanced by diversity of suppliers and of fuel choices. The economies of other countries such as Japan and Germany are better shielded from oil price changes than is the U.S. economy because of the greater emphasis on efficiency and conservation.
Unfortunately, there is no new technology available on the immediate horizon that could be commercialized for as widespread use as oil and gas in the next ten years. Promotion of renewable fuels (e.g., bio-fuels) sounds attractive and should be pursued. But even if renewable fuels use were to be doubled over the next ten years as a result of a sizable commitment to these more environmentally friendly fuels, they would still only represent a low share of both electricity and total U.S. energy use. Nuclear energy could be a clean, ample alternative for electricity but problems of waste fuels, safety, and public confidence would have to be overcome.
Similarly, industry and other groups are lobbying for the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to foster energy development. This is an important issue for reasons seldom raised in current debates. Alaska oil production has entered a period of decline, which can be reversed only by opening up the ANWR. Such an opening could lead to the development of resources that could make a significant contribution to domestic supply for decades and would also bolster domestic industry and the local and national economies. While the opening of the ANWR would not in and of itself solve U.S. oil concerns, especially those related to foreign dependence, added resources would undoubtedly be significant. Yet, such a development program could take seven to ten years to implement (although industry optimists claim that a emergency effort could reduce the lag to three years) and would not free the United States from the cyclical energy supply dilemmas that keep recurring.
In sum there are no quick fix solutions to today’s energy problems. Rather, a broad combination of measures is required that will stimulate investment, enhance access to new supplies of oil and gas, promote competition and eliminate political barriers to world energy markets, limit the increase in energy demand, and promote new, cleaner technologies.
Deregulation: Plusses and Minuses
Many industry representatives and specialists believe that market forces can eventually initiate many of these changes without government interference. They even argue that consumers can foster cleaner fuel preferences through the marketplace and market mechanisms. There is merit in these arguments in favor of market solutions. But energy sector deregulation and reliance on market solutions and consumer preferences can only go so far because they do not take into account critical "public goods" aspects of energy supply and environmental protection.
In the 1970s, virtually all governments in the industrial and developing worlds directly administered the prices of key energy components, both at the primary level (crude oil, natural gas) and at the consumer level (petroleum product prices, residential natural gas, and electric power). Governments were also involved in major purchase contracts for internationally traded energy commodities (oil and natural gas primarily), and often tied these contracts to other trade and national security issues (barter of oil for construction projects, soft loans, arms).
Today governments have largely retreated from the energy sector. There is a widespread global consensus that administered policies and regulations that fly in the face of market fundamentals are inefficient, impede smooth adjustment to rapidly changing times, and infuse energy issues with other political issues (in short, politicizing energy issues unnecessarily). Markets have been deregulated and liberalized; and government companies have been privatized. Wherever governments still own significant energy assets, the state-owned enterprises are generally run on commercial terms. Moreover, governmental monopolies in the energy area have been broken, and national preferential considerations have been reduced.
Generally speaking, liberalization has facilitated efficiency and smooth allocation of resources to users who most require these resources. But rapid deregulation of the oil, natural gas, and power sectors have also reduced the incentives for specific businesses to invest in large inventories or excess capacity that can help smooth markets during times of disruption or unexpected volatility in demand growth. Tightening environmental regulation for construction of new energy facilities has also discouraged investment in some locations. These changes have placed more pressure on how to achieve the public benefits of inventory and spare production and generation capacity without discouraging investment in energy resources. It has also changed the nature of the debate on strategic stockpiles and government-controlled assets.
The IEA has provided an important institutional mechanism for coordinating international preparations for such a disruption, and its members have instituted strategic stockpiles that have, in turn, served as a major deterrent against producer countries individually or collectively using their "oil weapon" to pressure or "blackmail" individual oil-importing countries. However, deregulation has brought some unintended consequences about strategic stockpiles. By and large, deregulation of energy markets has meant that the establishment of inventories and the determination of their size have been left by governments to the market to decide, except in the case of government-held emergency stores. But markets do not always send fully accurate signals. That is in part a result of lack of market transparency and the realities that with imperfect information market participants tend to take the short view.
More recently, the lagged interplay between supply and demand in several energy commodities this year has caused market disruptions. It is possible that for some of these commodities, the market may, over time, provide its own solution, through increased refinery runs, increased gas drilling/production, and greater stimulus for investment to increase capacity. But interventions may occur that hasten this process or ease constraints more quickly.
Inventories serve as a premier tool in preventing market failures and in managing supply dislocations. Spare petroleum or natural gas production and deliverability capacity or redundancy in power generation capacity are ultimately inventory and inventory management issues. Spare capacities reflect an inventory of available supply in case of market dislocation or unexpected disruption. Similarly, more conventional references to stores of natural gas or of petroleum products or of crude oil are also inventories. Energy markets are constantly challenged by unexpected events—from severe weather to sudden technological changes that undermine forecasts of supply and demand. Without inventory or spare capacity, such events can create extreme price volatility, sometimes for short periods of time but also sometimes for extended periods of time. Moreover, severe price volatility can become self-generating by discouraging investment by industry players who cannot properly assess future market potential.
The unanticipated consequence of deregulation, industry consolidation and restructuring, and of environmental policies on inventories is now raising new challenges for policymakers. It is also redefining the debate on the appropriate role of government intervention in energy markets. That’s because of the political impact from supply shortfalls and price volatility on classes of consumers and on the general economy, when supplies are effectively auctioned to the highest bidder in times of shortage.
The Task Force’s action program for implementing a coherent U.S. energy policy is framed in the context of the fundamentally changed circumstances in today’s energy sector. For the two decades following the energy price spikes of the 1970s, the main opportunities and challenges for governments and consumers were based on the sometimes extraordinarily large surplus capacities that defined the energy system. These surplus capacities have now disappeared, or have been reduced to such low levels that there is only a limited cushion available to meet growth in demand or to buffer economies against disruptions. As demand moves against and away from capacity limits, the result is price volatility.
Over the past three years, the prices of most core energy sources—electricity, natural gas, and oil—have been more volatile than at any time in recent history. At a global level, crude oil prices hit their highest and lowest levels since the price collapse of the mid-1980s between 1998 and 2000, with the exception of a brief price spike after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. In North America, natural gas prices this winter set all-time record highs, and may well do so again a year from now, while electricity prices have reached unprecedented peaks in California and other pockets of the United States. Other regions of the country are likely to suffer the same fate this summer.
Under these circumstances, history demonstrates that the main tasks of energy policy are the following:
• To assure that markets operate efficiently so as to develop the infrastructure necessary to meet growing requirements of demand;
• To facilitate orderly growth in demand;
• To ensure the well-being of the human habitat and ecosystem; and
• To guarantee that mechanisms are in place for warding off and, if necessary, for managing disruptions to energy supply.