Blog Post

Why Cheap Oil Won't Change Anything

Even if your Thanksgiving gathering had its share of sour family moments, consider yourself lucky: You weren’t stuck with a bunch of OPEC ministers in Cairo, where they couldn’t even agree on whether to cut oil production further.

Even though oil recently dropped below $50 a barrel for the first time in more than two years, OPEC is punting on a decision to reduce supplies. But as relieved as people still driving gas guzzlers might be, there are reasons why gas below $2 a gallon might not be welcome at all.

In addition to the obvious effects on the climate and depressed sales of hybrid and electric cars, cheap oil can also hurt the future oil supplies OPEC is dithering over today. Research firm CapGemini issued a provocative report last week calling cheap oil “very bad news” for those supplies. Among its findings:

  • A big drop in oil price will render expensive projects no longer viable, financially. Ninety dollars per barrel is about the threshold below which production from the extra heavy oil sand in Canada would not give a satisfactory return on investment. At the same time, this heavy oil is needed for the future, and investment needs to start now.
  • Even if Western countries’ economies slow down or even go into recession, pushing down their oil consumption, it will not be enough to offset the steady consumption growth in the developing world.
  • Technical difficulties in replacing current oil production with new discoveries will remain.

All of this provides even more reasons to continue the push for oil alternatives now. A reprieve from high oil prices because of weak demand is just that — a temporary reprieve. Once energy demand does recover around the world, the supply may not be there and oil prices could spike toward old highs rather quickly. And the unpleasant old side effects — global conflicts, oil dictatorships, calls for offshore drilling — would also come back just as fast.

Pushing toward feasible alternatives to oil next year, however little appeal they may offer in the short term, will make a transition to a recovery that much smoother.

11 Responses to “Why Cheap Oil Won't Change Anything”

  1. Uncle B

    If the U.S. had chosen to be a moral people, and leaving Iraqi oil alone, and following Al Gore, decided to develop the South Western deserts, with the technology of the times – solar/thermal-molten sodium – electricity installations, for the same amount of money as that war cost, ($650 Billion), today, we would be tapping into the largest, renewable, sustainable, energy source the world has ever known. A source of perpetual energy! It would have paid every energy bill in the U.S.A. for maintenance fees only – FOREVER! It would be equivalent to an oil field that can NEVER run dry! Low cost electric power, and storeable hydrogen gasoline replacement from the electricity, for all!
    After the millions of murders, and $650 billions of dollars, borrowed from our children’s futures and pissed away, with thousands of our own and others maimed and disfigured for life, millions of families utterly destroyed, ours and theirs, we are no closer to Iraqi oil production than the Iraqis are!
    The next time you hear a blithering idiot spoiled brat, drunken, drug addicted, sociopath, rich Arabic saber dancing daddie’s boy oilman, stand at a microphone and threaten YOUR safety with someone ELSE’S weapons, remember what you lost America, remember, and weep! (also see

  2. bobobberson

    “In addition to the obvious effects on the climate…”

    How is a few degrees increase in temp over the last 150 years and obvious effect? If I lived 150 years I probably wouldn’t have notices. And how are all the obvious effects of climate attributed straight to cheap oil?

    Please be less biased.

    Plus the with the “depressed sales of hybrid and electric cars,” means now is the time for eco-minded people to get in and buy them cheap before the sheep realized their mistakes!

  3. as a consumer as well as from the point of view of oil producing nations, I think, US$30 a barrel should be the maximum offer as it won’t bother the livelihood of all nations as well as the progress of development in term of economics
    but if some nations like Iraq had an high expectation from their oil sale, I think their dream might come true before the end/destruction of this world or are they driving toward the end of the world?

  4. the unreasonable surging of oil price during the last few years was due to the manipulation of some organization taking advantage of the Iraq war led by US, and the war is over so it’s time to restore of the oil price like before the Iraq war
    don’t say any unrelated topic to cover the interest of those oil producing nations because greed makes them blind to see the reality of all people suffered under their inhumane decision