Energy doesn't win votes

Sept. 17, 2012
Outside the oil patch, energy doesn't seem to be a factor in the US presidential election. When the issue is raised, it's usually the Joe Six-Pack complaint, "Gasoline prices are too damn high!"

Outside the oil patch, energy doesn't seem to be a factor in the US presidential election. When the issue is raised, it's usually the Joe Six-Pack complaint, "Gasoline prices are too damn high!" That cry has been repeated so often that many thought President Barack Obama would use Hurricane Isaac as an excuse to spring crude from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve into the market to drive down prices prior to the election.

According to various polls, major campaign issues for both parties include the economy, unemployment, taxes, and the $14 trillion federal debt. The Cable News Network web site reported, "President Obama's tenure in the Oval Office has been defined in many ways by the economy and the worst recession in a lifetime." That normally would be enough to bring down a president who failed to solve those problems in his first 4 years. Yet according to polls, Obama's more charismatic and likeable than challenger Mitt Romney.

Republicans have been hammering Obama's economic policies since 2009 with its conservative tea party wing pushing congressmen not to compromise previous pledges to cut spending and hold down taxes. But compromise is the lifeblood of US politics. Moody's Investors Service recently warned it likely will downgrade the US debt rating if Congress can't compromise soon on a proposed budget. Failure to forge an agreement would automatically trigger $1.2 trillion in tax increases and spending cuts that many say would again plunge the country into recession.

So with just 50 days to go until the US presidential election, it looks on paper as though neither candidate can win while each stands a good chance of losing through some gaffe or unforeseen development. The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll on Sept. 11 showed Obama attracting support from 48% of voters nationwide to Romney's 45%. Another 3% of those polled preferred some other candidate, and 4% were undecided. A tally of possible Electoral College votes gave Obama 247 and Romney 196 with an additional 95 considered toss-ups. The "safe" vote was closer at 180 for Obama and 178 for Romney.

But Obama carries an albatross that could tip the scales in Romney's favor. According to Rasmussen, "For the second week in a row, 50% of likely US voters favor repeal of President Obama's national health care law."

Oil and apple pie

On the campaign trail, Obama and Romney speak of energy in broad, reverent terms usually used in endorsements of mom and apple pie. Both favor plentiful supply of cheap fuel with no adverse effect on environment. Both want to make this country again independent of foreign oil. Neither, however, provides the slightest realistic hint as to how this would be accomplished.

Obama endorsed an all-of-the-above strategy for developing all energy resources, but when it comes to fossil fuels, critics say, it's really none-of-the-above. Romney's policy calls for North American energy independence by 2020. But we've yet to hear the response of our North American neighbors, Canada and Mexico, to the US—the world's largest energy consumer—achieving independence with their oil.

Therefore, the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas asks, "Does either candidate understand the new energy reality that America is facing? After a century of abundant, relatively inexpensive supply, oil and gas are becoming more costly and difficult to extract from the ground, and world oil supply apparently has stopped growing. Meanwhile, global demand continues to rise, and more nations are competing for limited oil exports. The implications of this historic turning point are monumental and far-reaching, and loom over virtually every economic and fiscal issue on the national agenda."

Neither candidate is likely to discuss energy details outside of Houston fund-raisers, however. ASPO officials said, "Candidates generally are not looking to add to the list of issues they need to address, and the risks of misstatement are simply too great."

About the Author

Sam Fletcher | Senior Writer

I'm third-generation blue-collar oil field worker, born in the great East Texas Field and completed high school in the Permian Basin of West Texas where I spent a couple of summers hustling jugs and loading shot holes on seismic crews. My family was oil field trash back when it was an insult instead of a brag on a bumper sticker. I enlisted in the US Army in 1961-1964 looking for a way out of a life of stoop-labor in the oil patch. I didn't succeed then, but a few years later when they passed a new GI Bill for Vietnam veterans, they backdated it to cover my period of enlistment and finally gave me the means to attend college. I'd wanted a career in journalism since my junior year in high school when I was editor of the school newspaper. I financed my college education with the GI bill, parttime work, and a few scholarships and earned a bachelor's degree and later a master's degree in mass communication at Texas Tech University. I worked some years on Texas daily newspapers and even taught journalism a couple of semesters at a junior college in San Antonio before joining the metropolitan Houston Post in 1973. In 1977 I became the energy reporter for the paper, primarily because I was the only writer who'd ever broke a sweat in sight of an oil rig. I covered the oil patch through its biggest boom in the 1970s, its worst depression in the 1980s, and its subsequent rise from the ashes as the industry reinvented itself yet again. When the Post folded in 1995, I made the switch to oil industry publications. At the start of the new century, I joined the Oil & Gas Journal, long the "Bible" of the oil industry. I've been writing about the oil and gas industry's successes and setbacks for a long time, and I've loved every minute of it.