Antioil arguments too often rely on distortion

Aug. 26, 2013
Obstructionism accommodates itself more readily to politics than to argument.

Obstructionism accommodates itself more readily to politics than to argument.

On just about any issue, opposition is the easiest position to occupy. Sometimes, it's the right one.

What's easy about opposition, right or wrong, is selling it. Inducing people to focus on drawbacks and ignore advantages requires no high-order skill. The trick seems to work even with people mature enough to know nothing in life is all good or all bad.

One-sided distortion drives campaigns of opposition against oil. Often, the tactic strands propagandists who use it in indefensible positions.

For many years, a US campaign against the use of oil hinged on geographic origin.

The argument: Much oil comes from the Middle East. Some countries there dislike the US. Therefore, the US should quit using oil and instead resort to costlier alternatives.

Faulty logic notwithstanding, the argument has influenced politics. Its proponents, therefore, should have to answer to changed circumstances.

Production is growing rapidly in the US, Canada, and friendly countries of South America such as Colombia and Brazil. In a few years, the US might lead the world in combined production of crude oil and lease condensate, natural gas liquids, and renewable liquids. Development of unconventional resources in the US and Canada, probably can make North America a net oil exporter. Mexico might strengthen the continental trade position if it embraces newly proposed energy-law reform and reverses its production decline.

So what was that about not using oil because it comes from countries with governments not altogether sympathetic to American interests?

Because the geographic-origin argument no longer works, its promoters have turned to other gripes about oil—some real, such as marine spills and emissions of greenhouse gases, and some not, such as threats to drinking water from hydraulic fracturing and pipelines. Typically, they ignore oil's advantages of scale and form.

Like everything, oil's neither all good nor all bad. To obstructionists, though, it's all bad all the time for reasons that come and go.