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Montana oil expert weighs in on issues

by By Brad Molnar
| March 23, 2022 7:20 AM

As the Ukraine invasion enters its fourth week our gas and diesel prices now eclipse the old record set in 2008. Mindless partisan haranguing on causation and solution play out with hackneyed ‘Trump did it better’ and ‘Biden has the vision’. Our energy conundrum is best addressed by an educated populace; not political platitudes.

XL KEYSTONE

Republican candidates and law makers have chortled for 14 years, “We need to build the Keystone”. Anyone still using this is admitting they have no idea what they are talking about. “We” is not us. Trans-Canada is who would build it and “we” can’t make them. When President Biden withdrew the on, off, on again, off again permit TC lost millions of USD. The tar sand oil crude was to be refined by two refineries on the Texas Gulf set up to handle the abrasive crude. One is owned by the House of Saud and the other by the Royal Dutch Family. The crude was to be turned into diesel then shipped to Central America. Bakken crude put in the pipeline in Baker would have been shipped out of country as well.

DIESEL

Talk radio pundits daily lament that we purchased oil from Russia thus financing the invasion; and now buy it from Venezuela. This gets blamed on Biden for pausing drilling on federal lands. In fact we bought the oil from Venezuela until we slapped sanctions on them for human rights violations. Then refiners turned to Russia to supply the requisite minimum .5% sulphur content. We also import the requisite .5% from Canada and Mexico to augment what we produce in the U.S. We got 3% of this needed crude to make diesel and heating fuel from Russia. The recent decision to not buy from Russia plays into a long standing shortage and thus cost.

It will get worse. Mexico has announced they will no longer export Mexican Maya .5% grade starting in 2023. Iranian crude is also coveted for this purpose, but we embargoed Iranian crude in 2018 thus driving much of European market to Russia for supplies.

INVESTMENT REQUIRED

America is still awash in oil. But refineries are built to refine express products. To refine/produce a different formula is very expensive and can take years. Biden has promised to shutter the oil fields and the refineries. An expensive modification to an existing refinery, or an expensive increase in oil exploration, is a tough sale in the board room when you are targeted for extinction. This is a legitimate complaint against Biden.

In June of 2007 the Big Sky Sun highlighted how the push for bio-fuels was causing refiners to cancel plans for upgrades and expansions. Investors prefer to buy back stocks with profits instead of build new capacity and find new supplies when faced with a hostile business environment. When a smiling politician says that he supports “all of the above” for energy supplies know they are part of the problem. Biden is not alone. Clinton, Obama and Trump share in the blame if the rear view is your preference.

Investment firms like BlackRock offer “sustainability funds” based on a malleable ESG (environmental, social, and governance) rating derived by polling. This and government flip flopping on energy policies to “invigorate their base” reduces needed investment in our needed energy infrastructure.

A HOLE IN THE BUCKET

December of 2015 then President Obama signed legislation allowing the export of crude oil. February of 2016 we added natural gas to the exportable list. Now we do not have enough natural gas to make enough fertilizer which creates significant problems. Since Dec. of 2015 our refineries receive 10% to 20% crude below capacity. This keeps the price up. During the same time we greatly increased exports.

TAKE AWAY

We have plenty of oil in America to meet our demand with reasonable prices but the actions of 2015 put us on the world market index. Biden once said we should consider exporting less. No one has said it since. Perhaps we should fill our refineries first…and not at world price indexes. For sure we should not replace discerning discussion with name calling and partisan talking points.

Brad Molnar studied International Energy for eight years as a Public Service Commissioner.

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