What a day! Last Wednesday, those of us who could shell out the price of 15 barrels of crude oil were treated to a plethora of oil industry canned (barreled?) wisdom on oil and energy, its present and future, by a battery of veterans and experts in the field, from that sly and wizened old fox T.Boone Pickens to Nobel Laureate Steven Chu at the "New York Times' Energy Summit"
Much was learned, much was overlooked. In its introductory handout, that day's "Energy" special section of the New York Times, the tone was set by the Times' indefatigable oil reporter Jad Mouawad who in his featured reportage instructed us all, the great unwashed, that "oil is a global commodity whose price is set on the global market." Here was the gospel of oil patch doctrine -- with its inference that its all about 'supply and demand' when setting prices on the world market. Not a whisper about that 'force of nature,' the OPEC oil cartel, nor the massive distortion rendered by the hundreds of billions of barrels of oil traded and speculated over the world commodity exchanges.
Perhaps the highlight of the day's presentations was the 'conversation' held with our current Energy Secretary Dr. Steven Chu, who was quoted in the Wall Street Journal in 2008 saying, "Somehow we have to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe," and his interlocutor, columnist Tom Friedman. The very same Dr. Chu was told earlier in March by Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss): "...I can't look at motivations. I have to look at results. And under this administration, the price of gasoline has doubled... The people of north Mississippi can't be here, so I have to be here and be their voice for them... I have to tell you that $8-a-gallon gasoline makes them afraid. It's a cruel tax on the people of north Mississippi as they try to go back and forth to work. It's a cloud hanging over economic development and job creation." Chu expressed sympathy but said his department is working to lower energy prices in the long term."There now, does that make you feel warm and cozy up there in Maine?
And so the conversation went, as though the here and now had nothing to do with the energy secretary's concerns. The price we are all paying at the pump or for heating oil was too mundane to be touched upon by Dr. Chu. A bit like leaving the aerie of the ivy covered walls of academe and getting your hands dirty on an oil rig.
Confronted with questions about the Solyndra debacle that cost the government more than a half billion dollars in failed, clearly botched guarantees, Dr. Chu interjected that Congress had set aside some $10 billion for potentially failed energy investments, as if to imply that calling him to account for a mere $500 million was not quite in line. "It is what it is," we were told.
During the entire interview, not a word about the issue on the minds of most Americans, the price they are paying at the pump. As though this was outside the purview of the Department of Energy. But see it all for yourself:
Correction: A previous version of this post quoted Rep. Alan Nunnelee as asking if the "overall goal is to get our price down."