Aspen, at this time of year holds a most extraordinary gathering called the Aspen Ideas Festival. It's a wonderful event and learning experience. Panels of the best and the brightest proliferate. Its about ideas and points of view, but occasionally there is a snafu.
My interest in energy brought me to a number of panels on the subject. The first was "A Conversation About Oil" with Chevron's Vice Chairman Peter J. Robinson interviewed by Jim Lehrer. The interview went well giving Robertson the opportunity to advise his audience of all the good works that Chevron is doing for us, and the difficult terrain they are working through to achieve results and keep up with demand. There was a broad reaching discussion of profits and how they are being reinvested. The profits are of course humongous, but the policy of reinvestment is not unimpressive.
But then there is this annoying posturing with the oil boys that appears to hold their audience for fools . First there was this little theatrical performance, with Robertson holding up a bottle of designer label water, comparing its cost to a gallon of gasoline as if to say -- see folks gasoline is as cheap as water. All presumably on the assumption that his audience is either very slow or was so well heeled that they never deigned to drink tap water. This little bit of patronizing theater is repeated time and again in the oil patch. So much for the stage craft of the oil boys.
When Lehrer asked Robertson perhaps the most prickly question of the evening, "Why are gas prices so high", we were given a several minute dissertation on how crude oil makes up over fifty percent of the price of gasoline and that the price of crude is driven by the market. And, then, yes I kid you not, Robertson compared the oil market to the orange juice market -- "you see when there is a frost in Florida the price of orange juice goes up and that's the way the oil market works as well." Orange juice!?
When the question and answer period came along, I stirred myself to approach one of the well situated microphones and asked the following perhaps too smarty pants question, "Mr Robertson, I'm confused . You talk about market forces setting the price for oil and then you compare it to the orange juice market. Could you explain OPEC to me, does that stand for the Orangejuice Producers Exporting Countries?"
Perhaps my question was too rhetorical or perhaps upsetting to Mr. Robertson with its implication that comparing the dynamic of the oil market with the orange juice market was patent nonsense. In any case, like all good oil men, he had his entourage at hand, here in the person of Jim Lehrer whose program the 'The Jim Lehrer News Hour' is in large measure subsidized by Chevron. Lehrer used his authority as moderator to dismiss the question and in contravention of the spirit and openness of the Ideas Festival, dismissed me by calling on the next questioner. Never got an answer. Lesson. Don't mess with the oil boys!
Will be posting more from Aspen next days.