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Who Needs Big Oil Companies Anyway?


The big oil companies are indeed in deepening trouble, including nationalizations abroad. ("Why you should worry about Big Oil," Cover Story, May 15). But why should the average citizen be concerned? Won't the oil continue to flow to consumers even if the present companies fade away?

You postulate that "private oil companies are better than national companies at getting the best results." They may be more efficient in the narrow sense of oil operations and more eager to lock in new fields. But recall their manipulation of prices, their collaboration with speculators in the futures markets, and their reluctance to help develop alternative sources of energy. If oil companies can't survive, their refining facilities could well be turned into regulated public utilities, much like electric power and telephone services. As for the fear that foreign national oil companies -- or their OPEC-type cartels -- may manipulate the supply to raise prices, the record shows that the Big Oil companies seldom resist price rises -- rather, they embrace them!

The direct counterweight to extortionate pricing would be to stimulate ethanol and other alternative energy sources, which would undercut high-priced crude oil. Another response might be to establish a genuine international oil authority -- an operational agency, not just statistical, like the International Energy Agency set up in 1974 -- that would be the central buyer for most of the world's oil production and would sell it, at a small markup, to the importing nations of the collective.

More ominous is the long-term trend that you report on worldwide oil consumption rising much faster than new discoveries of oil fields. Here, certainly, we need to promote more conservation, but mainly we need to promote the alternative sources that are now emerging.

Edwin P. Reubens

Weston, Fla.

Editor's note: The writer is a retired professor of economics at City University of New York.

Your timely article overlooks what may be the biggest worry of all: reaching, then passing, the peak of annual worldwide crude oil production. Building on the pioneering work of Dr. M. King Hubbert, who accurately predicted the 1970 maximum of U.S. (lower 48 states) production about 15 years in advance, several noted geoscientists (such as Emeritus Professor Kenneth S. Deffeyes of Princeton) now forecast that the global top will occur within the next decade. Should it, the resulting imbalance between sagging production and surging demand, notably from China and India, can only lead to further price increases regardless of which company or country controls the finite supply of this precious fossil fuel.

Robert L. Christensen

Chappaqua, N.Y.

Instead of investigating oil, could you please have a congressional inquiry into Snapple at $6.30 a gallon? I seem to use more of that stuff than oil.

Barry Twersky

Lakewood, N.J.

Your article "Dark days for energy efficiency" (Environment, May 1) looks selectively at a few lines in a government research-and-development budget while missing the big picture. The 2005 energy bill brought billions in new tax breaks for energy-efficient technologies, a host of new appliance-efficiency standards, and an overarching recognition that energy efficiency is the cheapest, fastest method of using our resources more productively.

Indeed, these are not the "dark days." President George W. Bush has challenged the nation to overcome its addiction to oil. Consumers large and small are paying attention to energy. Markets are responding. Private investments in energy efficiency are soaring. The nation's largest single user -- the federal government -- is leveraging $1.5 billion in private capital to improve its own efficiency, with taxpayers reaping the ultimate reward. And yes, key areas of government R&D, such as building technologies, the appliance standards programs, hydrogen, and fuel cells, are rising, not falling.

We are pursuing transformational technologies to change the way we power our cars, homes, and businesses, but energy efficiency will always be at the foundation of those efforts.

David Garman

Under Secretary of Energy

Washington

Ethanol plants cost $75 million to build, vs. $1 billion for gasoline refineries, according to "Drunk on ethanol" (Finance, May 15). While output is smaller, these plants come online sooner and offer the benefits of significantly reduced pollution, jump-starting the economy of America's heartland, and reducing our dependence on countries led by dictators and/or sponsors of terrorism. In addition, the billions we are paying to fight wars every few years in oil-rich countries directly add daily to the human and financial costs of foreign oil. Seems like a no-brainer.

Shame on our politicians for preventing us from following Brazil's lead and converting sooner. Incentives to independent gas stations to add E85 pumps is a much better solution than tax breaks or incentives to Big Oil to build refineries.

Wade Anderson

Sherwood, Ore.

The hoopla surrounding William T. Bielby's "unconscious bias" theory, ("White men can't help it," Legal Affairs, May 15) is troubling for several reasons. First, an association does not prove cause and effect, and the trial judge is supposed to make that distinction. Second, Christopher Winship is absolutely correct when he says that if the tables were turned "all hell would break loose." Third, Professor Bielby and his plaintiffs' attorney patrons are advocating exactly what our antidiscrimination laws are designed to prevent: stereotyping. Last, and probably most critical, does due process allow us to hold any person legally responsible for his "unconscious behavior" -- that is, the inability to refrain from doing what the unconscious behavior causes him or her to do? We do not, for example, hold liable a driver who, unaware of any problem, has a seizure for the first time while driving.

Perhaps, if Bielby's theory is reproduced by others and does ultimately become a validated theory of causation, it will indeed be a powerful weapon -- for the defense. After all, according to this theory, white men cannot help discriminating.

William R. Clarke

Richland, Wash.

It absolutely floors me that these companies that actively discriminate have the audacity to try to fight it in court, as if they don't know what they've done. If they're intelligent enough to run billion-dollar companies, they're intelligent enough to realize when they've made a promotion selection based more on their own comfort levels and less about job performance. A solution aside from job posting would be recruitment and selection based on standard criteria rooted in a job-task analysis. That way, the "innocent defense" of assuming women do not want to relocate would be null, as a potential qualification for accepting any position would be relocation.

Adelle Crump

Philadelphia, Pa.

One can only hope the courts will soon realize that "unconscious bias" theory is a silly amalgamation of junk science and psychobabble whose sole objective is to profit at the expense of the innocent.

Leonard R. Powers

Beaverton, Ore.

Since colleges and/or universities are businesses producing a product and/or offering services, there must be white male professors who are unaware of how stereotypes affect their perceptions, including Professor Bielby. To prove his point, all white male professors must be guilty of biases and therefore have a direct effect on discriminatory letter-grade achievement. They can't help it. Documented submission of an "expert witness" paper investigating and/or monitoring white male professors nationwide may be justified under Bielby's theory to achieve fairness.

Perhaps with government grant extensions in the millions of dollars, Bielby will be able to do a long-term study of white-male offspring from mixed-race marriages and prove his theory of subconscious white male genetics. That would cement his legal "expert" standing and/or credentials.

A. Cornedi

Ft. Collins, Colo.


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