Publications: Notes at the Margin

Panic at the Wellhead and the "Myth of Fossil Fuel Exceptionalism" (October 26, 2020)


The oil industry has enjoyed special treatment from time to time over the last century. Politicians looked to it for assistance following the Arab embargo, the Iranian revolution, and Iraq's invasion of Iran and during the price explosion in 2007 and 2008. Executives in the industry enjoyed brief periods of fame on those occasions as publicists such as Dan Yergin aggrandized them. One could describe oil and gas during these periods as exceptional among commercial sectors.


The industry is no longer exceptional. Instead, it is being punished by its inability to offer investors returns, shunned by those who might provide new capital, and threatened by competitors that offer consumers alternatives to hydrocarbons to satisfy their needs for mobility and comfort. Indeed, it is these competitors that consumers and policymakers now see as exceptional.


The oil industry has yet to mount a convincing argument to justify its continuing existence.


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