Oil industry advocate says innovation is key to keeping industry healthy

2014-08-27T16:33:00Z 2014-08-27T23:58:34Z Oil industry advocate says innovation is key to keeping industry healthyBy TOM HOWARD thoward@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Alex Epstein says he’s not too worried about running out of oil. But he sometimes worries that the industry won’t always have the freedom to develop it.

Speaking to the annual meeting of the Montana Petroleum Association on Wednesday, Epstein said the industry could improve its public image by simply reminding people how much society has benefited from burning fossil fuels.

Epstein is the founder of the Center for Industrial Progress, “a for-profit think-tank seeking to bring about a new industrial revolution,” according to his website.

Sporting a green T-shirt declaring “I (heart) fossil fuels,” Epstein said environmentalists have been consistently wrong when they have argued that the world is running out of oil, that the use of fossil fuels will lead to environmental catastrophe and that burning fossil fuels will lead to catastrophic climate change. His forthcoming book is titled, “The Moral case for Fossil Fuels.”

He also disputed the popular notion that using fossil fuels is an “addiction” that can only be cured by making a drastic switch to renewable energy.

Former President George W. Bush once acknowledged that the United States is “addicted to oil.” Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, also called on Americans to end the “tyranny of oil,” by advocating for a drastic change in energy policy.

Despite the rhetoric in favor of developing new forms of energy, oil and gas production in the United States has expanded dramatically during Obama’s presidency, mostly through technical innovations such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

“The elephant in the room is always the addiction issue,” Epstein said. “Until they view what you do as healthy instead of an addiction, all of the other arguments don’t work.”

Epstein said the “addicted to oil” narrative is also ingrained in the nation’s education system.

“It was the only view I ever got. When I was in chemistry class (at Duke University) the teacher made it a point of how all the scientists know we’re screwing up the planet,” Epstein said.

Former Vice President Al Gore, whose book and movie “An Inconvenient Truth” warned about the dangers of climate change, has been called a hypocrite because he lived in a mansion and flew from coast to coast, burning fossil fuel.

“You can say, ‘Al Gore you’re a hypocrite,’ but what have you proven?” Epstein said. “You’re implying that Al Gore should have a small house. My view is, no, it’s great you have a mansion and fly around. I would like to have a mansion and be able to fly around, so hands off my energy.”

Earlier this week, a leaked draft of a United Nations report on climate change warmed that global warming is affecting “all continents and across the oceans,” and that carbon emissions will likely lead to the “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,” according to excerpts published by Bloomberg.

In his speech, Epstein didn’t directly dispute climate science, but he claimed that that deaths due to climate catastrophes have declined in recent years.

So why does the energy industry’s image often suffer in public opinion? It’s not through lack of effort, but the argument needs to change, he said.

“The reason is not because we don’t use Twitter enough. The one thing that makes you effective is moral clarity. You have to understand 100 percent of why you are right and the opposition is wrong,” Epstein said.

Fossil fuels have been an essential contributor to the development of manufacturing, clean water and other benefits to modern society. Likewise, energy consumption was a key ingredient in rapid economic growth in China and India, he said.

Epstein refuted environmentalists’ predictions of doom and gloom that have been issued over the years.

“Environmentalists said everything was going to get much worse, yet everything is much better,” he said.

He said oil is an example of “resource creation.” In other words, it’s not really useful until you’ve found a way to put it to use.

“We’re taught that nature gives us abundant natural resources and we steal or exploit them. Nature gives us potential resources that we have to use ingenuity to make into actual resources,” Epstein said.

As an example, Epstein said he carries around a chunk of shale and asks people, “What if I told you somebody has figured out a way to charge your iPhone or run your car from this useless piece of rock? That’s what you call fracking.”

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