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Hurrah! Oil profits are up

The Times: Hurrah! Oil profits are up
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Without the inflated earnings of multinationals, we’d be even worse off than we are now

April 30, 2008
Carl Mortished

Hurrah for big oil profits. Seven million dollars an hour for BP and Shell, as the cost of jet kerosene bankrupts airlines and dear diesel puts up the price of just about everything from corn flakes to cucumbers. The cheer is not ironic; we should celebrate these gazillion- dollar profits because our world is now in deep trouble and without the grotesquely inflated earnings of the oil multinationals, we should be even deeper in the mire.

First, consider only the money – if you have a British pension, it will be invested in one or both of these companies and their cash distribution is a significant bulwark of your retirement. Shell’s dividend last year was $8 billion and as the financial sector of our economy collapses in ignominious ruin, this year’s round of payouts from the oil giants will be much appreciated.

Leaving selfish concerns aside, you should love the oil oligarchy because we are at a critical juncture: the supply of easily accessible fuel is dwindling. We are sucking the North Sea dry like greedy children dipping straws into bottles of pop and we struggle to find more. Shell was happy this quarter because its output rose by 1 per cent, a good result for Shell but not for the world where consumption is rising by more than twice that rate. So if we don’t want to be more beholden to people in the Middle East who don’t like us much, we need to learn a different energy game. More importantly, we need to be able to pay for it.

We must spend enormous amounts of money on new kinds of oil in difficult places. If oil is so expensive today, it is partly because it was so cheap a decade ago. Oil companies stopped drilling wells; they listened to critics who said they were dinosaurs and frittered what cash they had into silly dot-com projects. Fortunately, they came to their senses but now we need to develop new things, such as biofuels from waste plant material and wind and wave power. If you believe that hydrocarbons are the cause of climate change, we need to find ways of capturing carbon dioxide and storing it because there is no question that we will have to burn coal and natural gas for many more years. Apart from government, which means your taxes, there is no prospect of paying for this without oil profits – a power station equipped with carbon capture and storage would cost about £1 billion.

Finally, we should celebrate dear oil and its big profits because we need to consume less. Fortunately, the market is working and a barrel of crude costs $116, which gives us every incentive to insulate our homes and stop taking holidays in Spain.

If you believe big oil is wrecking the planet, you should pray for higher prices and bigger profits.

Carl Mortished is world business editor

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article3842087.ece

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