Indiana University Research & Creative Activity April 1998 Volume XXI Number 1



Forum

The January issue of Research & Creative Activity (Volume XX, Number 3) offers insight into the complex public policy issues surrounding energy. How much energy do I want to use? What kind? How much does it cost? What is the environmental impact? Who decides? Who should? Where is IU research in this continuum?


From personal experience in international petroleum exploration and production, I know there are ways we can find "better" answers. There is no "right" answer. The impact of applied technology will continue its exponential growth. In 1985, supply and demand drove a collapse in crude oil price‹from $31 per barrel to the low teens. Through industry restructuring and huge gains in applied technology, the industry today enjoys improved productivity and financial strength. Petroleum reserves (world-wide) are higher, while real crude oil prices are still less than half the 1984 price. This success story has many good years ahead if driven by technology and the marketplace.

IU's "Seminar on Sustainable Energy" concludes that energy is underpriced. But raising prices by green taxes or other regulatory manipulation hardly sounds like a solution. I expect that technology and market forces will continue to act to lower the costs and lessen the environmental impacts of both fossil fuels and renewable energy sources. Renewable energy sources will increase their market share most effectively through competition, not the Kyoto Protocol. (This 1997 United Nations agreement was designed to reduce greenhouse gases through conservation.)

Public interest groups and regulators abound, credentialed by forecasts of scarcity in fossil fuels and impending disaster (global warming). They are keen to help us make our energy decisions. Yet historically, gloom-and-doom forecasts have been far off the mark, lasting only seven to ten years before the initial premise is discredited. Buyer beware! In our search for "better" answers, academia continues to occupy impor-tant niches in quality research, analysis of complex problems, and public trust in the results.

Malcolm W. Boyce
Petroleum Geologist
Lafayette, California

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