NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Don't Count Oil Out

October 18, 2011

Carbon dioxide emissions will continue rising because hundreds of millions of people in places like Vietnam, Malaysia and South Korea are transitioning to a modern lifestyle.  Specifically, they are using more hydrocarbons -- coal, oil and natural gas.  And while many argue that we should quit using carbon-based fuels, the hard reality is that hydrocarbons are here to stay, says Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

There are three reasons why hydrocarbons will continue to dominate the global energy mix for decades to come.


  • A recent analysis by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that wind-generated electricity from onshore wind turbines costs $97 per megawatt-hour -- about 50 percent more than the same amount of electricity generated by natural gas.
  • Offshore wind is even more expensive, coming in at $243 per megawatt hour.
  • The least-expensive form of solar-generated electricity costs $210, or more than three times as much as the juice produced by burning natural gas.

The slow pace of energy transitions.

  • According to the EIA, in 1949, oil provided 37 percent of America's total energy needs.
  • In 2009, oil's share of U.S. primary energy still stood at 37 percent, despite uncounted billions of dollars spent on efforts to reduce our need for oil.


  • Global energy use now totals about 241 million barrels of oil equivalent per day -- approximately equal to the total daily oil output of 29 Saudi Arabias.
  • And of those 29 Saudi Arabias, 25 -- about 210 million barrels of oil equivalent -- come from hydrocarbons.
  • Where and how will we find the energy equivalent of 25 Saudi Arabias and have it all be carbon-free?

Here's the bottom line: Renewables will remain niche players in the global energy mix for decades to come.  The past -- and the foreseeable future -- still belong to hydrocarbons.  And we can expect natural gas, the cleanest of the hydrocarbons, to garner a bigger share of the global energy pie in the near term and in the long term, says Bryce.

Source: Robert Bryce, "Don't Count Oil Out," Slate, October 14, 2011.

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