MSNBC host: Energy is just too darn cheap

While I was taking a short break from working this morning and fixing some breakfast, my TV was still on in the background, tuned in to MSNBC. The host of Up With Chris Hayes was holding court over a panel discussion on domestic energy issues, so since that’s pretty much my field I had decided to tune in. The initial discussion had roped in quite a bit of the usual disinformation on natural gas fracking (which appeared to draw heavily on “facts” from fabulist Josh Fox’s fictional propaganda piece, Gasland). There was one industry “advocate” included who I wasn’t familiar with, but she never seemed to manage to take a stand against any of the worst of the energy witch-hunt comments being thrown around, which led to my wandering off to fry up some scrapple and eggs.

But then, just as Hayes was preparing to toss to a commercial break, one quote reached my ears which quickly dragged me back to the TV.

My sense is that the price of energy is too low at some level right now, and I want to talk about that right after we take this break.

This link goes to the video of that segment should you wish to hear it for yourself, but you’ll need to fast forward to the very end to find it. When the panel returned, this enticing topic was explored in greater depth, including the following clip (with transcript after) where Hayes is talking with – among others – CNBC’s Dan Dicker.

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This is a bit long, but worth the time. (Emphasis mine.)

Chris Hayes: We’re talking about the massive, extractive energy boom happening in America right now and how it’s transforming our politics and how that can be made to work with a sane climate policy, which is really the difficult question. Before the break I left the question on the table about the price of energy being too low right now. Basically we see this massive amount of supply has come onto the grid thanks largely to natural gas. The price has come down, and I think we generally think, “Oh, lower prices are better.” But it seems to me there’s a lot of problematic stuff about the price coming down sharply as it is right now in terms of incentives for efficiency and et cetera.

Dan Dicker: You would want the prices to go up a lot because it would drive the next stage towards renewables, and make that at least cost-effective. Algae fuel, we talk a lot about that…

C.H.: Some people talk about that.

D.D.: Yeah. The cost is about eight and a half to nine dollars a gallon compared to gasoline as it is now. You want the prices to go up to make these a little more cost effective. Drive the technology into them. Unfortunately it’s actually going quite the opposite. You talk about increased supply here in the United States. In fact, overseas demand is dropping. We are still in the midst of an economic problem in Europe. Chinese growth is going down. Indian growth seems to be going down. In this country we’ve done better in terms of efficiencies and our demands are starting to drop, so in terms of what economically you can expect, you will expect the opposite, or at least I do over the next several years, that oil prices will in fact go lower. Natural gas you can – because we have a futures market, we look forward to the future and see what people are betting the price is going to be. That doesn’t go over 5$ an MCF until 2020 according to the futures markets. So although you might want… we have to drive the renewable argument some other way, because price doesn’t look like it’s going to do it.

Frances Beinecke: Look, the only thing that’s going to change that is if we finally put a price on carbon.

C.H.: Right.

F.B.: The externals of all the fossil fuel development are not incorporated in the current price, so the environmental effects, the health effects, the consequences to communities, none of that is factored in. We have to change that, get a price on carbon, drive it up so we can promote renewables and efficiencies first and foremost.

Granted, these are the guests on the show talking here, but the nodding of heads around the table and the continued discussion demonstrates the unanimous attitude of the panel, including the host. So why would I make you sit through this? Because it’s important. And it’s important because it’s real, and we wind up having to be out there fighting against this tide every single day. These groups of self described liberal, effete intellectuals who appear to have no connection to real people, real science or reality in general are out there with a powerful set of microphones. These preening packs of self-appointed saviors of humanity – who have probably never even come within sight of an actual oil rig unless their cruise ship happened to pass one by – have long since figured out the answers to all of your “problems” when it comes to energy, and it’s based on taxing you into submission regardless of how much energy we manage to produce.

I’ve had the fortune over these past several years to travel and learn about these industries first hand and write about it. I’ve been to oil rigs on the sea, natural gas horizontal drilling platforms in Pennsylvania and even gone to the Northern end of Alberta, Canada to research SAGD drilling technology for bitumen hybrids. The research that has gone into this… the bone crushing work these men and women do… the future that so many of them are slowly transforming into a reality… it’s awe inspiring. But there is still a very vocal, screeching cohort of people out there wielding influence vastly out of proportion to their numbers who want to shut it all down. They can’t seem to stop the opportunities for jobs and economic security which seem to be just over the horizon right now by delivering alternative energies today which actually work and can profitably provide a replacement. So, instead, they’ll shut it down by pricing your energy costs out of your reach. The country is still struggling with underemployment, but these happy warriors would be delighted to take those who actually have decent jobs and drive the price of the gas they use to get to their place of employment up to ten bucks a gallon.

And for what? On Hayes’ show he even admitted that the recent surge in natural gas usage has driven carbon based emissions down to the lowest levels seen in decades. But is that enough? No. It is not. Because somebody, somewhere is still burning hydrocarbon based fuels. And that’s got to be stopped, no matter the cost to the country.

Look, I’m not saying this is the most shocking thing Chris Hayes has ever done or said, nor that it even represents some sort of low point. (I highly doubt he’ll ever top his now famous moment when he decided he was uncomfortable referring to the Honored Dead as heroes.) But there is a repeating pattern here of media spokesmodels who seem to be so out of touch with the lives, concerns and challenges facing regular Americans that one wonders if they ever leave Manhattan. And you should be disturbed by this, because there are still people who listen. Some of them even vote in Congress.