Friday, November 13, 2009

Lessons From the History and Economics of Oil

My first assignment as a young lawyer -- and my introduction to the history and economics of the oil industry -- was on a behemoth antitrust case against the major oil companies.  In re Petroleum Products Antitrust Litigation involved allegations that the major oil companies conspired to fix prices by "signaling" price changes to one another and by manipulating supplies and refinery operations during the 1970's.

In between days of reviewing thousands of documents, my fellow young lawyers and I had the pleasure of working with Daniel Yergin, who was retained as one of our expert witnesses and who had just written The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power, for which he would win the Pulitzer Prize.  His book is a comprehensive and fascinating account of the history and economics of the oil industry.  It is still about the best book you can find on the subject, and anyone interested in any aspect of the green energy movement must read it.

Recently, I came across a short video of Daniel Yergin reflecting on lessons that can be learned from previous shifts in energy usage as we try to move towards a more sustainable energy future.  He describes the environmental concerns of the 1950's that forced a shift from coal to oil, followed by a shift back to coal as the principal fuel for electricity generation due to coal's cost advantages and emerging technologies that ameliorated some of the environmental harms.  He also talks about the sunk costs in our existing energy infrastructure and how that creates inertia and limits our willingness and ability to change.

Click here to view the video.  Short and to the point . . . . . and definitely worth watching.

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