I think you'll agree that it's essentially one thing after another that upsets the status quo in the energy industry; often exacerbating the ongoing effects of regular demand growth on crude prices -- and consequently on gasoline and other refined products.
Crude prices are, of course, far more than incidental details. As we look warily for signs of the sort of inflation that would wreak havoc on our still tenuous economic recovery, we can't avoid running into higher prices for food and energy.
Price push from the pipe
As you probably know, the latest newsworthy energy mishap has resulted in the shut-down by Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. of the 800-mile, 600,000 barrels-per-day Trans Alaska Pipeline. Alyeska's owners include BP
At its maximum, the breach, which was discovered last weekend, caused a 95% curtailment in output by Alyeska's owners while repairs were undertaken. But, by Wednesday, given concerns about the negative effects of Alaska's harsh winter temperatures on oil that is no longer flowing and thereby becomes waxy and gelatinous, the pipeline's flow was temporarily restarted at a lower rate. Those directing the repairs hope that a permanent restart can occur by this weekend.
Beyond that, traders monitoring the Alaskan events are hoping that the leak and its repairs can be limited to a short-term blip, rather than a more protracted outage. As one observer noted, the latter could have an effect on pushing crude prices toward $100. Indeed, even a compensating ramp-up in production from Saudi Arabia would likely take a couple of months to have a meaningful effect.
Suggestions from the big report
But while we're looking at events with the potential to push crude prices to levels that make us uncomfortable, we should also consider the recently released report by the presidential commission appointed to investigate the likely causes of Transocean's
Last week, I described some of the items that the panel had included in a synopsis of this week's full-scale report. As such, I'll keep the repetitions from that earlier version to a minimum. Specifically included in the full report, however, were recommendations that Congress establish a new offshore drilling-focused safety agency, an effort by the president to obtain "significantly increased funding" for the agencies that deal with spill responses, a safety institute created from within the industry, and scientific leadership of government review.
Spreading the blame
Responses to the commission's report were decidedly mixed. To the contention that fundamental reform would be needed for oversight of the industry, increased funding for drilling regulators, and a dramatic increase in safety practices by the oil companies, the American Petroleum Institute agreed with some recommendations but countered that the report "casts doubt on an entire industry based on its study of a single incident."
Without wandering excessively into the political aspects of the panel's recommendations, reactions to the report were essentially split down party lines. For instance, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) implored the Congress to take action to prevent another "catastrophic spill," while Rep. Edward Markey (D., Mass.) avowed an intention to institute the recommendations made by the panel.
Conversely, new House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R., Mich.) called the failure of the panel to identify the specific cause of the accident "disappointing." As I've indicated to Fools previously, however, that disappointment was likely inevitable, given that all the facts are not yet in, including the results of the forensic examination of the malfunctioning blowout preventer aboard the rig.
Surprisingly, while the panel faulted BP and its two primary contractors, Transocean and Halliburton
I fully expect that the pipeline leak will continue to affect prices in the short term, while the effects of increased safety measures, ala those proposed by the president's spill commission, will result in longer lasting -- probably permanent -- crude price increases. As such, the most logical approach for Foolish investors involves of double-check of their portfolios for solid energy representation. While ExxonMobil remains my industry favorite, all of the names above represent solid possibilities.
Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies named above. Chevron is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. The Fool owns shares of ExxonMobil and Transocean. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.