Just last week, Nouriel Roubini, the New York University economist who foresaw the recent worldwide financial crisis, predicted that a hike in oil prices to $140 would induce yet another recession among the developed nations. That price would be near its 2008 high. But given the slide in crude prices during recent trading days, looking for a return to that level in the near term is excessive. Or is it?
Before you answer, think about the precarious circumstances that now characterize our energy world. Let's begin with the perspective that, despite the first Arab oil embargo having occurred in 1973, the closest we've come to any sort of energy policy could be the current version, which may be distilled into a single sentence: We'll quickly replace fossil fuels with renewable sources, like wind and solar. That, of course, in anything less than multiple decades, is about as realistic as my crush on Sandra Bullock.
Beyond that, we're still feeling the effects of the BP
Dribbling out permits
But that surprising concession didn't last long. In May, soon after the blowout of the Macondo well, the administration declared a moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf. That halt was ended in October, although the first deepwater permit wasn't issued until February's final day. Although technically issued to the well's operator, Noble Energy
The pokey pace of deepwater permitting is being contested by a federal judge's order, which has been appealed by the administration. A second permit, this one to Australia's mining behemoth BHP Billiton
Clinton weighs in
Coincidentally, BHP's permit was issued within hours after Bill Clinton spoke in a closed-door session at a Houston energy conference alongside George W. Bush. While the two former presidents surprised attendees by agreeing on a number of points, Clinton allegedly spoke against "ridiculous delays in permitting when our economy doesn't need it." Whether that characterization will help to pick up the permitting pace in the Gulf -- or in offshore Alaska, where Royal Dutch Shell's
But offshore drilling, which primarily targets oil, isn't the only venue where the industry's plans are being increasingly challenged. As I told you late last week, ExxonMobil
Since his company last year bought XTO, a leader in unconventional gas production, Exxon has become the nation's biggest producer in natural gas. And while it has declared its intention to increase its attention to oil this year, it's nevertheless active in virtually all of the nation's shale plays. Unfortunately for Exxon and other producers, leaning on the unconventional gas producers is hardly limited to state regulators.
A pair of fracking halts
For instance, while New York state has indeed put the kibosh on fracking, examiners in Pennsylvania, the current hotbed of the hydraulic fracturing production process, have said after extensive testing that treated water that has been used in fracking has at least met federal standards. Nevertheless, the Environmental Protection Agency continues to push for more testing. And beyond the U.S., Quebec's government has now halted fracking, pending more environmental studies.
But that's not all that's occurring to our north. At about 1.9 million Canadian barrels of oil per day coming into the U.S. -- half of which originates in the oil sands of Alberta -- our neighbors are also our largest crude suppliers. However, oil production from the Alberta sands is environmentally and technologically demanding, and therefore has become progressively more controversial. As such, a government-appointed scientific panel has decided that earlier research into the implications of the oil sands production was inconclusive and last week called for more studies into the issue.
Gadhafi's fighting back
Meanwhile, in a country that produces up to 1.8 barrels of crude per day, Moammar Gadhafi's forces in Libya have continued to push into rebel strongholds. How events will ultimately unfold in what has become a civil war in the country remains impossible to predict. But as each day passes, Gadhafi's stronghold becomes more pronounced, a state of affairs that likely isn't in anyone's best interest except the colonel's and his supporters'.
And then, as Monday arrived in the U.S., we learned that Saudi Arabian troops have entered Bahrain in an effort to quell mostly Shiite demonstrations in the island kingdom. I don't know about you, but my sentiments are not buoyed by the notion of forces from the world's largest producer of crude oil (which on Sunday experienced its own demonstrations after earlier efforts were thwarted by heightened security forces) becoming entangled in the region's percolating problems.
I could go on, perhaps noting another obvious energy twist: The prospects of the U.S. adding nuclear plants suffered a serious setback, given events unfolding in Japan. Beyond that, it appears that the keys for Fools amid our precarious energy circumstances are the inclusion of solid energy names in their portfolios -- Exxon and Chesapeake Energy
The Fool owns shares of ExxonMobil. Motley Fool Alpha owns shares of Chesapeake Energy. 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. Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the above-named companies. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.