Yesterday, the price of oil dropped below the $0 line. For the first time in history, the price was negative. Bloomberg reports that the price reached minus $37.63 per barrel. This means oil companies are paying people to haul oil away because they have so much of it, more is on the way, and they have to make room for the new oil deliveries already en route.*
The oil market volatility and low oil prices make me wonder if oil executives are missing the boat with a big opportunity before them. Let’s investigate.
The similarities between wind turbines and oil well pumpjacks
From a simple business perspective, there is no difference between the two. Wind turbines and oil well pumpjacks both:
- sit on the ground;
- move around a bit;
- produce energy;
- make money for the owner;
- make money for the landowner; and
- provide jobs for locals.
The differences between wind turbines and oil well pumpjacks
From a practical standpoint, there are big differences:
- oil well pumpjacks produce oil at ever increasing costs due to diminishing oil and deeper drilling requirements, while wind turbines produce electricity at lower and lower prices;
- oil well pumpjacks are pumping a finite and diminishing resource, while wind turbines produce for an infinite resource that will never run out;
- oil well pumpjacks produce a product that requires a costly refinement process, while wind turbines produce electricity that is transmitted over wires seamlessly;
- oil well pumpjacks produce hydrogen sulfide (H2S), which can overtake and kill people; while wind turbines produce no fumes that could overtake and kill people;
- oil well pumpjacks produce methane gas, which is one of the most pernicious of greenhouse gases, while wind turbines produce no gases, and help reduce the climate crisis;
- oil well pumpjacks produce oil, which has to be shipped to refineries and then to gas stations, which can sometimes be thousands of miles of air-polluting travel, while wind turbines produce electricity, which is transmitted over wires seamlessly;
- oil well pumpjacks produce oil, which requires burning to create energy, causing countless deaths from air pollution, while wind turbines produce simple electricity, which does not pollute;
- oil well pumpjacks are dangerous, and they occasionally kill people, as they can weigh 20,000 pounds (9,072 kilos), while wind turbines produce renewable energy, and their moving parts are high above people;
- oil well pumpjacks pollute the water supply, while wind turbines produce clean energy that does not pollute the aquifer;
- oil well pumpjacks can create oil spills and cause other environmental cleanup liabilities, while wind turbines produce renewable energy … clean, sustainable, renewable energy.
Perhaps, oil executives, it is time to ask yourselves if you are in the energy business or in the planet destruction business. Because if you are in the energy business, then please consider creating energy that is clean. Please start building windmills and solar farms.
T. Boone Pickens, a former oil and business magnate, now deceased, built a ton of wind turbines. Most of that work was done when wind power was costly, before an adequate grid transmission line architecture had been built, and during his Midwest natural gas scheme boondoggle. The combination of these points had him claiming that he lost money, but at the time of his passing, he was still looking to build more wind turbines because if we examine Lazard’s most recent LCOE (Levelized Cost Of Energy) analysis, we see that onshore grid wind power, along with grid-scale solar, is among the least expensive new production energy sources.
Wind power is best when built with battery storage so that electricity can be delivered to the grid smoothly around the clock as needed. Might you oil execs want to partner with Tesla to build some grid-level storage plants? Capitalism can make strange bedfellows.
Since wind turbines and oil well pumpjacks both sit on the ground, make money for landowners, produce energy, and make money for the device owners, why don’t oil executives give up already on a dying industry and embrace the renewable energy future? Could it be that there is a lack of imagination?
Both paths are profitable, but only one path reveals oil execs as pariahs to society and the planet, while the other would allow a rebranding as people who are building sustainable systems that help humans, animals, and the planet. Please consider yourselves invited to leave behind the madness of the dying and deadly oil industry.
*To be fair, the oil futures price was driven down in part because it was the last day of the May oil futures contract, and the people holding the contracts at the end of the contract have to take delivery — since most futures traders are traders, and are not actually in the oil business, there was a scurry to dump contracts at any price to avert mandatory delivery.