The True Cost of Oil

madhedgefundtrader's picture

I received some questions last week on my recent solar pieces as to whether I minded paying more money for “green” power. My answer is “hell no,” and I’ll tell you why. My annual electric bill comes to $1,500 a year. Since the California power authorities have set a goal of 33% alternative energy sources by 2020, PG&E (PGE) has the most aggressive green energy program in the country (click here for “The Solar Boom in California” at ). More expensive solar, wind, geothermal, and biodiesel power sources mean that my electric bill may rise by $150-$300 a year.

Now let’s combine my electricity and gasoline bills. Driving 15,000 miles a year, my current gasoline engine powered car uses 750 gallons a year, which at $3/gallon for gas costs me $2,250/year. So my annual power/gasoline bill is $3,750. My new Nissan Leaf (NSANY) will cost me $180/year to cover the same distance (click here for getting something for nothing at ). Even if my power bill goes up 20%, as it eventually will, thanks to the Leaf, my power/gasoline bill plunges to $1,980, down 47%.

There is an additional sweetener which I’m not even counting. I also spend $1,000/year on maintenance on my old car, including tune ups and oil changes. The Nissan Leaf will cost me next to nothing, as there are no oil changes or tune ups, and my engine drops from using 250 parts to just five. We’re basically talking tires, bearing repacks, and occasional new brushes on my rotors.

There is a further enormous pay off down the road. We are currently spending $100 billion a year in cash up front fighting our wars in the Middle East, or $273 million a day! Add to that another $200 billion in back end costs, including wear and tear on capital equipment, and lifetime medical care for 3 million veterans, some of whom are severely messed up.

We import 9.1 million barrels of oil each day, or 3.3 billion barrels a year, worth $270 billion at $82/barrel. Some 2 million b/d, or 730 million barrels/year worth $60 billion comes from the Middle East. That means we are paying a de facto tax which amounts to $136/barrel, taking the true price for Saudi crude up to a staggering $219/barrel!

We are literally spending $100 billion extra to buy $60 billion worth of oil a year, and that’s not counting the lives lost. Even worse, all of the new growth in Middle Eastern oil exports is to China, so we are now spending this money to assure their supplies more than ours. Only a government could come up with such an idiotic plan.

There is another factor to count in. Anyone in the oil industry will tell you that, of the current $82 price for crude, $30 is a risk premium driven by fears of instability in the Middle East. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve, every available tanker, and thousands of rail cars are all chocked full with unwanted oil. This is why prices remain high.

The International Energy Agency says the world is now using 87 million b/d, or 32 billion barrels a year worth $2.6 trillion. This means that the risk premium is costing global consumers $950 billion/year. If we abandon that oil source, the risk premium should fall substantially, or disappear completely. What instability there is becomes China’s headache, not ours.

If enough of the country converts to alternatives and adopts major conservation measures, then we can quit importing oil from that violent part of the world.  No more sending our president to bow and shake hands with King Abdullah. Oil prices would fall, our military budget would drop, the federal budget deficit would shrink, and our taxes would likely get cut.

One Leaf shrinks demand for 750 gallons of gasoline, or 1,500 gallons of oil per year. That means that we need 20.4 million Leafs on the road to eliminate the need for the 2 million barrels/day we are importing from the Middle East. The Department of Energy has provided a $1.6 billion loan to build a Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tennessee that will pump out 150,000 Leafs a year by end 2012. Add that to the million Volts, Tesla S-1’s, is Mitsubishi iMiEV’s hitting the market in the next few years. Also cutting our oil consumption will be the 1 million hybrids on the road, to be joined by a second million in the next two years. That goal is not so far off.

Yes, these are simplistic, back of the envelop calculations that don’t take into account other national security considerations, or our presence on the global stage. But these numbers show that even a modest conversion to alternatives can have an outsized impact on the bigger picture.

By the way, please don’t tell ExxonMobile or BP I told you this. They get 80% of their earnings from importing oil to the US. I don’t want to get a knock on the door in the middle of the night.

To see the data, charts, and graphs that support this research piece, as well as more iconoclastic and out-of-consensus analysis, please visit me at . There, you will find the conventional wisdom mercilessly flailed and tortured daily, and my last two years of research reports available for free. You can also listen to me on Hedge Fund Radio by clicking on “This Week on Hedge Fund Radio” in the upper right corner of my home page.

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cheap uggs for sale's picture

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Cow's picture

"The Strategic Petroleum Reserve, every available tanker, and thousands of rail cars are all chocked full with unwanted oil. This is why prices remain high."

What?  You think full storage facilities that bought oil on speculation/artificial demand keeps the price high?

WTF?  If the gubmint bought tons of cheese, the price would go up temporarily.  They store the cheese in warehouses and stop buying cheese.  What happens to the price of cheese when they stop buying?




GFORCE's picture

I wouldn't take investment advice from someone who can't even spell Exxon Mobil.

snowman's picture

There is a much better solution. Before all the hardware from Iraq ends up in some gigantic Arizona parking lot, just drive the machinery a couple hundred miles to the west. Then we own the oil. Invest the oil price risk premiums into securing the oil supply. Let's pick apart "Bail on Afghanistan and Iraq, and oil prices would fall, our military budget would plunge, the federal budget deficit would shrink, and our taxes would likely get cut. Please don’t tell ExxonMobile or BP I told you this."

1) oil prices will fall. I don't believe pulling completely out of Iraq will make the oil fields safer. Instead, more political volatility and potential impact on oil prices to INCREASE (following your own logic of political risk premia).

2) our military budget could very well be reduced short term, until the next terrorist kills americans. Pakistan next? Pick one of half a dozen countries that we could invade.

3) Deficits are a function of the Fed and Congress out of control borrowing to "stimulate" the economy and save the bankers. With DoD spending about 350billion a year over an beyond their base numbers (ie Iraq/Afpak), and the deficit at nearly 14 trillion, we are talking a "war" impact of about 2.5% of the deficit. Yawn.

4) ExxonMobil et al have contracts anyway in Iraq and elsewhere. If Iraq nationalizes the upstream, then we are back to square one on price risk premia, no? And who really thinks the world is going to drastically reduce oil consumption any time soon? Maybe in the U.S. eventually in a decade we might get to 10% of the fleet using electric. Still needs to be charged! And even if we all go electric, the future is not here. It is with the 500 million middle chinese who all want cars, the 200 million Indonesians who want something better than mopeds, the 100 million Brazilians, etc etc etc. Those economies are not going electric any time soon. The U.S. and Europe are fly-over countries.

Go long oil!!

Dollar Bill Hiccup's picture

MHFT is presenting a thought experiment. The point is simply that it is possible to free our servitude to foreign oil.

Of course there are many ways of going about this, including natural gas, more nuclear, etc. 

It is becoming clearer by the day that dependance on foreign oil as well as dependance on Chinese manufacturing versus American consumption are all equally bankrupt propositions. Why shoot the messenger?


Seer's picture

"It is becoming clearer by the day that dependance on foreign oil as well as dependance on Chinese manufacturing versus American consumption are all equally bankrupt propositions"

I think that this sentence needs clarification.  Would you mind?  Based no its wording it's quite possible to obtain two totally contrasting positions.


Dollar Bill Hiccup's picture

Energy independence, onshore a manufacturing base (in energy efficient and cleaner fashion) so that the contribution is higher than 10% of GDP, create jobs and reign in entitlements, lower consumption as % of GDP ...


Azannoth's picture

"Bail on Afghanistan and Iraq, and oil prices would fall, our military budget would plunge, the federal budget deficit would shrink, and our taxes would likely get cut. Please don’t tell ExxonMobile or BP I told you this."


Pssssssst dont tell this to any politician they might actually get it, lol

Seer's picture

Get what?  The facts/truth?  Like that's any concern of theirs?  Their concern is only that they stay in power (do/contribute little) and help pad the coffers of their rich bretheren.

Several years ago my state sent more to the federal govt than it got back in benefits; yet, the fucking pols here still campaign for MORE defense spending (for local bases etc.)!  This explains perfectly where the real focus is: defense contractors and militarism.

We know how this story ends...

AnAnonymous's picture

Impressive article. It seems to me the author is a former member of the US army. As such, you could have expected him to have gone through an excellent school of extortion.

Basics of extortion: the extortion scheme costs must be paid off by the extorted to be viable.

And that is the case. Currently, the USD defines quite well what a US citizen can expect to buy from a foreigner (or what foreigners can expect to buy from each others) It defines much less what a foreigner can expect to buy from the US.

Most of the oil is not bought through value against US assets but through debt and incidentally values against non US assets.

When oil extracting countries sell to the US, they are building up paper, fiat money, bonds etc...

They know what they can expect to get from an another oil extracting country, from commodities extracting countries and they know for sure that the US will not be able to pay them back in a similar amount of oil.

The quantification is nice but does not address the US case. At best, it represents what foreign entities put on the table to warrant the US scheme.

The 219 number relates to what amount of non US wealth must be circulated around to allow the US oil scheme.

tony bonn's picture

these alternative fuel cars are nothing but an energy shell game....where do you think the energy to charge these things comes from - a team of gerbels running on a wheel?

Seer's picture

I think it must have been about 5 years ago that I'd read that the average passenger vehicle required something like 38,000 gallons of (fresh) water in its manufacture.  And then there's all of the other fabrication costs: cars have more plastic thses days (read "oil").  Sigh, people tend to over-externalize things (same denial practices that drug users employ) ...

I continue to drive my 20 year old econo car that averages 34 mpg.  Total impact on the planet is far less than buying new cars every few years.  Oh, and my car didn't require big govt subsidies to build (it wasn't being sold as some sort of new-wave hype).

But, I suppose that it's all a tradeoff.  Folks buying this stuff will, in a way, subsidize my farming operations: make more fuel available for me; and, while they are buying short-lived technological stuff I'll be continuing to invest in food production...

stev3e's picture

Actually my system is run by a team of gerbils.

They require only a little love and some benzedrine.

fredquimby's picture

My electric at home is called OKOSTROM it is produced locally only from hydro-electric and solar installations. Every night I plug my electric bike into this oko-juice and power up from the sun....No Gerbils needed my friend!

I pay about $500 more a year to have fully sustainable juice....which is great....unless oil is produced naturally and isn't even million-year-old dino-juice!!

Who knows what to believe eh!! But at the end of the day, I prefer to not pollute my city's air with anymore exhaust and car pollution, and I hate enriching the Arabs, so I will continue with the okostrom and ebike..... until my Fisker Karma arrives anyway ;)



Seer's picture

Fucking ignorance is a bitch to kill...

Do you think that those hydro dams last forever?  Sorry, average lifespan is 150 years: they silt up, or collapse.  Further, never mind that they signficantly alter life on the planet: major disruption to salmon- everything is in the chain...

I knew years ago that feeling smug about being served by hydro wasn't as friendly as most believe.  Lest anyone think that I'm against hydro, I am NOT: I even argued with folks that hydro IS a "renewable" energy source, so far as anything really is "renewable."

Cities ARE one big polluting source.  They really contribute little to the basic requirements (food, shelter and water), they suck up a hell of a lot of resources.  Just saying...

Lastly, your "Arab" comment stinks of bigotry.  Just saying...  NOTE: the US only gets a fraction of its oil from the middle east; most of it comes from Mexico, Canada and Venezuela.  Like I said, fucking ignorance, it's a bitch to kill... OPEC (which isn't totally "Arab") is pooled into the larger world market, its ability to alter oil prices isn't what most would think.  The US war machine is active in the middle east so that it's (US) trading partners can get their energy to keep them able to produce in order to continue to trade with the US; this, moreso than for direct US energy needs (again, the US gets the overwhelming majority of its oil [and NG] from its neighbors).

chopper read's picture

Cities ARE one big polluting source.

this is just sort of 'survival', isn't it?  won't people always eventually tax resources to their limits until the point of death and starvation. 

yes, there is much we can do to conserve today.  as i mentioned, our central money planning policies are the biggest culprit as it relates to rabid consumption.

however, aren't the largest steps towards "carbon footprint" reduction simply genocide?  among some global elites, i'm not so sure this is not the plan.  hence, all new forms of regulation and control.  meanwhile, by empowering those who would regulate us, we are financing our own deaths.  that is, unless we are Rockefellers, Morgans, Rothschilds, etc.  are you? 

protect yourself.

Dollar Bill Hiccup's picture

You left out the delightful African vacation spot of Nigeria  as another huge source of US oil imports ...

Rodent Freikorps's picture

The world is not static.

Kind of the whole problem with idiot academic models.

Peak Everything's picture

To avoid runaway climate change that will make the lives of our grandchildren really awful we need to shut down all coal generated electricity. That's about 60% of the grid. The only feasible replacement for this base load is nuclear. But we're broke and can't afford this much nuclear. Therefore we will have to make do with less electricity. Which we can do. But there won't be enough power for millions of new electric cars.

SwapThis's picture

you sir have been decieved, or your just a AGW posting troll....I suppose we are not doomed if we don't plug every volcano and undersea source of CO2 though is just the man made stuff, you know the 1/10,000 of the problem that is critical right?  Garbage....we can use NatGas instead of coal if you like, we are swimming in it and it doesn't have near the draw backs of coal.  But to say that man burning coal will kill the planet is simply rediculous when you understand that 'mother nature' does the same thing all the time through natural forces that have been going on for millenia.  If we burn coal, let's try to do it more effeciently, which is possible.  If we use NatGas lets do that well.  If we use Nucs, lets do that well too....but you can take you nutty global warming crap and .....

Peak Everything's picture

If you have or are planning on having kids suggest you study the facts. Start with James Hansen's new book "Storms of My Grandchildren". It presents all of the known science and will scare the shit out of you. I've read it twice and still struggle to comprehend the depth of our predicament.

jeff montanye's picture

we have a load of sunlight in the southwest and lots of wind, flat land and few people in the middle (dakotas to oklahoma).  seems like the "can do" spirit of the shale oil/natural gas people upthread combined with these "natural resources" and some energy storage ideas (batteries, pumping something up/under pressure, etc.) and we might have something.  maybe even a few jobs (and a christmas dinner) for the "families on relief".

Seer's picture

"we have a load of sunlight in the southwest and lots of wind"

How certain are you that it's enough to meet current AND future needs?  Certain enough to wager your and your family's lives?  This video will tell you that you'd lose that bet:

Peak Everything's picture

Probably nothing I can say to change your belief. Perhaps if you did a little math exercise yourself. Convert imported oil to watts. Assume a very generous 10 watts per sq m for wind or solar. Then calculate the land area required to offset the oil. It should be immediately obvious that this will never happen. (Note: I did not include the x3 factor for wind/solar intermittency because it is probably somewhat offset by the improved efficiency of electric vs. gas cars).

fredquimby's picture

Google "seville solar tower" and you will find you have plenty of space for some solar production!!

Remember, every single solar watt produced at home saves more dollars going abroad every day.

The price of local solar is the price of being patriotic! Don't buy foreign oil if you don't "need" to!!


Seer's picture

"you have plenty of space for some solar production"

If I have 1 sq inch I have _SOME_ space for solar production.

Geez people, how about quantifying crap?!

Fact IS, NOTHING will scale up in the face of perpetual growth!

Over-emphasis in one thing means lost opportunity in something else.  This may or may not be good, that's not the point, the point is that one has to more fully understand opportunity costs.

"The price of local solar is the price of being patriotic!"

WTF?  Isn't this some sort of socilistic/fascist (take your pick) statement?

Who is manufactuing all the solar equipment these days?  Also, this stuff relies on more and more rare eath metals; this game will end up being played out just like the current oil game- you won't be able to escape this, escape being dependent upon some other nation/region for materials/energy!

Crank up demand for electric vehicles and you most assuredly will crank up demand for coal.  If anyone thinks that the world will be better off with us burning more coal need only look back at the turn of the 19th century and see what things looked like in Britain.

Azwethinkweiz's picture

I don't get how they price the oil at the pumps. Three different stations all on the same block with three different prices. $3.45, $3.27, $3.19 [all middle selection grade].

gwar5's picture

I'm warming up the ox cart. I don't have feet like Barney Rubble.

Seriously, we are a energy super power and need to act like one by using what we have. We don't have a shortage of natural gas or shale oil. Global warming is a fraud so lets get the Malthusian lunatics out of the way before people in third world countries become massive collateral damage. Let the environmentalists bug the Niger Delta and China for the next 50 years.

If the real price of oil is $219/bbl, it is an even more compelling arguement that we do so, not to mention we're broke. Shale oil is $13 to extract last I checked and doable PDQ.

Seer's picture

"I don't have feet like Barney Rubble."

No, just a brain like his...

Yeah, the world is infinite and is filled with regenerative oil.

How the fuck do you think that all those "third world" people became "third world?"  This was a designation bestowed on them by us in the "first world," who used this scam as a reason to push our feet more firmly on the soils of those people whose lands contained resources that the first-worlders wanted: the spear tip being western religion (god will save you, which really meant- bow to us and give us your resources lest we bring hell to you).

"Shale oil is $13 to extract last I checked and doable PDQ."

Yeah, OK, like where do I toss my entire life's savings? your argument is SO compelling...

Barney, shit goes extinct because it makes POOR decisions, inability to adapt.  Contrary to your (factless) argument, pushing shale oil is NOT diversification, it pushes the existing non-sustainable paradigm.  It's like the heroin addict saying that he's staying alive by diversifying from heroin to crack!

$13 to extract shale oil is meaningless.  How MUCH does it take to PROCESS it?  And where exactly does this stuff exist?  I'll wager that it exists in areas where there isn't much water, areas that are encountering increasing less rainfall (read "diminishing aqauifers").

I'm against NO energy source.  What I AM against is shitty-assed logic and manipulated markets (manipulated by the big corporations).  I want ALL subsidies to stop so that the best solutions can win out (and serve where they make the most economical [read "efficient"] sense).  But, Barney, I'll have to tell you this, in my opinion shale oil IS fucking STUPID!  If you want to harness YOUR children up to it then fine, but do NOT ask others to harness THEIR children to it (because, just maybe, they would like to not dead-end their genes).

MeTarzanUjane's picture

The Saudi's have a saying:

My grandfather rode a camel, I ride in a car, my son fly's on a jet, his son will ride a camel.

AssFire's picture

Holly Shit!!!!

I agree completely; but you Sir unknowingly uncorked the genie... Take cover!

Trav7777 will be here shortly to tell you how stupid you are and to rant about peak oil. Never say something positive about energy, (especially if it is really fucking factual).


Seer's picture

"Never say something positive about energy, (especially if it is really fucking factual)."

And you're allowed at a computer?

It's amazing what poor logic that addicts try to use to justify their fixes.  But, this is just beyond belief.  People cannot say good things about energy, in which case that (somehow) proves that there isn't some sort of limit on how much energy that people can harness?

Let me guess, you belong to the "man walked with dinosaurs" crowd? Or, perhaps it's the "click your heels together" crowd?

How about actually trying to present something for debate?  Let's hear what you believe is "fucking factual."

chopper read's picture

lets start by eliminating central money planning with a policy of "full employment" which creates artificial demand leading to rampant oil speculation in pursuit of feeding our gluttonous appetites for more of everything.

End The Fed and fractional reserve counterfeiting; open up our regional economies to competing currencies, including gold and silver.  get back to rewarding savings, investment, and conservation rather than empowering our State-sponsored raping of all things unsustainable. 

never before have so few resources been squandered by so many. 

...just my two cents.

VK's picture

Shale oil is a fuckin scam. If you understood physics and the laws of thermodynamics you'd understand this. It requires a massive amount of energy input to get shale oil out of the ground. The net energy (gross energy - energy input) is very low. It's just not worth it in energy terms and is extremely difficult to scale up. The big oil companies have been trying to shale viable for nearly a century now and it's never going to scale up.

jeff montanye's picture

what about the water it takes to process the shale oil?

doolittlegeorge's picture

shibboleth.  the fact of the matter is "oil is the good stuff" so "go ahead and try and print money and get the good stuff too." Go see the original Repo Man.  Go get your "beer." I will throw in "cedar siding" just in case you think "we'd be getting that good stuf  extra cheap from Lebanon BUT FOR THE WAR!" Doesn't the fact that we really do have a cost effective natural gas option WITH a government controlled and largest car mfg in human history say it all?  "Your talking oil?"  The government itself is the biggest consumer.  In short "this is a choice by our government in connivance with Wall Street and if the American people are destroyed by it well call me an enviro and stand in awe of recycling dumb American and even dumber one worlder."  Lawyers...gotta love 'em.  They defend homicidal drug dealers, right?  They have great legalese for "not doin' a damn friggin' thing for you too, ha ha." Here's to you Steve Rattner for "getting it"?  Too bad you got caught, right?  Not like the 24/7 media cares cause "somebody's gotta pay for all that stolen programming they're lifting from average every day types probably right from their homes."  Here's to Tom Keene for interviewing Steve Rattner btw.  Now if only our two time Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper up here would actually start naming the names vis a vis the "i'm a not for profit for good reason" instead of "blaming the nail pounder named Vinny."  Who knows, maybe the average joker would finally take an interest in reading even if they are scurrilous attacks.  Unfortunatley they're probably true which means...

Seer's picture

"Doesn't the fact that we really do have a cost effective natural gas option WITH a government controlled and largest car mfg in human history say it all?"


The US imports something like 18% of its NG (all from Canada?).

While I tended to side with T. Boone Pickens' strategy to push NG for transit and wind for electrical generation (can't recall if he pushed solar in with the electical generation mix), it was clear, and he even said so, that it would only be a bridge solution.  Until people understand that all physical-resource-based energy sources are limited we will never accomplish anything resembling a smooth transition: people will never accept that the current paradigm/infrastructure is a dead-end and will, therefore, ride it right into oblivion (counter forces will win out, and will, if history is any guide, do so via violent rejection of said paradigm/infrastructure)*.

* I could hypothesize that TPTB are actually causing disturbances at the edges in an attempt to force some sort of controlled breakup of the existing paradigm, that allowing it to continue will result in a severely reduced likelihood that TPTB would be able to continue in positions of power).

Rahm's picture

MHFT, shouldn't you be out campaigning for BO?

Pondmaster's picture



So your Leaf striped , costs 25k ( Is your striped?) My little Cobalt XLE cost half that ( 14k) and gets 37mpg - So up front I save 10k on cost , so I have 2k a year to spend on fuel - 15k miles a year @3$ a gallon   ( 15000/ 37= 405 gal x 3$ = 1215$)  so I'm 785$ ahead . 1215$ gas costs , about same as you for Elec/ NG $1500 = 2715$ energy costs - A Leaf for me is not cost effective at this time . Its a toy for rich folk - and the Tesla !! Ha what a joke . We'll see the banksters and Hedge fund managers in those - never the middle class drones . Do you think a family of four making 30k a year can ever buy even a Leaf . Alt energy vehicles are a scam and a fad .

MeTarzanUjane's picture

He also forgot to factor in the cost of new batteries.

Tanz der Lemminge's picture

And battery recycling plants - those batteries have some nasty chemical in them.


I can just hear the NIMBY howls when a compnay even tries to build a recycling plant.



Oh wait - send them to China since they don't care about the environment - outsourcing again!

ReeferMac's picture

" Do you think a family of four making 30k a year can ever buy even a Leaf . Alt energy vehicles are a scam and a fad ."


Well now, when you factor in the $15k gob'mint subsidies it takes to make them affordable to the masses (where's that in the GDP/Oil math from the article?)....


I agree, they're a nice idea, but the oil industry is going to fight any kind of infrastructure with lobbying dollars, the batteries only last a couple years (replacement cost is WHAT!?!?!), and use all sorts of NIMBY processes to recycle; And as stated, the cars are simply NOT in the price-range of the average consumer. Sure, lots of folks drive $35k vehicles, but not many in my neighborhood (unless they're 2-3 years old, which is right about when that 'ol battery starts to lose it's spunk).