Oil is $130-something per barrel, and gasoline is over $4 per gallon. I am paying more for everything from milk to electricity to airline tickets. FedEx ( FDX) and UPS ( UPS) aren't delivering ... earnings. Retail stocks are getting hit because people aren't buying stuff with gas at $4. And Starbucks cannot sell a $4 latte for the same reason. This is what happens when the world's most ravenous (for oil) country has no clearly defined energy policy. These are just a few of the results of a lack of national awareness of the problem and the potential solutions. Barron's pointed out that the average U.S. consumer uses 25 barrels of oil per year. In China, that number is two barrels and in India it's less than a single barrel. The perception is that the growth in oil demand in those emerging countries will pick up and they will use more and more oil. True, we will need more oil. What's the problem?
The world has been running out of oil? The world has run out of "easy oil"? The world is going to run out of accessible oil? False, false and false. We have billions upon billions of barrels and gas equivalents of oil available to the world. In fact, we have billions upon billions available to us in the U.S. We have an estimated 18 billion barrels off the Outer Continental Shelf. Certain people in Congress would have us believe that those barrels are 10-plus years away from our refiners' cracking towers. That's just not true. I told you about the conversations I had with Transocean ( RIG) officers and their time frames for that oil in the last column. I have since confirmed that opinion with other big-time ocean drillers, and the picture remains as clear as it was last week.
It would take anywhere from one to six years to produce a barrel from the Outer Continental Shelf. That's right, we could realize oil in as little as a year and as far into the future as six years for those really remote reservoirs. These are barrels we need now and will certainly need in the future. These are barrels that currently rest under a drilling moratorium. These are barrels that the next president should release as soon as possible. These are the barrels that will win the election for him. Deepwater rigs can produce oil in a much shorter time frame than you might be led to believe. And the oil can be much cheaper to produce than the oil trapped in the tar sands of Canada or the shale of our own Western states, and even the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Therefore, cheaper all the way down the pipeline, culminating in the gas tank of your nearest SUV. I truly hope we all start to drive vehicles with better fuel economy. I am turning in my Range Rover for a higher mpg vehicle next month. We can "drill" shale in several protected land-bound areas of Montana, Colorado, and Louisiana. There may be as many as several hundred billion barrels of oil trapped in those areas. Although tougher to refine into usable oil than into gasoline, they are available to us nonetheless. There is no doubt that we should begin aggressive means to address the demand side of the equation as well. We absolutely must change our habits. Americans are smart. Our driving habits are changing as we speak. I told you of the busy car dealership I saw in Los Angeles last weekend. The Smart Car is a joint venture between the people at the French watchmaker Swatch and Mercedes-Benz. This car gets from 35 to 45 mpg depending on the way you drive it. And they are just months away from a hybrid version -- all for about $11,000.
The only bright spot in a dim U.S. auto industry is the hybrid models. Ford ( F) and General Motors' ( GM) current and future promised models are in demand and will help reshape the way we buy cars. Chevrolet has promised a pretty hot hybrid to be developed soon. The Volt looks great and sounds great, but our auto guys in Detroit need to move fast. Japan and Korea certainly are. We also must speed the process for permitting and approving our nuclear power sources. It takes about three years or more just to get approvals and another three to five to build a reactor. It could take 1,000 to 1,500 wind turbines turning full time to produce the power of one nuclear reactor. Can you imagine telling a community (hospitals, trains, offices) that there was going to be a brownout because the wind had died down for a while? Uranium is the cheapest form of viable, accessible fuel for power production. It also happens that we are very friendly with Canada, Brazil, Australia, and our own western states -- combined, these places produce most of the uranium in the world. Cameco ( CCJ) in Canada will eventually get to about 20% of the world's uranium production as soon as its Cigar Lake project is on line. And, if France can generate 77% of her power from uranium, we should be able to double our current 18%, given the economics of oil and coal. If France can figure out a way to dispose of the spent fuel rods (they use hot fuel rod farms where spent fuel rods sit in water for five to seven years to cool before disposal) so should we.
One extremely important reason to drill now... After several conversations with officials from major drillers like Transocean and Diamond Offshore ( DO), I am even more convinced that we need to start the long process of exploration and producing oil from all available sources, especially the OCS. After many discussions with these drillers, I am convinced that there is great reason to believe that Cuba has not only discussed the possibility of allowing China and Venezuela to drill on her sovereign leases, but has already begun seismic studies. This may seem innocuous, but it is not. You may say, "so what ... let Cuba ruin its coastline ... we are going to protect ours." There is a very important fact that no one has addressed. They all agree that these oil finds are immense. The scary scenario plays out like this: Cuba, China and Venezuela develop some of these oil fields. They sit on Cuban land, which is adjacent to U.S land. The majority of the oil may actually sit underneath our land. If they get a jump on us and develop those fields, they may be pulling oil right out from under our feet. If you want a real reason to lift the moratorium on our offshore oil leases, look no further. Try telling your daughter or son that we are running out of oil because China grabbed it from us while we were trying to figure out whether or not we should drill our own land....then give her five hundred bucks to fill up the hybrid for the weekend.
Sorry about the lack of solid trade recommendations, this had to be said. I will get to the trades later. Trade with your head not over it.