Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Laws Killing Refineries and Jobs in U.S.

Our Thorny Oil Patch


Energy Policy: When America’s biggest oil refiner contemplates putting almost a third of its refineries on the market, Congress should sit up and take notice. The business climate it has created is hurting our economy.
Valero Energy Corp. is an industry leader that refines more oil than any other in the U.S. The San Antonio, Texas, company had a good run in the stock market this decade, rising 1,400% before earnings topped last year. But it’s no longer so easy for the company or any refiner.

Valero will probably sell three of its 17 refineries this year and maybe two more later to focus on its core operations amid what CEO Bill Klesse acknowledged on Tuesday is a weak economy.

But maybe that’s because the environment for the energy business in the U.S. has turned downright hostile.

Upstream, oil drilling is off-limits, crimping supply and driving prices ever higher. Downstream, refiners are hit by not only high energy prices, but also bureaucratic regulations, environmental lobbies and special interests that make moving to Asia, where economic growth is still valued, more attractive.

The sorry fact that no new refinery has been built in America since 1983 has been cited so many times that we would have thought someone in Washington would have done something about it by now. But no — it just keeps getting worse.

In 1982, the U.S. economy was served by 301 refineries. By 2007, the number had dwindled to 149. Productivity has kept output steady over the years at 17 million barrels a day. But the U.S. economy has grown by 125%.
"Valero believes there will never be another refinery built in the U.S.," spokesman Bill Day told IBD. He cited costs, environmental regulations, neighborhood activism and lawsuits.

"For a new refinery, it would take five years for a permit and five years for construction, and it’s very expensive. A company would have to know it would pay off."

Congress has been of no help whatsoever. Mandates requiring certain ethanol percentages in gasoline composition are chopping down refiners’ market share at the pump.

Refiners are undercut by the subsidies ethanol producers get that refiners don’t. Ethanol producers are also protected by high tariffs on overseas ethanol, while imported gasoline comes in duty-free. This brings in a lot of competition for refiners.

Given these conditions, is it any wonder companies such as Valero are looking for friendlier climes?

The laws by which Congress hamstrings energy producers have had the lethal effect of slowing down the economy while driving up prices. It’s high time for measures that do just the opposite.

No comments: