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Oil and Gas Investor

[Editor's note: This article was written July 13 and published Aug. 1 in the August 2022 issue of Oil and Gas Investor magazine.]

I’ve begun explaining the world news this way these days when there is no good answer: “It was in the script.” That’s particularly while so much is actually scripted.

Sometimes scripting is obvious for how seamlessly each episode plays out, such as the Jan. 6 committee hearings. Sometimes it’s painfully obvious for the gaffes.

Unfortunately, the latter was the case on July 12 for one of the most anticipated good-news events of the century: the release of first images from the James Webb telescope.

The feed stuttered and froze. Uplinks to remote locations failed or were slow. The shared screen was actually four screens put together, thus incorporating the horizontal and vertical edges of the frames of each into the images.

But NASA’s a space explorer and it executed on that flawlessly: The James Webb is in the Lagrange Point 2 and is returning the extraordinarily high-resolution, deep-space images with near infrared that we’ve all been anxious to see ever since Hubble gave us optical and ultraviolet views.

For the Jan. 6 hearings, a former ABC News president was hired by the committee to package the presentation. I’m not sure what happened with the NASA broadcast, but I would check a box on a tax return to donate toward paying for it to hire a pro.

Alas, back to scripts. In the epic “U.S. Oil Refining” series, now in its 169th season and playing at any gas pump today, the seemingly benign subtext of events embedded in the 1970s seasons have emerged as the main theme in the 2022 season.

It was inevitable: While the U.S. was discouraging new energy production capacity, it was successfully creating new energy demand via economic expansion and growth in minimum expectations for quality of life.

Where the 1970s left off, U.S. regulations and laws and stuff disincentivized significant-sized new refinery construction. The implications seen today were unthought of at the time when the country had enough capacity.

In 2022, though, that cinema Easter egg has hatched, and the duckling’s not pretty.

The series’ unexpected president, Joe Biden, insisted this summer that refiners were holding back on plant capacity, thus the resultant $5 gasoline. But someone must have pointed out between episodes that the math didn’t work.

It was made obvious by trying to answer a simple question in the New York Times’ weekly news quiz from June 10. The question: National average gas prices neared $5 per gallon this week. Which of the following is closest to the average gas price a year ago?

The options were $2.32, $3.07 and three figures greater than $4.

I didn’t remember. Was it $2.32 or was it $3.07?

But if the price of June 2021 oil was two-thirds the price of June 2022 oil, and gasoline is $5, then the 2021 price was $3.

And that was the correct answer.

It seems the White House would have a calculator. But no.

In the next episode, Biden released a lot of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. More than 5 million of the barrels were shipped to Europe and Asia, it was reported.

The episode concluded with a window washer outside the Oval Office trying to yell loudly enough through the glass: “It’s not that there isn’t enough oil! It’s because there isn’t enough refining capacity! And it’s designer-fuel season!”

In screen- and stage-writer Aaron Sorkin’s school at, his instructions begin with “First, without a clear intention and a formidable obstacle, you’re screwed blue. You’re not going to have drama.”

Well, we certainly have drama.

He continues, “As for ‘obstacle,’ you need to plug those things up. Don’t let the audience wonder why the person didn’t do some simple other thing.”

Like lift some regulations? Too complicated?

Further, “it is not required that your protagonist overcomes the obstacle. They don’t have to win. They just need to try.”

The messaging from the White House has been that it’s trying but without explaining its logic, knowing that more than 90% of Americans don’t understand how gasoline pricing works anyway.

“With a movie, you have 10 to 20 minutes to set up before you get to the obstacle before people walk out.” People were starting to walk out, according to the polls.

“Once you have the intention and obstacle, it’s like a taut clothesline you can hang everything else on. If you have a point you want to make, you can hang it on there.

“But, building that clothesline is going to be the most important thing you’re going to do.”

Unfortunately for American consumers, U.S. refiners were clotheslined 50 years ago. That’s what the U.S. energy policy built.

So why are gasoline prices so high? It was in the script.