Don’t Cry for Me, Hydrocarbons

Kate Aronoff reports from the CERAWeek energy industry conference in Houston.

Photo illustration with oil pump
Photo illustration: Soohee Cho for The Intercept; Photo: Getty Images

The CERAWeek conference took place this week in Houston. CERAWeek is an annual gathering of major players in the energy sector; CEOs, government officials, and financiers are among the conference’s attendees. The major theme this year, of course, was the effect of Russia’s war in Ukraine on global oil and gas markets — in particular, President Joe Biden’s announcement Tuesday that the U.S. would move to ban imports of Russian oil. The New Republic’s Kate Aronoff was there in Houston to witness the conference. She joins Ryan Grim to discuss what she saw and heard, including — yes, actually — a Broadway song parody titled “Don’t Cry for Me, Hydrocarbons.”

[Intro theme music.]

Ryan Grim: There’s really been nothing more central to the last 50 years of American history than oil. We can start with the energy crisis in the ’70s that helped usher in the Reagan revolution. Cheap gas fueled the growth of our suburbs and we’re now sprawled out from coast to coast.

Osama bin Laden, in claiming responsibility for 9/11, said that it was intended to drive U.S. troops out of Saudi Arabia. Then came the invasion and occupation of Iraq — and today we still occupy some of the largest oil fields in Syria.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine isn’t about oil or gas, but the global energy shock it has created is rocking the world’s economy. Before that energy shock, oil prices were already soaring, thanks to the cartel of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Russia keeping down production. The result has been extreme political pain for Biden and for Democrats, and there’s every reason to think that was precisely the goal of it.

But the Russian energy shock is going to create economic chaos around the globe. The amount of hunger and suffering and instability it’s likely to breed over the next several months or more is incalculable.

Now, the U.S. is planning to ban Russian oil imports, but they don’t make up a very significant portion of our energy portfolio. The same is not true for Europe, though, and they’ve committed to weaning themselves off of it, and trying to cut Russian imports by two thirds over the next year.

In that context, Germany announced it would be spending more than 200 billion euros over the next few years transitioning to clean energy. And by a 30-point margin, British voters in a new poll say the country should move toward energy independence by pivoting to clean energy rather than by expanding fracking and increasing domestic production.

And the American government is saying the same thing:

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki: What this is all a reminder of, in the President’s view, is our need to reduce our reliance on oil. If we do more to invest in clean energy, more to invest in other sources of energy, that’s exactly what we can do to prevent this in the future.

RG: Now, the problem for the American government is that our system doesn’t let the elected government actually govern unless Sen. Joe Manchin is OK with it. And nobody’s quite sure yet where he stands.

He spoke on Friday at the major energy conference CERA and introduced a new reason he’s opposed, saying:

Sen. Joe Manchin: The one thing that all Democrats agreed on was the 2017 tax cuts, the way they were implemented, were weighted unfairly.

If we all agree, and we have agreement on one thing, then use it to get your financial house in order. We can still do that. We can still do the one with the drug thing. I said: That’s the most popular thing we have. We know we can do that. And then we can do, maybe, an all-in, all-inclusive climate package to some extent.

And they know where I stand. If it doesn’t have an all-in policy to where you’re treating the horsepower that you need from your fossil, which is called oil and natural gas, and the investments we’re going to need in new nuclear reactors, if you will, and also in geothermal, and all of the things we’re talking about, with our wind, and solar, and all that. So we’ll see whether they want to go down that path or not.

RG: The war in Ukraine is a fork in the road for world history. One path leads to doubling down on fossil fuels and endless wars — some small skirmishes, some regional wars, and maybe another world war.

Republicans and some Democrats are saying now is the time we have to drill, baby, drill.

Rep. Matt Rosendale: The Biden administration needs to end their war on domestic energy production immediately and restore our nation’s energy dominance.

We can no longer rely on Russia, Venezuela, or oil from the Middle East to meet our energy needs. But the Biden administration must commit to an America-first strategy in oil production.

RG: The other path is the one Germany’s headed for: serious investment in renewable energy. The fossil fuel industry is hoping we choose the former one, and my old colleague Kate Aronoff, who now reports for The New Republic, is in Houston for CERAWeek right now. It’s one of the biggest oil and gas conferences in the world, and she’s there to learn how the fossil fuel industry is feeling in this fragile moment.

RG: We’re joined now by Kate Aronoff, the author of “Overheated: How Capitalism Broke the Planet — and How We Fight Back,” and also my former colleague at The Intercept, and currently a reporter at The New Republic. Kate, welcome to Deconstructed.

Kate Aronoff: So good to be here. I’m a longtime listener.

RG: And, first of all, your name is suspiciously Russian sounding.

KA: [Laughs.]

RG: So I think we’re gonna have to interrogate that first before this is allowed on a major platforms. Where does Aronoff come from?

KA: It is — am I allowed to mildly curse?

RG: I think you can, now.

KA: On here? It’s a bastardization —

RG: It just can’t be Russian.

KA: It can’t be Russian. Well, the good news for all the listeners concerned is that it’s the bastardization of a Latvian surname. The Aronoffs were sort of migratory Jews in Eastern Europe somewhere and we came over a very long time ago. So I have no connection to Russia in any meaningful way besides this name. If it were really Russian, it would be an “o-b” —

RG: That’s what a Russian would say.

KA: Right. Right. I could be. I could be a deep agent, living that Keri Russell life.

RG: But, seriously, so tell us about this conference. So you’re down in Houston. And this is described as the premier energy conference. Where are you? What’s going on down there?

KA: The Super Bowl of energy.

Voiceover: All big ideas begin with a spark.

KA: It’s CERAWeek ’22.

Voiceover: CERAWeek, the world’s premier energy conference.

KA: So this is a conference that is in its 40th year. It’s an energy conference, put on historically by this consultancy, founded by the author of “The Prize,” Daniel Yergin.

Voiceover: CEOs from major energy companies, top government officials, clean tech, innovators, financiers, and more.

KA: And this is an annual conference, though this is the first one they’ve held since 2019, on energy, broadly, and some commodities — there’s some people involved with copper and lithium and various things, but the main focus is oil and gas, and with a pretty specific focus within oil and gas on some of the bigger companies.

So Exxon’s here, Chevron is here, ConocoPhillips — these sort of big names. Several international oil companies — Total, BP, Shell, Aramco, the head of OPEC were here. And then some slightly smaller producers, who people have probably heard of, but maybe a little less familiar with, and people who service those companies, but, by and large, it’s sort of the bigwigs who are here. And executives, not people who are working on rigs.

RG: And so in your first dispatch for TNR about CERAWeek you wrote that the news of the ban on Russian oil imports got kind of a muted greeting. And why was that?

KA: Yeah, so for the people who were here who were hyper-fixated on oil and gas markets, the effect of what’s been happening in Europe, it’s sort of already registered, right? And so there had been talk about the White House embracing this ban over the weekend, and that had sent prices up.

And so when it was actually announced on Tuesday, the actual response was pretty muted, just because the market had already sort of internalized this. And that’s one way. The other way is that companies, like refineries, for instance, who buy crude oil and then process it so it can be sold at gas stations have already started self-sanctioning.

And what that means effectively is that they know that Russian oil is toxic for anyone certainly buying it in North America, Russian oil is pretty toxic now. And so they can get that from other places. And oil is pretty easy to ship. And so that’s not a huge problem for refiners. And so they had already started doing that.

RG: Over the last few months, or over the last several years? When did toxicity of Russian oil start to filter into the American system?

KA: Certainly over the last few months, but companies like Exxon who walked away around 2014, around the invasion of Crimea, that was one sort of moment in which Russia looked more toxic than it had, but certainly over the last the last weeks and months, but this big wave of self-sanctioning has certainly been a more recent phenomenon.

RG: OK, so that was one thing. You were saying the other thing was — ?

KA: And the U.S. just doesn’t get very much oil from Russia, especially over the last year or so. I mean, on the upward end, figures, I think, were around 8 percent. But if I understand this, right, that’s been much lower recently. And so it’s just a pretty easy thing, all things considered, for the U.S. to do.

RG: Was there any talk about either Venezuela or Iran?

KA: Yeah, a bit. And it’s interesting. I mean, the big talk on Venezuela, and I’ll say that I was mostly talking to folks who live and work in the U.S., and I was talking a little bit less to folks who were here from other countries, or OPEC members, for instance. But their sense — and read everything these guys say, take it with the biggest grain of salt you can — but what they will say is that is it really possible for Venezuela to bring a huge amount of reserves online given that the country, obviously, has been dealing with crushing sanctions for a long time. And then you’ll hear another line about the state of the state-owned oil company before those sanctions took effect. So there’s a bit of a question there about whether that is someplace you can expect a lot of supply to come from.

And then, on Iran, I think people have been excited about the roughly million barrels per day Iran could bring online if the JCPOA actually happens. But the flip side of that is that that’s been in conversation for so long, that people are a little bit skeptical that it’ll really have that big of an effect.

RG: And the JCPOA, for people, that’s the Iran deal. And it’s very close to getting inked, according to everything we’re hearing. The Iranians are asking for some sort of promise that the U.S. won’t back out of it immediately, like we did last time, which seems to be the sticking point. And it also seems to be a reasonable demand, from their perspective, in the sense that we actually did walk away from that.

And in Venezuela, since so much of the market is about futures and future capacity, if Venezuela says: Alright, we’ve caught a deal with the U.S., we’re gonna do this. And there’s going to be major investments from these Western companies, the sanctions are lifted, because these Western companies know how to pump oil, would that have an effect on the future prices? Because you’d know that: OK, yes, we destroyed them with sanctions over the last couple of decades, but we also can rebuild them fairly quickly. Or are they thinking that they’re so just decimated that it’s just not something that’s going to impact the global markets in any serious way?

KA: Uh — this question is a little bit above my pay-grade. But, yeah, there’s a lot of skepticism about how much can really come online. And I just know a little bit less about Venezuela than some other places. But it is a potentially huge amount of oil. I think that’s the big open question people have been talking about here.

RG: What was the mood like more generally? Because you had that period of 2020, when the pandemic hit, that all of a sudden you had oil prices go under $0 for — I don’t know how long that lasted, but it was enough to get everybody giggling across the globe at the very idea that something could cost less than nothing.

But you’ve also had long-term, downward pressure on prices of both oil and natural gas over the last decade or so, profit struggling — and now, all of a sudden, you’ve got this war. Was the war greeted as a kind of savior of the industry? Or like, what was the mood for these energy executives who are meeting amidst right on the brink of World War III?

KA: Yeah, it’s been really interesting to watch. I mean, my dream as a reporter, obviously, is to walk into a conference of the oil and gas industry and see people get up on stage and say: We love being war profiteers. [Laughs.] That is not exactly what I heard. But you’ll hear this careful, — and I would say not entirely, obviously disingenuous — sort of rhetorical term, which is to say: Obviously, this crisis is horrible. We have nothing but respect and we are finding so much inspiration in the bravery of the Ukrainian people — and it’s going to be a very good year. And we’re looking forward to having a brighter future right then than we might have had previously, in so many words.

And like I said, you always want good quotes, but people have been walking a pretty, pretty careful line. And it’s a savvy industry, right?

And I think the other thing that’s really stood out to me is, all of the branding for the conference — all of the sort of backdrops for speakers, the registration table, everything is green. And it was very much the expectation when this conference was planned, right — presumably well before COP26, the climate talks in Glasgow in November — that this conference is going to be very much focused on the role that the oil and gas industry has to play in the energy transition, in getting off of carbon. They will not say getting off of fossil fuels, of course, because they’re fossil-fuel companies. But that was the intention of this conference; clearly, that’s sort of what they were going for, was to present a green face to the world and talk through that.

And so, obviously, this war began slightly before the conference started. And so the range of priorities has just shifted really dramatically. And so there’s still a lot of talk about the energy transition. That hasn’t gone away. But there’s also this big rupture in energy markets that’s happened. And that’s fallen in different ways for different people.

The more sober analysts, especially of oil markets, are pretty freaked out, I would say, about the potential for Russia to cut off supplies because there’s no good replacement right now for Russian oil, especially. And it’s just really hard to see a path forward. I mean, the words “global recession” were tossed around. That is a very bleak situation, if indeed it does happen.

On the gas side, especially LNG exporters, liquefied natural gas, which is a sort of specific corner of the industry, and people who sell a lot of gas in general, there’s a kind of I-told-you-so vibe, a lot of talk along the lines of: We were counted out, nobody in Europe wanted to touch gas, and now we’re at the table. Now they need us. Don’t they look foolish?

Right? And there’s a spectrum of how much people are willing to boast about that. But from some of the executives who’ve been on stage the last couple days, that really was the sort of energy that they’re taking, a bit of a victory lap, and saying things like: It’s so good that we’re talked about as a bridge fuel again.

RG: Is that where the song “Don’t Cry For Me, Hydrocarbons” came from, that was performed on stage?

KA: [Laughs wearily.] Oh.

[Audio of “Don’t Cry For Me Hydrocarbons” being performed.]

RG: Can you do a rendition for us?

KA: Absolutely not. Yeah, to give people a bit of background. I don’t go to a ton of corporate conferences, but I assume this genre of thing happens somewhat often. But the other night there was, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of CERAWeek, a musical put on by Broadway performers — who themselves are very talented, no gripe with them certainly. But the musical told the story of the U.S. oil and gas industry through a series of edited Broadway show tunes, which is exactly as bad as you think it is — and much worse, I would argue. I was physically taken aback.

RG: It’s like Weird Al Yankovic, but for fossil fuels.

KA: I think that’s too unfair to Weird Al.

RG: [Laughs.] Too unfair.

KA: Just a real horror show. This is maybe not worth including, but I learned in sort of posting about this, that there was a genre of musical called industrials that were very popular with big companies like GE back in the day, and this is in that genre of these corporate-sponsored, corporate-written musical performances. But no, the “Don’t Cry For Me Hydrocarbons,” I think was inflected with a different meaning, certainly, than it might have been a couple of weeks ago. But so far as I can tell, it was not written with an eye toward the War in Ukraine.

RG: And so they came into the conference kind of in retreat, it sounds like. They were preparing for the conference in retreat. They’re gonna help the world get off of them. They’re going to focus on climate, the transition to a new energy economy. But now it kind of seems like they’re feeling their oats in a way, like they’ve got their mojo back in some ways.

But at the same time, you’re talking about that they’re nervous about a recession? How much do they care? Like, what is the consequence to them of a global recession? Because very high energy prices will produce a global recession; it’s hard to see any way around that. Yet, there are still very high energy prices for them. So how do they feel about that set of affairs?

KA: Yeah, there is excitement — and nobody would say they’re excited, certainly. But about the sorts of conversations that are possible now, especially in Europe, about things like long-term contracts and infrastructure that were not possible before, they have more of an audience with the White House than they had before. So there’s excitement about that, but it’s not unmitigated, I would say, for really anyone, and the sort of key phrase to understand here is demand destruction. So this can mean a number of different things that we’ll probably get into, but when you hear oil executives talk about it, as it relates to the price of oil in particular, what that means is there’s a sort of sweet spot in which it is very profitable to sell oil, and that price can be quite high.

Where it’s been in the last couple days, and just the really extreme volatility, which is making people a bit nervous, the price could get to a place where people turn off of energy: people are buying less and consuming less. And that is intensified for the oil companies, in particular, by electric vehicles, right? And so if the price goes above a certain level, it’s not just that people will drive less, or carpool, or pursue different forms of transportation, but that they might opt to buy a different car, if oil stays at $130/gallon, or even higher — $200/gallon is not out the question.

And so that makes producers nervous, the idea that the price would get so high that it begins cutting into demand for their product, and even more worryingly, prompting sort of different consumer choices that, in the long run, is very bad for them.

RG: And I suppose in the short run, a recession would also destroy some of that demand, too. Because people would just have less money, fewer jobs.

KA: Yes.

RG: Just be spending less.

KA: Yes, that is correct. Yeah. I mean, certainly the people who are here are pretty insulated from the effects of a recession. So a lot of Maseratis and Lamborghinis in the parking lot. But for their business, recession is not optimal.

RG: But I do love the phrase “demand destruction,” because I feel like in some ways, that’s the actual goal of clean energy is to destroy demand. The supply exists, it’s there, but if you can destroy the demand, and to me — and you know the industry a lot better, so tell me if my sense is right, here — but I feel like one of the greatest fears, or maybe the greatest fear of the oil industry is around low prices or low demand, a combination of those two. It helps explain why the cartel, OPEC, was so necessary, that if left to a free market, energy prices, oil prices wind up at a place that just simply aren’t profitable to extract anymore.

And so oil companies have needed to do all sorts of different things to make sure that prices stay high, so that it remains a lucrative business, but they can’t go too high to get people thinking: Hmm, maybe this isn’t a long-term move for us. Maybe we need to get an electric car. Maybe we need to power that electric car with industrial solar panels.

So where on the scale of existential risks does the industry think about demand and prices?

KA: Yeah, that’s a really good question. And this is an especially interesting question for drillers who are really active in shale in places like the Permian Basin, because that process to frack is so capital-intensive, that you really need a lot of money just to do it. And the wells are exhausted relatively quickly, a little less so now with technology that has expanded their life, but it’s an extremely capital-intensive process.

And the story of the shale revolution really is that the companies were involved, which at one point, there were well over 100, at least, but maybe hundreds of them — but many, many companies who were drilling. And they hemorrhaged cash because they were just drilling as quickly as possible. And Wall Street was pretty patient, in part because debt was really cheap, interest rates were really low. And they just kept pouring money into the sector. And then the commodity price crash of 2014–2015 happens, and a bunch of these companies get wiped out, there’s consolidation in the industry. And then it happens again: They drill to their heart’s content, grow at a rapid clip, and then are wiped out in 2020.

And that’s a very abbreviated history of that. But essentially, because the main type of production that is happening in the United States now is this very capital-intensive production, unconventional drilling, that they need high prices, in some sense, to survive. And so having oil at $30/barrel is really an existential threat for them and it’s why you will hear from some of the more honest executives, people like Scott Sheffield at Pioneer, right, has said something to the effect of: We’re not going to grow faster than we’re planning to, about 5 percent, no matter what is happening in the world, no matter what the price of oil is, even if it gets to $200/barrel, because our investors won’t let us, right? They’re pissed off, essentially, because we burned through their money for a decade. And they want to see returns, they want big share buybacks, they want to see a lot of profit. And so we are going to get our balance sheets in order and stay the course, because we’re trying to be around in 50 years — which is obviously horrible for the climate, but in the short-run means that they are just not going to produce very much and have not invested in such a way over the last couple of years that would make that make that really possible.

RG: And you used to do oil divestment activism back in college. And around the time, when I was covering it, I remember thinking like: This doesn’t make any sense. It’s not about the share price, the way that Exxon makes money is pumping oil and selling it.

But was I wrong? Like, has there been so much success around pressuring pension funds to divest from oil, that it leaves these other private equity outfits as the kind of last resort for these investments, and they’re not interested in it, and so, as a result, some of that activism maybe did really, actually strangle some of the production? Or do you think it was more just that functionally, it was a capital-losing project and — ?

KA: I think both can be true, to some extent. I will take some pride in the four years I spent in college.

RG: Yeah, it does seem like you guys do deserve some credit for this now. I would say: Sorry for my skepticism.

KA: No, I think you’re right to be skeptical. And I said then what I’ll say now, is that the goal really was not to remove a certain amount of capital from the likes of ExxonMobil, or coal companies, which were a bigger deal back then, but to take away their license to operate — to really drag the reputation through the mud was the goal. Not that the endowment of my tiny liberal arts college was going to make or break Exxon’s balance sheet. I think on one, on the one hand, that movement has been pretty successful.

But the reason why this is such a funny question now, is because one line you will hear from oil executives and from lobbyists in particular, is that the financial sector, places like BlackRock, or investment banks, are just crawling with these woke climate activists who hate the industry, and won’t invest in us. And that that divestment movement has spread from college campuses to BlackRock or to Goldman Sachs or something like that. And I don’t think that’s really true.

The reality, and I heard thirdhand an executive saying something to this effect, but they said: We already went through a divestment movement. It was because we were bad stewards of capital, that we could not return value to our shareholders, and so they left.

And so, I think both are true. And those are really the two of the major dynamics these companies are facing right now: one, that investors, for a host of reasons that are pretty complicated, are looking toward other things, to some extent, although the big asset managers and banks are still very generously funding fossil fuels, even coal. But there is a real danger that these companies could lose their license to operate, given sort of overriding concerns about the climate crisis, right? That is very much on their minds. But the other is that they are bad at spending money and bad at running their business.

RG: Right. And the price relationship seems to expose kind of a contradiction in what you hear from Fox News. So if you listen to Fox or Fox Business — more Fox than Fox Business, interestingly — but if you listen to Fox News, they’ll say: What we need to do is we need to drill more. If Biden hadn’t shut down Keystone XL — which, XL stands for export, so there’s no way that that was going to be doing anything for domestic production, but anyway, beside the point.

Generally, they’ll say: Because Biden shut down all of the domestic drilling, that’s why we’re paying such high prices at the pump. But if it’s the case that industry leaders aren’t interested in drilling unless the prices get and stay extremely high, then there’s no way that drilling brings prices down, because once it gets to a certain point, they stop drilling. That seems to be an irresolvable contradiction in the argument being made on Fox News.

KA: I think you may even be ascribing it more logic [laughs] than is there.

And as someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about climate denial, I think that frame is sort of helpful, which is that when you go to a climate-denial conference, there’s no sense trying to find coherence in any of it, right? And so, some people will say that it’s the sun that’s causing global warming; maybe there is global warming, but it’s a good thing, because it makes plants grow; just a real mixed bag of talking points, and just sort of throwing anything at the wall and seeing what sticks.

And that’s similar here. But I think you can see where certain things are coming from a little bit more. So the American Petroleum Institute, for instance, has basically been hewing [to] the Fox News line and kind of what the GOP is saying, which is that the Biden administration and Democrats are placing artificial constraints on our ability to keep prices down and to provide energy security to Europe in its time of need. That is essentially the talking point that’s coming from that sort of arm of things. And then it just makes no sense when you then hear actual oil and gas CEOs saying: We’re not going to drill no matter what, because it’s not in our interest to do so.

And so that incoherence is just part of the game. I mean, they’re very good at lobbying. The oil and gas industry certainly has a pretty big footprint on Washington.

RG: It’s the most important part of their business. That and war.

KA: Yeah. Yeah, right.

So, that’s part of why I wanted to come here, just because those two things, on their face, seem so out of touch. But API has just been using human suffering as an excuse to advance long-standing policy interest, as you said: Greenlighting the Keystone XL pipeline, and opening up more federal lands to drilling will do basically nothing for the price of oil, or supplies, in the short term. And oil is a global commodity, right? And so there’s only, at the most maximal end, so much anyone in the United States can do to keep the price at a certain level, because it’s produced in many, many different places.

RG: And so any big takeaways from this conference? Did you change your understanding of the industry or where it’s headed at all, as a result of this time at the conference?

KA: I came in expecting people to be a bit more openly excited than they were. I think it’s helpful to break down some of the more cartoonish notions about this industry and see it up close. And I think the big takeaway on the industry side, for me, is just this is not an unmitigated excitement. Certainly people are going to make a lot of money this year, but the longer-term concerns which were present before Russia invaded Ukraine are not going away, right? They’re still very deeply concerned about long-term trends toward renewables, toward getting off the fossil fuels, and are relating to this moment, as far as I can see, as a chance to get really one big round of infrastructure permits and approvals and financing, and long-term contracts to supply Europe with gas, for instance, for the next 30 years. So there’s this window of opportunity, I think, is the best way to think about it. But still a very persistent, existential worry.

And the other thing I’ll just say, there were a lot of administration officials who were here. [Secretary of Energy] Jennifer Granholm spoke yesterday, Amos Hochstein, who is the State Department’s international energy adviser, and a former employee of Tellurian, one of the big LNG exporters. Michael Regan was here.

RG: John Kerry, right?

KA: John Kerry was here. He spoke Monday about how gas is a bridge fuel and the industry needs to be at the table of any climate action.

And they’re walking a very strange line. They have an incredibly difficult job to do. And I say that as someone who has been very critical of the ways that this administration has handled climate issues. But the oil and gas industry are acting like babies [laughs], in a lot of ways. I mean, just whining about not being at the table, about not having as much access to the White House as they would like, about being bullied or discriminated against. And you heard a lot of that. And that’s sort of where this I-told-you-so sentiment came from, and I do not envy anyone in the White House right now trying to navigate both those dynamics, and just the fact that they have these different constituencies to serve.

Obviously, for all of the right reasons, climate activists are very weary of seeing an uptick of drilling, and especially of new infrastructure coming online, and there is just a real energy crisis that is very scary, in some ways, and very little that the United States government by the sort of idiosyncrasies that the way our energy system was set up to cede all these investment in planning decisions to the private sector has very few tools to tell the industry to do really, anything. I mean, it could use novel powers under the Defense Production Act, or these various other statutes to try to do something, but there’s just a very limited toolbox that the U.S. government has to make sort of any say over what the industry can do.

And yeah, it’s a pretty impossible task. Just meeting the sort of basic crisis at hand, and then figuring out how to stay on any sort of track on climate, and then facing midterms in November, and not get absolutely decimated by gas prices potentially being $5/gallon. [Laughs.] So, I just felt, over the last couple of days, a lot more sympathy for the White House than I really ever have, which is not to give them too much credit. But man, they are really in a tough spot.

RG: And as for the industry, I hope it’s not too long that we can put these sad sacks out of their misery?

KA: Well, I will say — I know we have to go — but one of the most helpful things about this conference was going to a session on coal today and coal’s role in the energy sector and the room was basically empty. And these three guys they had talking on stage were so sad.

RG: [Laughs.]

KA: Just really beside themselves about the state of their industry. So hopefully, in another couple of years, oil and gas can be in a similarly sad state.

RG: We can dream.

KA: [Laughs.] Exactly.

RG: Kate, thanks so much for joining me. I really appreciate it.

KA: Thanks so much for having me.

[End credits theme music.]

RG: That was Kate Aronoff, and that’s our show.

Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. Laura Flynn is our supervising producer. The show was mixed by William Stanton. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

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