Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Top 10
Yesterday's Wall Street Journal included its annual "Top 10 Trends in 10 Industries". Their rundown for the oil industry was well done, but totally conventional. It included concerns about the decline of oil production in North America, the shift to greater reliance on potentially unstable suppliers and to resources in deeper offshore waters, as well as the growing interest in LNG.

I suppose it's understandable that with so many big shorter term concerns to cover, neither alternative energy nor the environment were mentioned, beyond the shift from MTBE to ethanol as a smog-fighting gasoline additive. But it isn't hard to imagine how different the list would have looked had it been produced by one of the Journal's European competitors. Certainly, the impact of government actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would have made the list. Sustainable development and the growing interest in alternatives to petroleum-based fuels, whether biodiesel, methanol, or hydrogen would also have contended for one of the top spots.

There's a natural tendency for us still to see oil as a US-dominated industry, and surely that's what the Journal is reflecting. But in a world with global capital markets, in which 3 of the top 5 publicly traded oil and gas companies are European (BP, Shell, and TotalFinaElf), that view seems somewhat myopic and outdated.

I don't dispute that the issues the Journal chose are significant, nor do I wish to attach more importance to this Top 10 list than it deserves. But at the same time, given the tremendous credibility of the WSJ, it will reinforce the thinking of US executives who would just as soon ignore the other issues I mentioned. At the end of the day this only perpetuates a peculiar insularity in the midst of one of the most globalized businesses on the planet.

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