Varun Sivaram

Energy, Security, and Climate

CFR experts examine the science and foreign policy surrounding climate change, energy, and nuclear security.

Asking the Right Questions About Changes in Derivative Markets

by Blake Clayton Friday, February 22, 2013

As part of a book I’m working on, I’ve spent some time wading through the econometric literature on speculation in commodity markets, oil in particular. This body of research tries to shed light on how the inflow of investor money into commodity derivatives over the last decade has affected these markets. I’m skeptical of a lot of what’s out there on this topic, though there is also some excellent work, too, like from Bassam Fattouh at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. Read more »

Overselling Energy Innovation

by Michael Levi Friday, February 22, 2013

Innovation will be critical to confronting the world’s energy problems, but the promise of energy innovation has too often been oversold. In an essay in the new issue of Issues in Science and Technology I explain why.

In the wake of the Copenhagen debacle and the collapse of cap-and-trade, Americans have been searching for new ways to tackle climate change. One of the most popular ideas to emerge has been a call to focus on energy innovation. Proponents of this approach argue that focusing on making clean energy cheaper rather than on making dirty energy more expensive would transform the domestic and international politics (and perhaps economics) of climate and energy policy. Read more »

The Carbon Price Equivalent of Blocking Keystone XL

by Michael Levi Wednesday, February 20, 2013

In an exchange about the Keystone XL pipeline earlier today, NASA’s Gavin Schmidt made an important point: “Many things can raise the effective carbon price: tax, cap-and-trade, regulatory action (mercury standards, pipeline decisions etc)”. (I’ve taken the liberty to expand some twitter abbreviations.) That’s true. So what carbon price would blocking the Keystone XL pipeline be equivalent to? Read more »

New Website on the Speculation Debate

by Blake Clayton Wednesday, February 13, 2013

One of the most misunderstood topics in energy markets is the role speculation plays in them, and specifically how buying and selling by financial market participants affects market behavior. Public attention to these questions tends to increase when commodity prices rise, which means that it’s been a relatively hot issue over much of the last decade.  A lot of what gets said about it, though, simply isn’t well informed. Read more »

State of the Union Hints at Ways to Bridge the Gap Between Old and New Energy

by Michael Levi Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The State of the Union address last night was notable for the prominent placement of energy and climate and for its recommencement to what President Obama has called an all of the above strategy. I was particularly struck by the inclusion of two new efforts that would aim to concretely bridge the gap between fossil fuel backers and clean energy enthusiasts: the Energy Security Trust Fund and a new prize for development of natural gas with carbon capture and storage. Read more »

A New Study on Oil Taxes

by Michael Levi Friday, February 8, 2013

Dan Ahn and I have a new energy brief out that takes a fresh look at oil taxes. From the introduction:

“Policymakers are confronting difficult choices [regarding tax hikes and spending cuts]…. In this context, it might be possible to reconsider oil taxes not only as an unwelcome burden, but as an alternative to something worse. We have modeled the potential consequences of substituting taxes on oil consumption for either higher non-oil taxes or reduced government spending, both as part of a larger deficit reduction package. [We show that] doing so can improve economic performance while reducing oil consumption if done right.” Read more »

President Obama: The World’s Best Oil Market Manager?

by Blake Clayton Thursday, February 7, 2013

Okay, so the title of this post is tongue-in-cheek: the U.S. president has far less power to influence gasoline prices than campaign-season banter would lead you to believe. But I figure if a sitting president can take the blame for high and volatile oil prices, maybe the White House should take a little pride in the fact that, by some measures, oil prices reflect the lowest volatility in years. (There’s a bit more to the story, though.) Read more »

Thinking Carefully About Tight Oil

by Michael Levi Thursday, February 7, 2013

A piece in Slate by Ray Pierrehumbert arguing that tight oil abundance is a myth is making the rounds. The essay makes some fair warnings against irrational exuberance when it comes to hundred year supplies, claims of endless energy independence, and complacency on climate change as a result of abundant natural gas. But the piece does at least as much to confuse as illuminate. Fortunately, that provides a good opportunity to look at a few important misunderstandings that frequently arise in discussions about U.S. oil. Read more »

Why Roll Yield Matters to Oil Benchmark Preferences

by Blake Clayton Tuesday, February 5, 2013

In my last post I discussed how trading volumes show a migration into ICE Brent from NYMEX West Texas Intermediate (WTI), two of the world’s most watched crude oil benchmarks. The trend is part of Brent’s broader rise as the preeminent world price of oil. Here I’d like to show graphically part of the reason why some financial market participants are opting to trade the North Sea crude instead of its American cousin. It has to do with recent trends in the futures prices for both crudes. Read more »