By Eduardo Porter, New York Times
What would happen if the federal government ended its subsidies to companies that drill for oil and gas?
The U.S. oil and gas industry has argued that such a move would leave the United States more dependent on foreign energy.
Many environmental activists counter that ending subsidies could move the United States toward a future free of fossil fuels — helping it curtail its emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Chances are, it wouldn’t do much of either.
In a new report (pdf) for the Council on Foreign Relations, Gilbert Metcalf, a professor of economics at Tufts University, concluded that eliminating the three major federal subsidies for the production of oil and gas would have a very limited impact on the production and consumption of these fossil fuels.
Metcalf’s analysis is the most sophisticated yet on the impact of government supports, worth roughly $4 billion a year. Extrapolating from the observed reaction of energy companies to fluctuations in the price of oil and gas, he models how a loss of subsidies might curtail drilling and thus affect production, prices and consumer demand.
Cutting oil drilling subsidies might reduce domestic oil production by 5 percent in the year 2030.
As a result, he thinks, the worldwide price of oil would inch up by only 1 percent. He assumes it will hardly be affected because other countries would increase production as the flow of U.S. crude slowed. Demand would hardly budge, as the price of gasoline at the pump would rise by at most 2 cents a gallon.
Natural gas is a slightly different story. It is not as much a global commodity. A decline of 3 percent to 4 percent …