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Energy Insights: Energy News: Peak Oil Religion And Other Reader Inquiries

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Peak Oil Religion And Other Reader Inquiries


David Blackmon Contributor

I write about public policy issues affecting the oil and gas industry      

I'm managing director of Strategic Communications for FTI Consulting, based in Houston. Prior to joining FTI in 2012, I had a 33 year career in the oil and gas industry, working public policy issues for a number of companies including Shell, Burlington Resources, El Paso Corp., and Coastal States. I've also led numerous industry-wide efforts to address regulatory and legislative issues at the local, state and federal level. From April 2010 through June 2012, David served as the Texas State Lead for America’s Natural Gas Alliance. I attended Texas A&I University and The University of Texas, earning B.A. in accounting

Peak Oil Religion And Other Reader Inquiries

Time to respond to reader inquiries.  We receive a bunch each week via email, replies here at the blog, or on Twitter, and often don’t have time to respond to the best of them, so we thought it time to dedicate a column here during Halloween week to do just that.

So here we go with our first edition of EnergySense Responds to Readers!

First, we had this one come in on Twitter from an anti-Fracking activist, who seems to be a tad disappointed in the quality of our writing here at EnergySense,  a few weeks back.  Judge for yourself:

“Your articles ****ing SUCK!”

He followed that up a few days later with this one:

“Your articles still SUCK!”  Such elegant prose and deft reasoning are truly rare finds in the social media space these days.

A few days later, there was this:

“I only respond to morons.  You need to keep publishing bull****.  It’s a response mechanism to #Fracking hubris.  I’ll be back. J”

Is that a promise or a threat?  Hard to know.  Love the little smiley face, by the way.

And then there was this one that came in a little later via an email from another loyal reader titled “You are an idiot”:

“Do you have kids?  Grandkids?  I hope they know you are cheerleading the way to their future’s demise.  Karma.  Believe in it, idiot.”

Why yes, yes I do have two kids, and two beautiful little granddaughters.  Thanks so much for asking.  I actually use a photo of the grandkids as the avatar for my Twitter feed, since they’re vastly more pleasant to look at than my homely mug.  And actually, I’m attempting to cheerlead their way to a prosperous, energy-abundant future, a future in which they might enjoy the same economic advantages previous generations of Americans have enjoyed, along with a cleaner climate.  The fact that I don’t buy into the alarmist, hyperbolic dishonesty regularly engaged in by anti-fracking activists doesn’t make me any less committed to my family or country’s well-being.

I do believe in Karma.  Then again, I also believe in the Dallas Cowboys, so my judgment in such things may well be suspect.

But I do so always enjoy hearing from the rational, thoughtful element of the anti-Fracking activist community.  So keep those Tweets and emails coming, folks!

Several readers have also questioned why I make a practice of referring to Peak Oil theory as something of a religious cult.  To understand that, you need to first understand the definition of the term.  The online Merriam Webster dictionary offers several definitions, but the most applicable is this one:

5 a : great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad

b : the object of such devotion

c : a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion

So, first, Peak Oil theory is without question a movement dedicated to an intellectual fad, perhaps the most recurrent and longest running intellectual fad ever associated with the oil and gas industry.  As we pointed out in a prior piece on this subject, respected energy expert Daniel Yergin has traced the origins of this doom and gloom scenario all the way back to the 1880s, and it has made comebacks at various supply and demand inflection points ever since. 

And, referring back to part c of the definition, the theory does indeed enjoy a small group of adherents who are absolutely dedicated to its dogma, which is that worldwide oil supplies have alternately either reached or are near to reaching an all-time “peak”, after which they will inevitably and forever decline.  This theory has become a favorite fad among the anti-fracking, anti-development radical environmentalist crowd because, if it were true, then civilization would be met with no choice other than to wean itself off of oil and move to other energy sources, which of course in their view would be all renewables all the time, without regard to the reality that such sources are simply not scalable to meet current or future energy demands.

This almost religious adherence to Peak Oil dogma often leads its proponents to attempt to mold any given data point into a form that fits.  So, when decline curves in a given shale play are initially very steep, Peak Oil proponents point to that data point as proof the shale play is not “commercially viable”.  We heard a lot of this early on about the Eagle Ford Shale, for example.  Now that advancing technology and learnings about best completion practices are extending those curves outwards, they suddenly are regarded as irrelevant by the Peak Oilers.

The failure (or refusal) to account for the effects of constantly and rapidly advancing technology – which has characterized the oil and gas industry for more than 160 years now – has always been a hallmark cause of the ultimate failure of Peak Oil predictions to materialize.  The theory’s proponents also refuse to acknowledge the ultra-conservative nature of regulatory-mandated reporting of reserves, always pointing to the “proven reserves” numbers reported by the federal Energy Information Administration.  So they end up throwing out “proof” of Peak Oil with claims that the Bakken Shale’s total production potential is something like 7 billion barrels, never acknowledging that this is almost certainly a tiny fraction of the oil that will ultimately be recovered from that formation.   These two failures by Peak Oil adherents feed on one another, since estimates of proven reserves are based on what is producible with current technology.   Constantly advancing technology always will allow operators to ultimately recover more oil than such estimates acknowledge.

Harold Hamm, whose company, Continental Resources, has been successfully drilling in the Bakken for more than a decade, was recently quoted as saying he believes the play could ultimately yield upwards of 45 billion barrels.  So who are you going to believe, the guy who’s risking millions of dollars every day drilling successful wells in the formation, and likely knows more about its potential than anyone else, or a few outlier theorists who cherry-pick only the data that supports a pre-conceived – and constantly disproved over many decades – notion?

It seems like a pretty easy choice to me.  And that’s why I make a practice of referring to Peak Oil Theory as a quasi-religious cult.

Gee, that answer ran a little long, and we’re out of space here.  We’ll have to do this again soon.

Follow me on Twitter at @GDBlackmon


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