A place where the peak oil crowd gathered is no more

There used to be a website driven by a completely non-transparent metric that would rank the “importance” of various Twitter feeds similar in their areas of interest. It’s defunct now, and the name of it is forgotten.

It would look not only at the number of followers, but other things like how many followers your Twitter feed’s followers had, how often your Tweets were re-Tweeted, and so on.

The @PlattsOil feed consistently ranked second in the oil category, for whatever that was worth. It was always a harmless time-waster to check and see how we were doing. And how we were doing was that from our #2 perch we were always looking up at the Twitter feed of The Oil Drum, which was the primary website for a dialogue on Peak Oil.

And now The Oil Drum is closing up shop.

Those people in the industry who have long believed that the devotees of the peak oil movement were completely wrong have been rejoicing the last few years as North America’s output keeps rising. They see the Peak Oil movement as another bunch of failed neo-Malthusians. The demise of The Oil Drum is sure to add to that feeling of glee.

In the announcement that the site was shutting to new content, to be kept online only as an archive of old posts, The Oil Drum’s owners said nothing about any shift in beliefs regarding the world’s ability to produce more oil. The possibility of shutting the site was “a discussion we have had several times in the last year, due to scarcity of new content caused by a dwindling number of contributors. Despite our best efforts to fill this gap we have not been able to significantly improve the flow of high quality articles.” The monetary requirements of maintaining the site also were cited.

The mission statement of The Oil Drum said it “seeks to facilitate civil, evidence-based discussions about energy and its impacts on the future of humanity, as well as serve as a leading online knowledge-base for energy-related topics.” Despite that lofty inclusive language, it still was pretty much an intellectual hangout for the Peak Oil crowd.

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If you go through the 700-plus comments on the post announcing the demise of the site (it will publish new material through the month), it’s hard to find any that acknowledge maybe the world changed and the Peak Oil movement is back on its heels.

And the reasons cited for the site’s shutdown are believable: it is tough to run an active, engaging website, and maybe the regular contributors slowed their output to the site because they moved on to other things.

Or maybe US production rising 2 million b/d in the last few years made a few of them question their beliefs, particularly given that the technology revolution that made that possible hasn’t been exported to anywhere else yet.

But there’s no sign of that in the comments.”(T)he void must be filled. Especially these days, when peak energy is more important than ever,” wrote a commenter identified as Stadt. Other comments: “Now the forces of fear, uncertainty and disinformation will be free to pollute the web,” one of them wrote another. Another wrote: “Right now it looks as if The Oil Drum has surrendered to the Maugeris and ExxonMobil,” a reference to the bullish output projections of Leonardo Maugerie[remove the e], a research fellow at the Geopolitics of Energy Project at the Belfer Center for Scientific and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Maugeri previously held top management positions at Italy’s Eni.

If you ever attended a Peak Oil meeting, you could see the division in the group that one wag described as “the suits vs. the sandals.” The “suits” might be geologists or geophysicists who could cite significant research to buttress their claims about peak oil, claims that before 2009 were looking prescient. The “sandals” were more of an anti-fossil fuel lot in general, whose knowledge of oil seemed to be based mostly on the idea that the apocalypse was coming unless we slashed our consumption of it immediately.

Either way, one of their key cyberspace meeting grounds has shut its doors.

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  1. shankar at January 3, 2014 11:10 am

    So true… always interesting to read the oil peak
    I define available net exports & imports…

  2. Nick Grealy at July 10, 2013 3:57 pm

    What was even nuttier than peak oil was peak gas. The Oil Drum looked truly deluded with the posts by Art Berman who was telling us in 08 through even last year how shale gas was declining so much that it would go bust at less than $ 8. Berman was especially popular in the UK, where people have a naturally pessimistic disposition at the best of times. He won’t be missed.

    • Tony at July 11, 2013 9:06 am

      So true. Infinite Oil and Infinite Gas are the correct theories. All Malthusian theories are always wrong. Heard it on CNBC by Joe Kiernan.

      • Jeffrey J. Brown at July 11, 2013 10:37 am

        Empirically, discrete sources of oil and gas production peak and decline. It’s always interesting to read that the crackpots are the ones who believe that the sum of discrete sources of oil and gas that peak and decline will result in a virtually infinite rate of increase in production.

        In any case, as noted above, Citi Research just issued a report that basically confirms everything that Art Berman has been saying about high decline rates in US shale gas plays, but I guess Citi Research is in the crackpot category too now.

  3. Jeffrey J. Brown at July 10, 2013 9:23 am

    The 2002 to 2011 rate of increase in annual Brent prices was 17%/year. Brent was flat in 2012, and then down somewhat in 2013.

    It seems very likely that a major contributor to recently flat to down global crude oil prices was the large increase in US oil production + a continued decline in US oil consumption, but as noted below it’s going to get harder and harder for US oil companies to just maintain current US crude oil production.

    Following is my brief summary, in a bullet points format, of the Global export market and US oil & gas production:

    Global Net Exports

    EIA data show that what I define as Global Net Exports of oil (GNE) have been below the 2005 rate for seven straight years, with the developing countries, led by China, consuming (so far at least) an increasing share of a post-2005 declining volume of GNE.

    Available Net Exports

    I define Available Net Exports (ANE) as GNE less Chindia’s Net Imports (China + India). ANE fell from about 41 mbpd in 2005 to 35 mbpd (million barrels per day) in 2012, an average annual decline of one mbpd per year in the volume of exported oil available to importers other than China and India.

    I examined this topic in the following paper on what I call the Export Capacity Index (not yet updated with 2012 data):


    US Crude Oil Production

    While the current increase in US crude oil production is very helpful, the steady increase in the decline rate from existing production means that the US oil and gas industry is facing enormous challenges in just trying to maintain current production levels, and in all likelihood we will continue to see an “Undulating Decline” pattern in post-1970 US crude oil production (currently US crude oil production is about 25% below the 1970 peak annual rate).

    As noted in the following article, if we assume a probably conservative average year over year decline rate in existing US crude oil production of 10%/year from 2013 to 2023, the US oil industry would have to replace, over a period of 10 years, the productive equivalent of 100% of current US crude oil production, in order to maintain the current US crude oil production rate:


    US Natural Gas Production

    A recent Citi Research report puts the current year over year decline rate in existing US natural gas production at about 24%/year, which implies that the US has to replace virtually 100% of current US natural gas production in the next four years, in order to maintain the current US natural gas production rate.

    Note that a 24%/year decline rate in existing natural gas production would require the industry to put on line the productive (peak rate) equivalent of 30 Barnett Shale plays from 2013 to 2023, in order to maintain the current US dry natural gas production rate of 66 BCF/day.

    Bottom Line

    The bottom line for developed net oil importing countries like the US is that (so far at least) we are gradually being shut out of the global market for exported oil, via price rationing.


    GNE = Combined net exports from top 33 net oil exporters in 2005
Net Exports =
    Total petroleum liquids + other liquids production less liquids consumption (EIA)

    EIA Production Data for 2002 to 2012:

    EIA Consumption Data for 2002 to 2012:

    • Jeffrey J. Brown at July 10, 2013 9:25 am

      Small correction:

      I define Available Net Exports (ANE) as GNE less Chindia’s Net Imports (China + India). ANE fell from about 41 mbpd in 2005 to 35 mbpd (million barrels per day) in 2012, an average annual decline of close to one mbpd per year in the volume of exported oil available to importers other than China and India.

      • Ghung at July 10, 2013 10:39 am

        US WTI jumped above $105 this morning, and Brent is above $108 (US), while US production seems to be flatlining lately. Expect another petroleum smackdown of economies as EOR accelerates decline rates, ANE nibbles away at importability, and economies sink closer to their minimum operating levels re. oil consumption. More demand destruction of other goods and services will follow. Central Banks’ inability to increase the velocity of money will bring our petrolem madness into stark clarity once again, sooner than later, IMO.

        The Red Queen grows tired…

  4. smokeyjoe at July 10, 2013 12:14 am

    I’m always mystified by seemingly intelligent people who can not grasp the basics of peak oil. Every oil well will go through discovery and development, until it reaches a point of maximum production. Then it will go into decline until it reaches a point at which it is no longer economical viable. This can usually be expressed as a bell curve. This applies to individual wells, fields, regions, nations and ultimately the planet. Look at the oil production chart for the U.S. which peaked in 1970. It follows exactly this pattern and no amount of new technology has ever reversed it more than temporarily. Look the chart for Alaska. Look at the chart for Texas. We solved our peak oil problem by importing cheap oil. What will prevent Saudi Arabia or any other nation from peaking and going into decline? Wishful thinking? No, 17 years from now Saudi Arabia will have no oil to export because they be consuming it themselves. You think your fracking revolution is going to replace Saudi oil. No. Peak oil is a theory like the sun will rise tomorrow is a theory.

    • monk at July 10, 2013 9:46 am

      Well said! Also, oil production per capita peaked in 1979 and discoveries in 1964.

  5. kevin at July 9, 2013 9:45 pm

    For some Peak Oil was about the magical date when global oil production would peak. Their status and credibility would be improved (or not) depending on which side of that hurdle their public comments were on.

    For most, Peak Oil generally means a sea change in the way we view our world, and our lifestyles, and expectations of the future. The major driver of industrial society has been the exchange of cheap fossil labor (pennies per kWh) for expensive human labor (hundreds of dollars per kWh). While oil was extremely cheap, this trade allowed for higher wages, higher profits, lower priced goods and more people, or some combination of such. The trade was incredibly energy inefficient however, as we had to throw 2 to 3 orders of magnitude more energy at tasks once done by humans. As such, when oil prices double or triple, the benefits of this important trade break down, and will continue to break down further as oil becomes more difficult to extract (in energy and other scarce resource terms, not in dollar terms). To wit – oil extraction costs have gone up 17% a year since 2002. Goldman had a report out last month stating breakeven for Western Majors has gone from 9$ in 2001 to $125 in 2014. We have produced more oil – slightly -non Opec production is up by ~5% in past decade but extraction costs are up 500%. This means – in the very near future – some combination of lower wages, lower profits, higher priced goods and/or fewer people. Its a near certainty. And these themes are being both obfuscated and delayed by central banks conflating the near term fungibility of digital money and BTUs.

    Peak Oil, or whatever you call the impact of oil depletion on industrial society, is here now.

    As to theoildrum.com, I for one learned an incredible amount there, and it will be missed. But it was an emergent property, filling an information void at a certain time and place in the ether. Now is the time for something else

    • monk at July 10, 2013 9:45 am

      You don’t need to wait for oil production to peak. As long as production can barely meet demand, then the effects of peak oil will take place. That’s why even with a tripling in oil prices we barely see conventional production rising.

      • Ghung at July 10, 2013 10:53 am

        Yeah,, phil needs to conjur up some more CAPEX as the cost of producing that next drop continues to increase. Meanwhile, many folks are already discovering that they can’t afford the cover charge to phil’s party.

  6. phil at July 9, 2013 1:52 pm

    TLDR, Bartholomew. Pretty sure it read like “well, even though my current non-science based theory is wrong I will still wave my flag because I can’t admit defeat.”

    Go conjure up some formulas and more grant money while you’re at it. You’ll need it because us oilfield trash ARE NOT backing down. Settle in.

    • monk at July 10, 2013 9:44 am

      Theory? Oil production per capita peaked back in 1979!

  7. Dashui at July 9, 2013 8:00 am

    Egypt hit peak oil, how’s it doing?

  8. Bart Anderson at July 9, 2013 1:55 am

    Thank you for the respectful note, John. I’ve been an editor for one of the other peak oil sites (Energy Bulletin, now Resilience) and have worked with TOD and respected their work since they began. We also linked to Platts from time to time.

    Another reason for the exhaustion at TOD was that almost all the work there was done on a volunteer basis. Can you imagine that dozens of professionals, many from the oil industry, devoted hundreds of hours to serve the public interest? And that they kept it up for years?

    This is work that was *not* being done elsewhere, or at least was not being made public.

    If you look at the archives, you will see consistently high quality of thought and knowledge in the articles. I tell people that being part of the peak oil movement is like being in an ongoing graduate seminar, with thought-provoking specialists in subject areas ranging from petroleum geology to ecology to grassroots political organizing.

    The point of all this was *not* to win a bet about a certain level of oil production. No, it was to learn a way of thinking that was broad and deep. Except when some of the peak oil guys were grandstanding, the emphasis was not on specific predictions. As I’m sure you know, trying to make short-term predictions in the oil business is a fool’s game.

    So we might look at the big production numbers and point out that peak oil thinkers predicted that conventional oil would be peaking, and oil companies would turn to unconventional sources and expensive new technologies with environmental risks. The Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI) would decrease, and prices would stay high. Wouldn’t you say that this prediction has come to pass?

    The more dire prediction would be that the jump in the supply of oil will lull people into complacency., so that society will depend even more on a source of energy that cannot be sustained. If this happens, the transition from carbon-based fuels will be even more traumatic.

    In any case, if you’d like to talk to some of the peak oil people, please contact us.


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