Demise of The Oil Drum

Off the keyboard of George Mobus

Published on Question Everything on July 21,2013

oilwell

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Goodbye to a Friend

Many readers here are probably familiar with the sad fact that the web site, The Oil Drum (TOD) has announced its retreat from active publishing article on its core topic, peak oil. It will remain live as an archive of past articles but will turn off all commenting. Many people who are watching the energy situation are saddened by this, as am I. Several of my energy-related posts were picked up by TOD during a time that the editorial staff seemed willing to broaden their vision of what the “energy problem” actually was about. My chief interest was and continues to be net energy available to do economic work (useful or not). It is net energy, especially net energy per capita, that is the governing factor in economic health. In my opinion, it has turned out that focus on peak oil has been a distraction from the core of understanding what is ailing the world. Most of my articles were about this.

Here is a list of the articles (also to be found here at QE).

During this time, and unbeknownst to me, there were some philosophical counter currents in the staff in terms of what TOD should be and what its mission should focus on. In the end some of the longer-term editors decided that technical issues with peak oil were the raisons d’être for TOD and they would no longer consider what were for them side issues, e.g. the economic implications of energy, energy return on energy invested, and very definitely collapse of civilization. Several editors who had been responsible for posting articles in these arenas, including hosting my guest posts above, found themselves in a reduced influence status and subsequently have faded from active posting. Some have gone to their own blog sites.

There have been a few explanations by the remaining staff for the shut down. Read the announcement at: Live Until August 31st, Oil Drum Successors Discussion, and User Profiles posted by Rembrandt on July 12, 2013. Just prior to the announcement a number of long-time commentators disappeared from the comments to articles and the Drumbeat (posts of media articles of relevance to energy). The latter regular feature attracted a lot of people who were advancing the notion that peak oil would mean the collapse of society and they posted many comments to this effect. No one seems to know for sure why these regulars ceased posting on TOD, but it was an ominous portend.

We may never really know what was behind TOD’s shut down. But another ominous portend seems to be emerging because of it.

An Insidious Result

There have been several media articles reacting to the TOD shut down, in effect saying, “See this means peak oil is dead!” See: To Forbes – A Gentle Cough of Correction at TOD’s end posted by Heading Out on July 21, 2013.

There has been so much hype about the surge of oil from shale deposits (tight oil) that have heralded a new era of energy abundance. The business community is gleefully pointing to the fact that this new oil “proves” that peak oil was a flawed theory and prosperity is just around the corner. The shut down of TOD is being taken as the last nail in the coffin of peak oil. Interestingly, other than complaints about the high price of gasoline and diesel there is very little media attention to the continuing high price of crude oil in spite of this supposed abundance!

Indeed, it is easy to understand this reaction. The general public and the profit takers in particular do not want to hear that energy is going to run out. They will grasp at the smallest straw as proof that their cherished beliefs in boundless and endless growth of wealth will go on for ever and ever. TOD is unfortunately playing right into their memes.

And there will definitely be a final nail in a coffin, but it won’t be peak oil, it will be that of society’s. Releasing a sigh of relief, the capitalistic, profit-motivated neoclassical economic system will continue to try its best to work. It can only do this by borrowing heavily from the future. And that bubble will burst taking the whole of civilization with it. What the combination of shale oil (and gas), which will be of very limited duration by the way, and the TOD’s demise will have done is take the international consciousness off of the looming problem that really exists. Peak oil is only a secondary phenomenon, not the real cause of economic problems. The real problem is the energy cost that we are paying to eke out these last accessible drops of fossil fuels (and this goes for coal as well). The net energy (gross energy, such as barrel equivalents of oil, minus the energy costs) is in decline because the work needed to get the hard stuff out is starting to exceed the benefits. The peak oil phenomenon clearly exacerbates the problem. With the global population continuing to increase and the UN’s Millennial Goals creating an increasing demand for stuff (produced by energy) the net energy per capita is THE single most important energy problem in front of us.

I do understand that the technical editors at The Oil Drum know most about oil and its extraction issues. It is natural that they see it as problematic, of course it is. But, unfortunately, it is only a part of the energy dilemma. Their decision to pull back from hosting articles of a broader social impact, economic, and net energy nature was probably the beginning of the end.Even so I wish the staff well and hope they land somewhere where their expertise will benefit the public. May TOD RIP. Now I wish someone with the resources would take up the mantle of educating the public re: peak net energy per capita. It has already passed and can be tied directly to the global economic malaise. But very definitely a lot of resources will be needed. Charlie Hall, Professor Emeritus at SUNY-ESF has struggled for years to get funding and attention for EROI with only minimal success. He and his associates have managed to do solid scientific work in spite of this. But the education of a scientifically illiterate public takes quite a bit more than even doing the science.

If any of you billionaire readers want to kick in, I would certainly know how to start the process and the people who could keep it going. Imagine something like the Huffingtonpost for energy and the economy (biophysical economics). It couldn’t be funded by revenues from advertising because what advertiser would want to associate with such a dismal message? We couldn’t ask for donations from readers or membership fees. Too little revenue to support the kind of effort needed. No I think it will take someone who has the resources and still sees the problems to step up and pay the bills. I believe that if the public were educated about the role of energy in the economy and began to understand the true energy picture they would be in a better position to wind down their consumption-based lives. Perhaps we could somewhat ease the pain of a collapse. We can’t prevent it. But we might be able to modulate the rate.

Anyone know any truly wise and knowledgeable billionaires?

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