A Farewell To The Oil Drum  

Posted by Big Gav in

I started blogging (at Peak Energy) about peak oil in late 2004, having become interested in the topic over a period of years. I'd first started thinking about oil depletion when working on systems for collecting and managing large volumes of oil exploration data in the mid 1990's. Not long afterward I worked for Woodside Energy at a time when their main development project was the Laminaria / Corallina floating oil production facility in the Timor sea. A few years later production from this project had dropped below 50,000 barrels per day from an early peak of 180,000 bpd. Around the same time I came across the writing of Colin Campbell and Ken Deffeyes and began to consider what the global oil depletion picture looked like (the war in Iraq and the steadily rising oil price also added to the interest factor).

2004 was the year where blogging exploded in popularity and a vast range of writers emerged from obscurity. A number of these began mentioning peak oil and a loosely knit community of bloggers quickly formed around the topic. At the time the traditional observers of the topic were mostly retired geologists from the oil industry and academia following in the footsteps of M King Hubbert (such as Jean Laherrerre, Walter Youngquist and Ali Samsam Bakhtiari as well as Campbell and Deffeyes), along with some writers such as Richard Heinberg and a vibrant (albeit wildly pessimistic) online community of neo-malthusians hanging out at forums such as the "Running On Empty" groups, "Energy Resources" and "Alas Babylon" - usually heavily influenced by Jay Hanson's infamous "dieoff.org" site - and various fringe websites like Mike Ruppert's "From The Wilderness" and Mark Robinowicz's "Oil Empire". There were also 2 news aggregation sites focusing on the topic that had started up - Energy Bulletin (now Resilience.org) and PeakOil.com - both of which assembled a steady stream of news on peak oil and related topics.

In 2005 The Oil Drum appeared, with Prof Goose (Kyle) and Heading Out (Dave) quickly building a large following that eclipsed that of the other sites commenting on the subject. I was pleased to be invited to join as a contributor in 2007 and spent a very enjoyable 3+ years writing for the site on a regular basis and co-editing the TOD ANZ site with Phil Hart.

After a time I found a combination of factors led me to become less active and eventually stop writing original work for TOD - in no particular order a couple of changes of job, moving house twice, getting divorced, having a couple of kids who required more of my time and a general depletion of interest caused by writing on the same broad topic for more than 5 years.

It has been disappointing to see some of the commentary about TOD's closure claiming that it indicates "fracking has killed peak oil". Personally I've been amazed TOD has lasted as long as it has, which has been a credit to the editors and staff, especially with so many contributors drifting away over the years.

If I look back to when I first started, none of the peak oil blogs around at the time are still publishing - the ones that come immediately to mind include Past Peak, Mobjectivist, Peak Energy (US), The Energy Blog, Jeff Vail's A Theory Of Power, Peak Oil Optimist, Life After The Oil Crash, Karavans and a myriad of temporary blogs created by a guy calling himself the "Flying Talking Donkey" - all of which ceased for the reasons cited by the TOD board (or due to ill health on the part of the author). This isn't a phenomenon unique to peak oil blogs - none of my favourite blogs from 2004 still exist today - the best sustainability blog of the time, WorldChanging, closed down several years ago, Bruce Sterling's "Viridian Design" did the same as did Billmon's "Whiskey Bar" and Jeff Well's "Rigorous Intuition".

So from that point of view TOD has done remarkably well to have lasted for more than 8 years.

The decision to narrow the focus of the site some years back didn't help in my view but I suspect the end result would have been the same regardless - though I tend to think allowing all of the "Limits To Growth" to be analysed may have kept the energy levels of the contributors up for longer and perhaps encouraged a wider range of contributors to participate.

It is true, however, that global oil production has not declined in the way that many (if not all) of the peak oil writers of 10 years ago predicted. While the predictions can be qualified ("conventional oil production has peaked" or "oil production per capita has peaked") the "total liquids" number clearly hasn't yet and this is the important one along with the oil price.

There are 4 obvious avenues open for dealing with peaking conventional oil production:

  • 1. Find more conventional oil
  • 2. Exploit unconventional oil sources
  • 3. Become more efficient in our use of oil
  • 4. Switch to alternatives

Over the years a lot of peak oil analysis has tended to focus on how far the first item can be pushed and what could happen once the limit is reached, with short shrift being given to the other 3 avenues (unless "powerdown" counts as "more efficient use of oil") - and even the amount of conventional oil available being somewhat underestimated (Iraq being the example I always used).

The ability of the oil industry to expand unconventional oil production (the shale oil boom being the obvious example though production of tar sands and heavy oil deposits are also increasing) has been the key factor in pushing the date of the peak out further into the future (I liked Stuart Staniford's quip that this could possibly be characterised as the "frantic scraping of the bottom of the barrel").

The dawning of the "gas age" has also kept fossil fuels in the picture for time being, with substantial unexploited conventional natural gas reserves being developed and unconventional gas production growing strongly.

While these developments have thus far dashed the hopes of the doomer community the fact remains that even if the whole world was made of oil, there would still be a finite supply of it - and thus at some point we will need to transition to alternative sources of energy, assuming the temperature of the planet hasn't risen to a point that makes it uninhabitable in the meantime.

It's this transition to alternative energy which captured most of my attention when writing - and which I'll make the topic of my second parting post for TOD - "Our Clean Energy Future" - which I hope to have ready soon.

2 comments

bernard   says 4:22 PM

yes peak oil is all a bust, Gav.

But global warming is real and a crisis.

A 'gradual' approach looks like it has failed. So now I'm thinking: Abolition.

Ummm - abolition of what ?

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