I thought you might be interested in an update on how the dramas described in my book, The Energy of Nations, are playing out. Even if you follow developments closely yourself, I’m hoping you’ll find my personal take on the patterns of play interesting.
I finished writing the book during the Easter break a year ago. In it, I made predictions about three systemic risks being run by the energy incumbency: the risk of a shale ‘surprise’ (wherein an incumbency narrative-of-plenty in long-term extractable unconventional gas proves wrong), the risk of an oil crisis (wherein another incumbency narrative-of-plenty, involving growing global supplies of affordable oil far into the future, turns out to be flawed), and the risk of carbon-fuel asset stranding (wherein policymaking on climate change, or the possibility of it, causes investors to abandon significant amounts of oil, gas and coal assets underground, unburned).
During the year since, I have kept a log of developments relevant to these predictions, as I encounter them in my vocational life and reading, on my website. I also cover the related themes of climate-change risk and the risk of renewed financial crisis.
I invite you to have a scan of that log, if you haven’t already, at the level of headlines only, and check the direction of things. The log would suggest that all three predictions are on course, I think. And if I and people who think like me are right about any or all of this, the implications for all our lives will be enormous.
Some extracts from the log over the year since the book came out:
We have learned that the top 15 players in US shale drilling have written off $35 billion since the boom started, and that investors are beginning to pull out. Meanwhile, production has peaked and is now falling in all but one of the major shale-gas drilling regions. The boom is looking like it could turn into a bust before too long.
We have learned the extent to which capital expenditure on finding new reserves has soared, and discoveries by major oil companies have dropped. Meanwhile, crude oil production, which meets some three quarters of global demand, peaked in 2005. Who says so? For example, a man BP asked to compile estimates of global oil supply when he worked for the company.
We have seen major financial institutions start pulling out of carbon-fuel investments. Other institutions holding their investments in place for the moment are pressuring carbon-fuel corporations to rein back capital being expended on efforts to turn resources into reserves.
This is good news for those of us who worry about the risk of a carbon-fuel asset ‘bubble’, and wish to deflate it sustainably, abating climate-change risk in the process. It is bad news for an incumbency needing ever more capital to keep its narratives of carbon-fuel-plenty on track.
Over the course of the last year, instead of retreating from the comforting narratives they spin us as you might think the above would warrant, much of the oil and gas incumbency becomes ever more shrill in hyping mantras. They speak of America becoming the new ‘Saudi America’ – a nation self-sufficient in oil and gas that exports to help allies in trouble, like Ukraine.
The reality behind the myth is that America imports both gas and oil – and a lot of oil. US oil consumption is 18.5 million barrels a day. Production is 8.9 million barrels a day. What part of that equation are they going to export any time soon to save Ukraine and others from the clutches of Kremlin-controlled pipelines?
The strangeness in the air over this and other aspects of energy ‘policymaking’ encourages me to redouble my effort to do my personal best in sounding an alarm.
To order and read reviews of Jeremy Leggett’s book, The Energy of Nations, visit jeremyleggett.net/books.
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