Windfall: When Renewable Energy is not Sustainable

wind turbine down

After 19 years of facing the wind, this German turbine fell to it. It’s starting to happen a lot.

Industrial Masters of the Universe have long since learned what to do when the fickle public embraces a product or concept that was previously anathema; they embrace it like an Anaconda getting ready to eat a pig. Thus they learned to love “organic” stuff, and “natural” chemicals and even “renewable” energy. As soon as they learned that customers would line up to buy $3 million turbines, that the government would subsidize up to 70% of the cost, and that the public would love them for doing it, it was game on. Now, however, accumulating costs and negatives are beginning to indicate game over. Continue reading

What’s Next for Oil: Whiplash

roller coaster

This is the closest we could come to a chart showing what is next for ojl and gas prices, and how it’s going to feel. (Photo by Patrick McGarvey)

A savvy investor once told me that if you read something in the news, it is no longer true, if it ever was. I keep this in mind as I read over and over that the world is awash in 3 billion barrels of surplus oil. This glut — always and everywhere specified as 3 billion barrels — is present, the conventional wisdom (oxymoron alert) goes, because the crafty Saudis refused to cut production when the price of oil tanked (metaphor alert). They did this, it is said, to run the pesky American oil frackers out of business before they took over the world. This reminds me of the engraved plaque found in many Irish bars: “The Lord invented whiskey to keep the Irish from ruling the world.” An endearing sentiment, but probably not true. Continue reading

The Scariest News Story of 2016

Arab Spring Yemen

This is what the Arab Spring looked like in Yemen, four years ago, when its people lost all hope. This is what Saudi Arabia, with diminishing prospects of success, is trying desperately to avoid. (Wikipedia Photo)

Correct. The scariest news story of 2016 is already in. Saudi Arabia is starting to come apart, and when its unscheduled rapid disassembly is a little farther along, the Industrial Age will come to an end.

[TROLL: “Don’t you ever get tired of making predictions that never come true? You said exactly the same thing a year ago. And the year before that.” Actually, dear trolls, what you find here are not exactly predictions, rather they are analyses of trends and the likely outcomes of those trends. But even if you insist they are predictions, the fact is that virtually all of them are in the process of “coming true” — it’s just that people who have the historical horizons of a fruit fly assume that anything that doesn’t happen while they’re looking at it is never going to happen, and never happened before. In medicine that’s called amnesia.]

But back to Saudi Arabia, where the forces of disassembly have been in play for decades.   Continue reading

Billions of Barrels of US Oil Set to Disappear. Poof.

oil fire

An oil refinery in Puerto Rico burns in 2009. That’s one way to make a bunch of oil disappear, but accountants can do it faster. And they’re going to. (Wikipedia Photo)

In a few weeks, several billion barrels of American oil will vanish in an instant. (I am not making this stuff up: the headline is right there on Bloomberg Business, hardly a chicken-little medium.) This is — shortly to be was — the oil that just a few months ago (Remember? When we were young, and happy?) was to return us to energy independence, to make us the number one oil producer in the world, to bring the happy days here again for good.

Okay, there were weasel words salted into those assurances all along, words that we didn’t realize were there until too late. The new American oil revolution was going to put us on the road back in the general direction of North American energy independence (as long as you counted Mexican and Canadian oil, too); and we would be the number one oil producer if you included in your definition of “oil” such things as biofuels, refinery gains from heat expansion, spillage and, if necessary, drippings from leaky transmissions in shopping mall parking lots. Continue reading

Death Watch in the Oil Patch

Pumpjack

Oil pumpjacks starting to suck oil instead of money. (You and I know, of course, that grasshopper pumps are not used in fracking, but have become a universal symbol for the oil bidness in the Mainstream Media, so there you go. And here you are.).

In the same sense that brave individuals are said to “fight” stage four cancer, the American oil industry has spent a harrowing year fighting reality. Since oil prices tanked last summer, the industry has drawn down its strategic reserves of whitewash, pig lipstick, shinola and embalming fluid to keep things looking good even as they were decomposing. They did a pretty good job, but then they’ve had a lot of practice.Their theory, apparently; when you’re kicking the can down the road, a myth is as good as a mile. Consider a brief compendium of the lies, damned lies and statistics the oil guys have sold the country in the past few years. Continue reading

Fortune: “Frackers Face Mass Extinction”

It’s twilight in the fracking patch. America is slowly awakening to the dimensions of the disaster. (Photo by Daniel Foster/Flickr)

Awareness is gradually seeping into the financial press that the Great American Oil Revolution has been over for months — witness the current Fortune headline, “Frackers Could Soon Face Mass Extinction.” If the general media had any grasp of what was happening in America, or what it meant, CNN would be doing wall-to-wall coverage of the deserted man-camps in North Dakota, the unemployment lines in Texas, the equipment yards stacked with idle derricks, the spreading panic in the junk-bond, bond and stock markets. Instead we get Donald’s beautiful tax plan, Hillary’s elusive emails and Carly’s mythical video tapes.

Today is the last day of the rest of the frackers’ lives. That’s because it is the last day of the third quarter of the year, the day after which banks audit their loans, assessing anew the value of the assets held as collateral. Continue reading

Shortest Book Ever: Oil Company Ethics

An exposition of the ethical principles that guide the oil industry. The catalog of their offenses comes via 18-wheeler. (Photo by Colin Dunn/Flickr)

An exposition of the ethical principles that guide the oil industry. The catalog of their offenses comes via 18-wheeler. (Photo by Colin Dunn/Flickr)

Stress reveals character among humans, and the ongoing, slow-motion implosion of the great American shale oil revolution is throwing stark light on the nature of the humans involved in the oil industry. (I refuse, contrary to the shorthand title of this piece, to attribute human characteristics to corporations. They have none. The people who run them sometimes do.) One should not expect much of people who take as their life’s work the wresting of the planet’s last morsels of carbon from the earth so that we can burn it and destroy the ecosystem that nourishes us, but still: they live among us, they raise children, they pretend to share with us at least some fundamental values. Continue reading

It’s Official: The Shale-Oil Boom is Over

A Halliburton fracking setup in North Dakota’s Bakken play. “Whaddaya mean it’s over? We just got this thing connected!” (Wikipedia Photo)

A Halliburton fracking setup in North Dakota’s Bakken play. “Whaddaya mean it’s over? We just got this thing connected!” (Wikipedia Photo)

It comes now from the US Energy Information Agency, and is headlined by Bloomberg Business, so yes, it’s official. As Bloomberg put it, “US Shale Boom Grinds to a Halt.” Which, actually, is overstating the case by a good bit, there isn’t going to be a “halt.” Nevertheless, as sane people everywhere have been insisting for years, the shale boom is, as it always was going to be, a bust.

This — now official — assessment is in the form of a set of projections by the EIA, which, we should remember, has pretty consistently been overly optimistic in its assessment of the oil business. Remember, they were the folks who estimated that the Monterey Shale in California held 14 billion barrels of recoverable reserves — two-third of America’s total oil wealth — until they ran the numbers again and re-estimated the Monterey at 96% lower. Continue reading

Oil Money: Too Dumb to Fail

bankers

Bankers on the trading floor at CITI make a market in the latest derivatives of derivatives. (Photo by Mike Licht/NotionsCapital.com)

We interrupt the Crash of 2015 for a brief word from some people who are not participating, on the belief that the oil boat — having been hit by two icebergs, dwindling resources and plunging prices — is not sinking, it is merely bobbing in a trough between two lovely crests. We will return to the previously scheduled sinking as soon as these folks discover once again that no matter how much stupidity and cash you pump into a ship with an enormous hole in the hull, you can’t save it. Continue reading

First the Fuel Subsidies Come Off. Then the Wheels.

(Photo by okinawatakarabako.com)

“Damn! I can’t afford this! I just filled up with gas!” (Photo by okinawatakarabako.com)

A funny thing happens when countries can no longer afford massive subsidies to keep down the cost to consumers of fossil fuels: the governments stop paying, and their country stops dead, or changes governments. Cheap fuel was once a perk for anyone who happened to live in an oil-rich country. But the perk has become an entitlement, and woe betide the country who, upon discovering it is not in fact oil rich anymore, tries to balance the books by charging its people the actual cost of fuel.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil exporter, and third largest economy, yet it has desperate needs for investment in roads, power generation and water systems. The two principal reasons these needs have been unmet are generations of rampant government corruption, and the roughly $8 billion a year in fuel subsidies. In March, a new government won election on promises to stop the corruption and the subsidies. Continue reading