Life After Oil?

Pic 060814




Peak Oil.


Source: Wikipedia.




According to Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, writing in the Daily Telegraph, the world’s companies have spent $5 trillion; i.e., $5,000,000,000,000 in the last six years on fossil fuel exploration. Much of it has been wasted [1]. The IEA has now said that we must double this rate of expenditure and invest $48 trillion by 2035 to meet world energy needs [2].

This call by the IEA invites participation in a seemingly herculean task. $48 trillon is 20 times the UK’s GDP. It brings to mind Amory Lovins’s description of the USDOE’s energy forecasts of 1976. He termed them ‘strength through exhaustion’ [3]. No, those forecasts did not come to pass either.

Earlier in 2014, Gail Tverberg, an actuary and former contributor to the respected website The Oil Drum [4] noted that the oil majors have not been participating very much in this rush for new, unconventional oil and gas. Rather, they have been selling assets to continue to pay dividends in the style which shareholders have come to expect [5].

Since 2011, the price of oil has been static, seemingly dictated by what the market will bear. But the cost of exploring for it and extracting it has been soaring [6].

The oil majors probably accept that nothing that operates industrial societies will ever be as cheap and easy to extract and pump or pipe to market as conventional oil and natural gas have been. At present, they are not able or willing to partipate in higher-cost sources of supply.

Whatever source of energy supply replaces petroleum, returns on capital earned by energy suppliers are set to decline – unless energy prices rise sharply. But drastic price rises, say a doubling or tripling, seem increasingly implausible. Consumers are so cash-strapped that if this happened they would have to drastically cut back on their energy purchases, with dire economic results.

The oil companies which have seemingly been ‘selling off the family silver’ to maintain their dividends and their share value seem to be unable to state in public the utterly obvious. If future energy supply technologies, like renewables, are set to cost more, and if oil majors are to continue to be energy supply companies, their shares are overvalued. There is not necessarily any rivalry; they are all overvalued.

If these organisations intend to continue to be energy companies, they would have to find something cheaper than energy supply as a means of providing society’s energy-related services. They would have to evaluate the obvious alternative of becoming energy service companies.

The other twist to this tale is that UK pension funds are still heavily invested in dividend-paying oil majors like Royal Dutch Shell and BP PLC. Perhaps they continue to believe the advice to ‘never sell Shell’. When will they notice that the ground is shifting under their feet?





[1] But most renewables may be too costly to ‘come in under the radar’ in the way he mentions.


[3] Lovins, A B, Soft Energy Paths. ISBN 978-0884106159. Harper Collins (1979).

[4], still available to users but as an archive only.

[5] 25 February 2014 posting entitled ‘Beginning of the End? Oil Companies Cut Back on Spending.’