Sincere Thanks to All Who Worked with The Oil Drum

This is a guest post by Kjell Aleklett, Professor of Physics at the Global Energy Systems Group of Uppsala University Sweden. and President of ASPO International.

At the end of August, The Oil Drum website will change from an active blog into a static archive for many extremely good articles on, primarily, the history and future of oil production. During the eight years that the website was active, its leadership did amazing work. The fact that so many influential bloggers have commented on its closure shows how influential The Oil Drum has been. I have just been contacted by a journalist from The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) who liked to discuss the many denials of Peak Oil and what the closing of The Oil Drum would mean for the Peak Oil movement. The reflections below are a part of my commentary to WSJ together with other thoughts on the future.

According to Google Trends the year 2005 was the year in which the search term ”Peak Oil” was most frequently seen. It was in that year that The Oil Drum opened its doors for submissions and that was also the same year during which the website was established. Another important website at that time was Energy Bulletin, that has now transformed into Resilience, The first time that the term ”Peak Oil” was used in the international press was in 2002 at the formation of ASPO, the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas. In 2003, ASPO opened the website During 2004 there were plans to develop the website in the same direction that The Oil Drum subsequently developed but the great activity at The Oil Drum lessened the need.

In the communique announcing that The Oil Drum was to close and become an archive Rembrandt wrote, ”Despite our best efforts to fill this gap (number of new articles) we have not been able to significantly improve the flow of high quality articles.” This has been interpreted by some as a sign of crisis for “the Peak Oil theory” but as an academic researcher, I see it completely differently. In 2002 when we formed ASPO, Peak Oil was a novel research area about which a very great deal could be written. In Uppsala, we chose to publish our articles in scientific journals but others chose to publish their articles at The Oil Drum, for example. Today there are a very large number of articles describing significant facts regarding Peak Oil. This research area has matured and it has become progressively more difficult to find new, significant angles on peak oil to analyse. Currently we see that there are many people trying to assert that we do not need to worry about Peak Oil, but it is interesting to note that such assertions appear mainly in newspaper articles and on blogs and not in scientific journals that are subject to peer-review.

All the activity at The Oil Drum was generated by volunteers so it is not surprising that after eight years of work, the people who started the site decided to convert it to an archive and do something else with their free time. On behalf of ASPO International I would like to thank sincerely all who worked with The Oil Drum – the fact that the WSJ noticed The Oil Drum’s transformation shows how enormously successful you have been. At the moment ”fracking” is the term on everyone’s lips in the way that ”Peak Oil” was in 2004, but soon we will see that drop away as fracking’s oil production does the same. Then, if not before, we will definitely see a fall in global oil production and it will be obvious to all that we have passed the peak of global production, and Peak Oil will once again be an important search term.

ASPO International will now take up the discussion whether we should expand activity at our website so that people who are interested can publish original articles there. At the same time we should not forget that there are many other websites that discuss Peak Oil and related questions. The fact that many people try to debunk Peak Oil makes it all the more important to illuminate the facts that are important for our future.

Here is an excerpt from a WSJ blog post. The original has several links. I don't know if it's by the same reporter that you talked to.

Energy Journal: Chevron Still on the Shale Trail in Poland
(For link, search for title)

By Winkley & Herron

Mixed emotions greeted the announcement that the Oil Drum website—long an online meeting place for those who adhere to some of all of the broad church that is Peak Oil—will cease to be.

Critics say the Oil Drum was fracked to death—the sudden glut of shale oil rendering the peak oil argument redundant. For its part, the Oil Drum has said it can’t maintain a free website amid a dearth of contributors.

The amount of back and forth that the imminent closure of the site has provoked suggests, however, that the ideas that filled the Oil Drum for its eight-year existence still have legs.

My attempted comment on the blog, which has not yet appeared:

While currently increasing US crude oil production is very helpful on a number of fronts, it is very likely that we will continue to show the post-1970 "Undulating Decline" pattern that we have seen in US crude oil production, as new sources of oil have come on line, and then inevitably peaked and declined (US crude oil production is currently about 25% below the 1970 peak rate of 9.6 mbpd).

For example, EIA data show that crude oil production from Alaska increased at 26%/year from 1976 to 1985, which contributed to a secondary, but lower, post-1970 US crude oil production peak of 9.0 mbpd in 1985 (up from a low of 8.1 mbpd in 1976), versus the 1970 peak rate of 9.6 mbpd. Because of the strong rate of increase in Alaskan crude oil production from 1976 to 1985, the US was actually on track, in the mid-Eighties, to become crude oil self-sufficient in about 10 years, but then the inevitable happened, and the rate of increase in Alaskan crude oil production slowed, and then started declining in 1989, resulting in a post-1970 "Undulating Decline" pattern. Note that the 1976 to 1985 rate of increase in annual Alaskan crude oil production (26%/year) exceeded the estimated 2008 to 2013 rate of increase in combined annual crude oil production from Texas + North Dakota (20%/year).

The very slow increase in global crude oil production since 2005, combined with a material post-2005 decline in Global net oil exports, have provided considerable incentives for US oil companies to make money in tight/shale plays. But I think that the assertion by many in the Cornucopian camp that shale plays will result in a virtually infinite rate of increase in global crude oil production is wildly unrealistic.

We are still facing high--and increasing--overall decline rates from existing oil wells in the US. At a 10%/year overall decline rate, which in my opinion is conservative, the US oil industry, in order to just maintain the 2013 crude oil production rate, would have to put online the productive equivalent of the current production from every oil field in the United States of America over the next 10 years, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Eagle Ford, to the Permian Basin, to the Bakken to Alaska. Or, at a 10%/year decline rate from existing wells, we would need the current productive equivalent of 10 Bakken Plays over the next 10 years, just to maintain current production.

On the natural gas side, a recent Citi Research report (estimating a 24%/year decline rate in US natural gas production from existing wells), implies that the industry has to replace virtually 100% of current US gas production in four years, just to maintain a dry natural gas production rate of 66 BCF/day. Or, at a 24%/year decline rate, we would need the productive equivalent of the peak production rate of 30 Barnett Shale Plays over the next 10 years, just to maintain current production.

The dominant pattern that we have seen globally, at least through 2012, is that developed net oil importing countries like the US were gradually being forced out of the market for exported oil, via price rationing, as the developing countries, led by China, consumed an increasing share of a declining post-2005 volume of global oil exports.

For more info on net oil exports, you can search for: ASPO + Export Capacity Index.

Jeffrey J. Brown

PeakOil has its own userbase, rules, strict moderation and community, most of which would be hostile to newcomers from TOD.
It is a mistake to combine two separate communities, both of which are completely opposite personalities. PeakOilers tend to be Doomers while TODers tend to be more practical and focused.
In the meantime check out and - two websites set up by TODers with minimal moderation and none of the problems of an existing community base hostile to outsiders.

“This research area has matured and it has become progressively more difficult to find new, significant angles on peak oil to analyse.”

- Aleklett.

This is a cop out.

If new significant angles are not found, it is because of internal quarrels, lack of imagination, and most importantly, because analysis is stuck to parameters that are considered ‘legit’ - how much oil is KSA producing, what the price yesterday was, the EROEI for this and that is, how fracking is doing, how much gas cars use, etc. etc.

Very evident is the ignorance or leaving out of some basic facts: Peak Oil per capita is long past; the gap between the 1% and the 99% (as a kind of silly measure) keeps growing; the gap between rich countries and poor ones rises every day (in dollar or energy terms); wars are being fought for energy dominance, control, extraction, transport of; these are ongoing, exploding as I write; water is linked to energy as energy is needed for extraction and distribution; oil is one thing but coal use (e.g. China) requires stiff discussion; renewables, wind and solar, are mostly scams (at present) because of casino investment, gvmt subsidies, and hype; no doubt others will deny, but then? ...

Now some of that might lead to uncomfortable topics. The difficulty is timidity and conventionalism, fear of personal exposure, conventional group-think or blah, and NOT lack of new avenues, topics, to analyze.

In fact, there is more to analyze and discuss than ever before as we meet the triple whammy of peak oil, global warming, State control of citizens.

But of course, stellar thanks to all who worked at the Oil Drum, sincerely, from the heart.

This is a cop out.

Nonsense, Professor Aleklett was not a member of the TOD staff and absolutely no reason to search for a cop out. One only needs to "cop out" of something they were responsible for that did not turn out well. He was just trying to be kind.

Ron Patterson

Hear hear!

Ron, good to see you doing your thing on your site. I will be checking in often...

Thanks Ron, I vist your site often---

Heading Outs version of this story was many of the writers found other places to write, where they got payed. So we were looking at a writer depletion issue.

That raises the next question: why not pay contributors??

Leanan has indicated that money troubles are not a primary problem...

That may happen. I'd guess some of the staff will eventually move on to new sites where they may be paid for their writing and research on energy issues.

But that changes the calculus. If an individual or corporate donor gives you $5 million to run a site, they are likely going to take a dim view of some of the discussions we have here.

Years ago the Oildrum did ask for donations. Though money is not a problem, it is not clear to me where it has been coming from. Is it largely a single source of funding?

Ah, ok. So, money wasn't a primary problem for TOD, running in it's customary mode, but money limitations would have been a barrier to paying contributors.

So, that raises the next question: why not raise money with small contributions and subscriptions? Consumer Reports seems to feel that doesn't compromise their editorial independence.

In the past I did donate to TOD. Have also donated to ASPO-USA and TAE. I suspect the ASPO-USA will be hoping for new members and donations when then unveil their new blog

Where did Heading Out say that? I thought is was Chris Nelder who said writers switched to places where they got paid.

What Heading Out said at his Bit tooth Blog was:

"No, gentle readers, the closing of TOD is, in my opinion, based on a deliberate but IMHO faulty management decision made in that group a couple of years ago. It was predictable at that time, but it has nothing to do with the coming of Peak Oil, and is not even symptomatic of much of a delay in that arrival."

When queried about this he said:

"The editors decided that it would require the positive votes from at least three of them before a story would be posted.

They were willing to make suggestions as to how stories could be improved, but running that gauntlet was not an encouragement to write to the site."

Leanan said it - I'd have to search to find it.

There seemed to be an idea that paying contributors was not a good policy, but it wasn't clear why.

HOs words were "Many of those now have their own sites". And thats all he said about this. Mea culpa. But someone on TOD wrote exactly that. Don't know just who it was though.

It was Chris Nelder who said it.

Thanks for the research and for making the topic accessible to the general public.

However I can't help but disagree that the analysis (and conversation) is over. Peak Oil is obviously not just a Geological problem. The large countries of the world could pursue more agressive efficiency policies, tax fossil fuels like in Europe or implement a Rimini Protocol. So besides the geology and production conversation (which is far from closed) there is the social, technical and policy conversation which is as much a part of Peak Oil as flow rates are.

Finally there is a much needed conversation about communication, action and solutions. TOD has had a huge success reaching and motivating thousands and thousands of people. But how can we go further? How can we influence locally and nationally? How can we organize to raise awareness and make the down-slope less dramatic. I think there are enough thinkers, academics, activists, scientists and engineers to write about it. We need to examine critically the solutions, the progress, the surprises (the failed forecasts and the successful ones). The list of TOD readers includes CEOs, entrepreneurs, politicians, engineers, activists, managers, influencers ... They have to continue thinking and discussing if they want to impact their circle of influence.

For those who want to continue, I've started another site [The Oil DrumS], and there's of course the ASPO site or Zurks for those so inclined, plus the blogroll on the left.

Job well done and best wishes for the staff volunteers on their "retirement".

My only disappointment remains from years back: the Average Joe's knowledge of PO, Limits-To-Growth continues to be virtually non-existent. Oh well.

Regards, Matt
Melbourne, Australia
("Most Livable City", 2012/2013) :)

It's been a while since I've posted here. Many thanks to the people who educated me in the excruciating details of the human predicament. I believe this site's "closure" will only be temporary; the site will become active again when the energy crisis bites again and makes its pain felt, just like in 2004-05 and 2008-09. For now, people have been lulled into complacency.

I agree the energy debate is just starting to get interesting. Perhaps it's dawning on people it's a matter of societal collapse, not just an academic discussion. Some issues that seem unresolved to me though others may disagree

- will poor people ever afford electric cars?
- can intermittent energy reduce the need for baseload?
- is $150 some kind of asymptotic value for oil?
- do we need to redefine economic wellbeing other than perpetual growth?
- food affordability and resource limits
- limits of extreme weather adaptation.

What I like about TOD is the way ordinary folks can give their 5c worth. The large number of commenters brings out the wisdom of the crowd and provides a reality check against groupthink. In contrast some esoteric sites enthuse over a particular technology then don't get it when the world ignores them. Something with similar scope and accessibility needs to replace TOD.

I suppose there is only so much one can say on a subject before you either digress in some unhelpful manner or just repeat one's self. The issue of resource constraints plays out over a longer time period than the yearly trends on google thats for sure. Good luck everyone

Many thanks to all of those who have contributed either by their articles or by writing comments. This has helped me immensely in educating myself about questions of oil and energy depletion. I have commented only rarely but listened even more attentively, as I am not a specialist. It is sad to see TOD be closed but on the other hand so many more new websites are appearing that I hope somehow that gap will be filled.

Best wishes to all of you,

Marcus Kracht

This research area has matured and it has become progressively more difficult to find new, significant angles on peak oil to analyse

I don't agree with this. Research has to be updated continuously. Topics are now:

(1) when will US shale oil peak?
(2) which country peaks (e.g. Egypt, also Iran) or regional peaks can create geo-political crises that can bring down the global system?
(3) How are Quantitative Easing, oil production and oil prices related?
(4) What are affordable oil prices and in which economies do we have demand peaks?
(5) Implications of OPEC production/export peak