It’s the end of the year, a time for positivity and hope for the new year. A time of relaxation, reflection, and grounding with friends, family, or whomever/whatever turns your crank. A time to set resolutions and/or objectives for the new year. The whole season just tees it up for an uplifting, go-get-‘em-in-the-new-year type of message.
I got nothin’.
That’s because, from an energy perspective, we seem to be witnessing a global and utter abandonment of sense, an incomprehensible flailing at the sky as the world’s governments and institutions try to find a way to deal with energy reality in a way that won’t contradict the anti-hydrocarbon messages they’ve been consistently repeating for years.
The US government provides a fine example. On the campaign trail, Joe Biden threatened to ‘throw oil executives in jail’ for their role in producing the world’s fuel supplies so well. Showing he meant business, on the first day in office, Biden made a big scene of crushing Keystone XL like a cockroach, to wild cheers from his newly gathered brain trust.
Eighteen months later, looking shell-shocked and not a day under 120, President Biden was imploring OPEC+ to produce more oil. US petroleum executives looked at each other in bewilderment; apparently he wasn’t going to throw them in jail, but to request oil from some of the world’s most dubious regimes instead of raiding his own garden made very little sense.
Prior to this strange event, in July, the White House had unveiled a mammoth “Buy American” program, with the official WH news release promising that the government “would increase U.S. content in the products the federal government buys and support the domestic production of products critical to our national and economic security.” Houston heads were being scratched raw.
Biden swore to beef up US production of ‘products critical to our national and economic security’ but then excluded oil from that category even though it is hard to imagine a product that would be more important to US national/economic security.
When OPEC wouldn’t play, Biden dramatically walked over to the Strategic Petroleum Reserves’ tap, gathered the media around, and said “watch this” as he cranked it open. Nothing of any significance happened; the market didn’t even seem to want that crude, and, in fact, oil prices jumped.
The very next month, earlier in December, Biden’s energy secretary Jennifer Granholm abandoned the OPEC+ pleading program, tacitly acknowledged the failure of the SPR oil release, and then turned to address US oil executives: “…hire workers, get your rig count up.” This would be the same Granholm that told a Berkeley, California audience in August that the US needed to ‘act with urgency’ to reduce its massive consumption of fossil fuels. I think I’ve cracked the pattern: On Wednesdays and Fridays the Biden Team opposes hydrocarbons, on Tuesdays and Thursdays it begs for more, and the days in between are spent fundraising.
But that’s not the craziest energy scene. That title goes to Germany. How a country that is legendary for its engineering precision and technical prowess can so badly botch an energy system boggles the mind. Germany is facing record power prices due in part to the European lack of natural gas, the requirement to burn coal, and the record prices for coal also. (European countries are now implementing fossil fuel subsidies, yes, the very subsidies the EU and UN and activists have been decrying for years.)
So what is Germany doing about this power/energy crunch? Two stupefying things: first, they are playing political games with Russia by refusing to allow Russian gas to flow through the completed Nordstream 2 pipeline, a pipeline that would alleviate some pending and very significant hardship coming soon as winter sets in.
Those same German brains that build those amazing German tools and cars are now putting up the argument to the world that blocking Nordstream 2 flow is ‘leverage’ against Russia, just as you can exert ‘leverage’ against Shell by not buying fuel at their gas stations. Go get ‘em tiger. (The world is desperately short of natural gas, and Russia is making a stupefying fortune selling the stuff to a starved Europe through older pipelines at prices in excess of $30 US/mmbtu).
The second stupefying move by Germany almost makes my head pop off. In the midst of this energy crisis, at the end of this year Germany will shut down three perfectly good nuclear reactors. (As a deemed ‘fossil fuel shill’, I am not supposed to be in favour of nuclear energy, but I am not really a ‘fossil fuel shill’ – the cheapest, most reliable form of energy that meets the needs of the world should win out, whatever it is.)
Nuclear actually does it best – the densest form of energy, and the cleanest – but as a nuclear-skeptic friend put it, when nuclear goes bad, it goes bad. Fifty percent of people can live with that risk and the rest not. In the absence of unity there, hydrocarbons fit the bill like no other. To shut these reactors down in the middle of winter, in the middle of a Europe-wide energy shortage, is unconscionable, but that’s what you get when ideology trumps reason.
If there is any doubt about reason being trumped, Germany’s new environment minister lays that to rest with ruthless Teutonic precision. “Nuclear power is clogging our grids, especially in the direction of the south,” stated Jan Philipp Albrecht. Let that sink in for a minute: the minister of the environment is complaining that carbon-free power is always on, ‘clogging’ the grid. Side question: Are your veins ‘clogged’ with blood? Is a river ‘clogged’ with water? Are these dumb analogies? I don’t know.
I have no reference point by which to evaluate a government official saying something so unfathomably stupid. Mr. Albrecht will soon get to find out as he ‘unclogs’ that grid by getting rid of the infernal nuclear power that is always there.
Having said all that, there are actually a few bright lights on the horizon. As energy madness has accelerated, the web of disbelief is spreading. A few years ago, it seemed that only hydrocarbon industry people were willing to timidly put up a hand here and there to say, “That isn’t gonna work.” It was a lonely existence, watching the world get worked into an anti-hydrocarbon frenzy; with shysters filling the airwaves with messages that hydrocarbons would soon be obsolete.
It is therefore an indescribable relief to find a rising chorus of voices that are unafraid to point out that the new-energy Emperor has no clothes. Every day it seems there are more energy realists around, and not just from North America. Below are a few names, and I’m going to miss some very good ones, unfortunately. But I offer these people since their important messages and viewpoints do not get to the mainstream media.
What makes their takes refreshing is a consistent wisdom that stays out of contentious and political issues; they simply point out what is happening in the energy world with a clarity mainstream media is incapable of. (One footnote, to be fair: in the past few days, a few quiet murmurings have been heard in the US and Europe that natural gas may join the list of acceptable fuels. Reality can only be evaded for so long.)
These are names specifically outside of the western Canadian energy scene; I assume most are familiar with those. Here is a smattering of wisdom from outside our localized echo chamber. On Twitter, a standout is some dude/dudess that goes by Doomberg (@DoombergT), with a cute little green chicken icon. Don’t let that fool you, the analysis is spectacular, and the green chicken flags issues that I never see raised anywhere else (such as a potentially devastating global shortage of AdBlue, a diesel additive).
Other high quality commentators are Lyn Alden (a genius macro thinker), Alexander Stahel (Swiss energy commentator), Javier Blas (same from Spain), Blair King, Michael Shellenburger, Tracy Shuchart, Brynne Kelly, Alex Epstein, Ted Nordhaus, Bjorn Lomborg, Dave Yeager, Arjun Murti, Irina Slav, Brad Hayes, Maureen McCall, Deidra Garyk…I’ll stop there, with one more critical non-energy voice added: follow Batya Ungar-Sargon (author of Bad News: How Woke Media is Undermining Democracy) for diamond-sharp dissection of how and why the media is as bad as it is. She is afraid of nothing.
On LinkedIn, posts from Doug Sheridan, Richard Norris and William Lacey stand out – well researched, pertinent viewpoints that dissect many misconceptions and half-truths. NJ Ayuk provides extremely intelligent and passionate insight into Africa’s energy scene, and not just the energy scene, but a window into a continent that seems to be at long last hitting its stride, a continent that is saying a loud NO to further colonialism (green, red, classic, or otherwise).
There are of course many others, particularly the ones closer to home, ones I am sure you are aware of. I put forth this particular list because they are worthy commentators not heard on commercial websites such as this outstanding one.
Follow these people, and our local talented Canadian energy writers, and you will see that the debate around the energy transition is coming into a much more intelligent focus.
Pay attention to these voices; they will bring much hope for sanity in the energy world in the new year. Happy holidays everyone.
Read more insightful analysis from Terry Etam here, or email Terry here. PS: Dear email correspondents, the email flow is wonderful and welcome, but am having trouble keeping up. Apologies if comments/questions go unanswered; they are not ignored.