Oil prices are at a 7-year high, with demand getting back toward pre-pandemic levels as the world attempts to restore economies from the impacts of covid. Oil & gas companies are feeling bullish for the first time in years, forecasting strong demand for their product for decades to come, despite the pressures of energy transition and increasingly strong climate policies. In fact, they’re bold enough to blame high oil and gas prices on the energy transition, and using those prices as an argument against it. So are they right? Or are they simply in denial about the future of their business?
In this episode, Bloomberg energy opinion columnist Liam Denning returns to sort through the various factors that are working for and against continued investment in the oil and gas sector, to understand just how much the energy transition is affecting the ever-changing outlook for their business. We also discuss the tight and delicate balance between supply and demand at this point in time, and consider where it might be going in the coming years, particularly in light of climate policy targets.
This is our deepest dive into oil and gas to date, so don’t miss it!
Addressing the threat of climate change means executing a successful energy transition. But as the transition proceeds, we are increasingly having to confront the impacts of transition technologies, and consider the trade-offs of choosing those technologies over the conventional technologies that they are displacing - because nothing we can do is without an impact of some kind, and everything we build requires the use of raw materials. So the question of what is truly sustainable is beginning to take a larger importance in the formation of policies designed to advance energy transition.
But energy is still being taught primarily as part of the engineering discipline, leaving students from non-engineering disciplines in need of ways to learn something about energy, in order to help them be more effective in their work. Fortunately, professor Dustin Mulvaney of San Jose State University in California has a new textbook designed to address this need, titled “Sustainable Energy Strategies: Socio-Ecological Dimensions of Decarbonization.” It’s a very ambitious effort to survey many of the complex topics that are critical for people involved in energy transition to understand. In this episode, we talk with Dustin about why he wrote it, and we take a walk through each chapter in the book to understand the complex questions around what “sustainability” really means in the context of energy transition.
Is the supply of certain key metals—like lithium, copper, nickel, and cobalt—and “rare earth” metals—like vanadium and indium—potentially a limiter on the progress of energy transition? Or is there enough of them to realize our ambitions? Are they being produced in a sustainable way? How will the geographic concentration of these metals affect geopolitics and trade as the energy transition progresses? How confident can we be about our assessments of their abundance? And how confident can we be about how much of them we’ll need in the future, given the rapid evolution of many of these technologies, and the many alternate ways of producing them?
Our guest in this episode brings all of these questions into a whole new focus, and shows why these questions can’t be answered with some back-of-the-envelope calculation. Instead of asking whether there is enough of these metals in the Earth’s crust, he says, or about how they are mined, we should be asking much more sophisticated questions about the chemical industry, the opaque, illiquid markets in which these metals are traded, and the geopolitical implications of their trade.