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Topic: Oil

[Episode #216] – COP28 and the Outlook for Oil

Following from the December COP28 climate summit, we find ourselves at a pivotal juncture with the world’s governments clearer than ever about “transitioning away from fossil fuels.” Now, what is next for the oil sector and for all of us—the consumers of oil? Is COP’s sweeping announcement setting a ceiling for the global ambition on climate, or merely a floor?

As oil is phased out sector-by-sector, how can the electrification of vehicles handle demand for road transport? And what about the sectors where substitutes are still a work in progress, like petrochemicals, aviation and shipping? Is it really feasible to phase out oil completely, as we discussed with the IEA in the previous episode?

In this episode, we explore these questions with Anand Gopal, the Executive Director of Policy Research at Energy Innovation, an energy transition think tank based in San Francisco. We review the findings from several of Energy Innovation’s recent reports, we discuss the outlook for oil demand, and we get Anand’s first-person observations from this year’s COP.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #215] – IEA’s New Oil & Gas Outlook

In December 2023, a landmark declaration emerged from the COP28 climate conference: For the first time, the world’s climate delegates agreed that a global "transition away" from fossil fuels is essential. This historic pronouncement marked a significant shift in tone from previous climate conferences and formalized the energy transition as a global priority, underscoring the urgency of the climate crisis.

But what are the implications for the oil and gas industry? To address this question we turn to the latest analysis from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which has some clear guidance about what must be done to prevent global warming from exceeding 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures.

In November 2023, Chris traveled to the IEA’s headquarters in Paris, France to discuss their perspectives with two of their lead modelers: Tim Gould, the co-head of the IEA’s World Energy Outlook reports who you’ll remember from Episodes #148 and #171, and Christophe McGlade, the Head of the IEA’s Energy Supply Unit who you’ll remember from Episode #166.

In this 98-minute conversation, we focus on the IEA’s updated outlook for oil and gas, drawing on findings from their World Energy Outlook 2023, their November 2023 oil market report, their updated Net Zero Roadmap, and a new groundbreaking report, The Oil and Gas Industry in Net Zero Transitions. We explore how the energy transition is cutting into demand for oil and gas, and the serious implications for producers. We also show why the industry must pivot to working on energy transition solutions, or prepare for their own obsolescence.

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #211] – Doomers vs. Transitionistas

Full Episode

Should our response to global warming focus on technologies that reduce emissions, or on embracing simpler lifestyles? Why do some believe that deploying more renewables and accelerating the energy transition is essential, while others advocate for ‘degrowth’ instead, and claim that switching to renewables is counterproductive?

Today’s conversation explores a recent paper by lifecycle assessment researcher Marco Raugei of Oxford Brookes University, in which he describes an ongoing debate between “systemic pessimists” who focus on humanity’s demands for resources and dismiss renewable technologies, and “technological optimists” who focus on the technologies of the energy transition but do not address other planetary boundaries. We describe these two tribes and their beliefs, identify their points of disagreement, and try to suggest a way forward.

We’ll also discuss another recent paper Marco co-authored exploring whether there are important material limits to the energy transition. And to wrap it up, Chris offers his longest monologue yet, in which he draws a distinction between “techno-optimists” and energy transition advocates, and suggests some ways that we might advance the debate beyond its current unhelpful framing.

Ultimately, we hope this episode will persuade some “systemic pessimists” to consider shifting their narrative from doom and to refocus on actively solving problems, including the problem of global warming.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #206] – Regulatory Capture in Texas

As we have discussed in previous episodes of the show (like Episodes #73, #177, and #198), state regulators and legislators can be ‘captured’ by the industries they are supposed to regulate and wind up serving those industries instead of the public interest.

Usually, regulatory capture is a form of corruption: The system isn’t supposed to work that way, but certain interests can manage to corrupt it. In Texas, however, that kind of capture isn’t a bug—it’s a feature.

In this episode, investigative journalist Russell Gold of Texas Monthly shares what he found after tracking down hundreds of documents scattered across dozens of offices around the state. Not only does the chair of the Texas commission that regulates the oil and gas business personally earn royalties from some of the very oil and gas leases she regulates, so does her family.

We also check in on the progress that Texas is making—and not making—to prevent the kind of grid blackout that happened during the February 2021 big freeze. And we ask where the limits to corruption in Texas actually are, and how rank and file voters in the state feel about it. It’s a sordid story, but an important one to understand, because it reveals a lot about the power of the oil and gas industry in the US.

Geek rating: 2

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[Episode #201] – India Update Part 2

This is part two of our interview with Mohua Mukherjee, a Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. Previously, she was a development economist and project manager with the World Bank, working in over 40 countries.

In this second part, we dive into India’s use of oil and natural gas, and why it has continued to purchase these fuels from Russia, even as the West has implemented trade restrictions. We go on to explore India’s unique approach to transitioning mobility to vehicles that run on electricity and CNG. We highlight India's strategy for developing domestic industries in battery manufacturing, solar energy, hydrogen electrolyzers, and other clean technologies. We also take a closer look at India's astonishing progress in expanding electricity access to its vast population. We examine the challenges faced by electricity distribution utilities in the country, and their efforts to enhance efficiency. Finally, we address India's progress on its climate initiatives and the importance of ensuring a "just transition" as the nation reduces its reliance on coal-fired power.

Be sure to check out part one of this interview in Episode #199 for a review of India’s overall energy mix, including a close look at its use of coal, solar, and wind.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #191] – Shale’s Swan Song

Since 2007 the US transitioned from an oil production has-been that was more than four decades past its previous peak, to the world's top oil and gas producer, and the top exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG). The shale boom delivered many benefits to the US and the world, including over a decade of reprieve from the impending threat of peak oil.

But now shale producers face numerous challenges — such as running out of decent prospects where they can drill new wells.

The implications of the US shale boom winding down are as numerous as the benefits, and it’s vitally important we understand how this shift will influence the world oil market and shape the entire project of the energy transition.

In this episode, we are joined by longtime oil journalist Derek Brower, the US Energy Editor for the Financial Times, who has been a frontline reporter through the shale boom's entire story. We recount the history of how the US fracked its shales to become the leading oil producer, and how a decade of volatile oil prices has changed the character of the oil industry, as well as the various ways we use oil. We’ll also review the headwinds the shale industry now faces and why its prospects for additional growth are dim. And we’ll consider what the end of the shale boom means for the global oil trade and its geopolitics; for the ongoing efforts to eliminate demand for Russian oil in the West; and for the energy transition as a whole.

Geek rating: 7

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[Episode #185] – Designing the Mid-transition

Phasing out the old while simultaneously building up the new is always a challenge, and perhaps never more so than with the energy transition. Can we coordinate replacing fossil-fueled assets with clean, zero-carbon assets so that both systems remain functional and affordable during the transition? And how can we ensure that disadvantaged communities don’t get left behind in the process?

In this episode, we continue to explore the theme of the “messy middle” of the transition, building on our previous discussions in Episode #177 and #181. Not only should we expect a large degree of direct government intervention in the process of the transition, because it’s just too difficult and complex to leave everything up to the action of markets, it can be a welcome intervention. Someone needs to plan how to orchestrate the retirement of dirty assets with the construction of clean replacements while keeping everything running. For example: Can we leave it up to the private sector to ensure that enough gasoline filling stations stick around to meet the needs of people still driving internal combustion engine vehicles while we’re in the process of building up enough EV charging infrastructure to meet the needs of drivers who are going electric? Probably not. Some elements of the transition will be far more successful if they are planned and guided.

In this conversation, Emily Grubert points out some of the challenges of the “mid-transition,” as she and her co-author Sara Hastings-Simon call it, and how policymakers ought to be thinking about how to orchestrate it so that no one gets left behind.

 

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #184] – EROI of RE

Do renewable energy sources generate enough energy ‘profit’ to make them worth continued investment? And is any energy profit large enough to run our modern world, as renewables displace fossil fuels?

Some skeptics of the energy transition have claimed that renewables can’t run our world because the net energy they deliver to society is too low. They make this argument drawing from past data for the Energy Returned on Investment (or EROI) for various fuels, which showed high EROIs for extracting fossil fuels, and low EROIs for very early generations of wind and solar technology. However, the historical EROI literature has been plagued with methodological inconsistencies so how reliable is this legacy data for guiding modern outlooks?

In a new paper we discuss in today’s episode, a group of researchers has cleaned up and rectified recent EROI data so that the various fuels can be compared on an apples-to-apples basis. Their new results paint a very different picture from the old literature.

Not only do renewables have sufficiently high EROIs to power our society, they are much higher than the EROIs of the fossil fuels they are replacing! In fact, these results suggest that only through the energy transition can we maintain a functioning society.

To walk us through this new paper, its lead researcher, Dr. David Murphy, an environmental scientist at St. Lawrence University in New York, returns to the show.

In addition to reviewing the results of this new paper, we’ll also talk about some of the other mistaken arguments that are frequently made against the energy transition, and explain why they are wrong.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #183] – Global Energy Crisis

What began as a “global energy crunch” one year ago, as we discussed with Will Kennedy in Episode #158, has now become a global energy crisis. It is putting energy consumers into severe financial distress and forcing governments around the world to intervene in all sorts of unprecedented ways, as we discussed in Episode #181, “Command Capitalism.” For much of Europe, it will be a very tough winter.

In this episode, Will returns to the show to explore the turmoil in energy and capital markets around the world, as well as how governments are responding to the crisis. We’ll also try to anticipate what will happen next.

As we sketch out, this crisis will ultimately accelerate the energy transition because that is truly the only way out of this mess. But it won’t be a straight path, it won’t be quick, and it won’t be easy.

This is a deep, dense, 90-minute-long conversation, so if you’re not a full subscriber yet, this would be a good time to join us! There are also more than 100 source references in the show notes for this episode, so be sure to log into our website using your subscriber credentials and check them out.

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #181] – Command Capitalism

2022 has brought an unprecedented series of energy market interventions as leaders try to stave off domestic unrest in the face of numerous energy supply shocks. Some of the tumult we’ve seen in energy markets this year can be pinned on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and subsequent reactions by the West. But the war in Ukraine and associated sanctions really only exacerbated numerous fundamental trends that were already well established - trends that were positioning governments to take a stronger hand in their energy affairs. We are experiencing some very fundamental supply and demand problems in all sorts of energy fuels and other commodities around the world, and governments have little choice but to intervene wherever they can to maintain stability.

Where is this all taking us? Can capitalism survive the energy transition? Or are we headed into a new era?

Our guest in today’s episode has an answer: Kevin Book of ClearView Energy Partners believes we are seeing a new approach to economic management that he calls “command capitalism.” It may help us manage some of the challenges of the global energy crunch and the energy transition in a more direct way than we could through “free market” means… but it could also wrest control of our destinies away from regulators and energy ministries, with uncertain consequences.

Geek rating: 9

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