From Big Oil to Big Data

Very significant article appeared in yesterday’s Financial Post (a reprint from The Telegraph) on the waning prospects for “Big Oil” (“Down forever, no last hoorah: Why the market for fossil fuels is all burnt out“).

Although Big Oil may be finished along with further prospects for Industrialism, “Big Data” and “The Cult of Information” might prove to be even greater challenge. The demise of Big Oil and the fossil fuel economy may simply be a metamorphosis of the Megamachine into something even more sinister and dystopian.



9 responses to “From Big Oil to Big Data”

  1. davidm58 says :

    Seven years ago David Holmgren wrote a still relevant essay, “Money vs. Fossil Energy: The Battle for Control of the World.”

    • Scott Preston says :

      That’s a good essay. It brought to mind themes from Tad Homer-Dixon’s The Ingenuity Gap with its critique of the salvific potential of “human brilliance”. In the end, though, I’m not sure his twin threats from fossil energy or the “masters of money” equate to the issues of declining Big Oil and ascendant Big Data. Megan O’Gieblyn’s article on her “God machine” journey suggests money isn’t really central to the aims of Big Data.

      The fossil energy industry and the money masters is the old feud that possessed Henry Ford — industry versus the bankers, industrialism versus finance. Big Data, on the other hand, is driven by what Mumford called “the Myth of the Machine”, a good part of which O’Gieblyn described — apparently, the attraction of “transcendence”.

      In fact, wasn’t there a movie about that recently by that title?

  2. Scott Preston says :

    How ironic. The swamp is being drained after all — Milos, O’Reilly, Ailes, Bannon, Flynn. True to his word, that Mr. Trump — even despite himself.

  3. davidm58 says :

    I finally had a chance to read the Telegraph article about the decline of Big Oil. I think Helm is partly right, but he and the article neglect the depletion issue and the fact that the era of easy oil is over. Easy oil is the “low hanging fruit” available by drilling a shallow well in the easily accessible fields in Texas and Saudi Arabia with abundant results. Easy oil has a low cost to develop, and yields an energy dense resource. There is a good energy return for the amount of energy invested to bring it to market.

    The energy returned on energy invested has slowly declined over time. We’ve got tar sands oil, shale oil, deep water drilling etc. The market often can’t afford the cost, so prices are forced down. But the cost to obtain the yield are growing, and the energy density of the resource is declining at the same time.

    A couple of years ago I wrote a summary of this perspective, outlining the thoughts of analysts like Steve Koppits, Gail Tverberg, Chris Martensen, and Richard Heinberg. I titled my post “Oil Company Woes: This is What Energy Depletion Looks Like.”

  4. davidm58 says :

    Tom Whipple’s weekly “Peak Oil Review” column is a good place to track what’s going on currently in the oil industry.

    This week he states, “There are so many variables at work, that making a responsible estimate of where prices are going is nearly impossible at this time. Over the next five years it is likely that oil will come into short supply, but much is likely to happen before then.”

    • Scott Preston says :

      But good to the last drop? Some of the pipeline companies are now talking about pipeline overcapacity, and the recent pull-out of some of the multinationals from the tarsands can’t be helping either, I suspect. There’s a possibility that some or all of Keystone, Line 3, and Transmountain will be abandoned. There does seem to be a great deal of uncertainty in the oilpatch.

      • davidm58 says :

        A great deal of uncertainty to say the least. And yes, I agree that the Keystone and Transmountain pipelines are possible projects to be abandoned for purely economic reasons…or become stranded assets if they are built. Like the rest of the economy, there are a lot of ponzi schemes going on, where there is money to be made in the short term by certain companies, but where the long term overall economic benefits are doubtful.

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