A Disproportionate Response
I had intended to write an article today outlining some potential solutions to the Midwest’s ethanol predicament, but some recent exchanges on Twitter prompted me to postpone that for a week.
The issue in question involves various comments I have made about the Keystone XL pipeline. I have argued that while Keystone XL has mobilized a lot of passion and energy, its threat is minuscule compared to the world’s growing carbon dioxide emissions from coal. Thus, I believe most of the effort being directed at stopping Keystone XL would be better directed at the world’s coal emissions.
Some took exception to this. Some who are spending their time and energy on Keystone XL argued that Keystone XL really is a big deal, while others noted that a heroic effort is being expended to combat coal consumption. So, I have done a few calculations to illustrate my argument. CONTINUE»
What 60 Minutes Got Right
Following the recent 60 Minutes story The Cleantech Crash, Katie Fehrenbacher at Gigaom wrote a very good article called What 60 Minutes got right and wrong in its story on the “cleantech crash”.
In contrast to some who reacted with righteous indignation against the notion of any troubles in the world of cleantech, Katie noted, “60 Minutes got some key things right in the story”, notably that cleantech HAS crashed from a venture capital (VC) perspective.
Cleantech often requires much longer time horizons and higher capital expenditures before a VC has a chance of seeing a return on the investment. And as I have explained in the past, you can’t really afford to have a 10 percent success rate if that entails building 10 capital intensive biofuel plants before achieving success. It’s a very different model than a couple of guys starting an Internet company in their garage. You run out of money pretty quickly when building plants that fail to perform. CONTINUE»
In the previous article, I graded the 2013 predictions that I made a year ago. I scored well on the direction of oil and gas prices, the shrinking Brent-West Texas Intermediate (WTI) differential, and continued growth in US oil production (although it grew even faster than I expected). My only complete miss was that I expected approval for the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline. (The southern leg, incidentally, is scheduled to begin shipping oil this week from the major crude oil storage hub at Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast near Houston).
Today I offer up my predictions, and the reasoning behind them, for what I think will transpire in 2014. One thing I have learned in making predictions is that they must be specific, and not subject to interpretation at the end of the year.
“The US oil industry will continue to thrive” is much too vague. “The price of crude will rise” is also too vague, because perhaps crude rises for part of the year, or perhaps some crudes rise and some don’t. On the other hand, “The average price of Brent crude will be higher in 2014 than in 2013” is specific and measurable. CONTINUE»
Normally I would have had this out two weeks ago, but the 60 Minutes story has thrown me behind schedule. I continue to get lots of comments and questions about Vinod Khosla and now his righteous indignation over how the 60 Minutes story was portrayed (especially since that was the only part of my interview they aired), so I may follow up in a week or so to explain (once more) the precise nature of my criticism — as well as what it isn’t. To be honest, I am tired of writing about it, and I am sure that regular readers are tired of reading about it, but new readers continue to ask questions that indicate they misunderstand the nature of my criticism.
In the meantime, here is my report card for my predictions from last year. In the next article, I will give my predictions for 2014.
In January 2013, I made the following five predictions for 2013:
- Brent and WTI crude prices will both average less in 2013 than in 2012.
- The Brent-WTI price differential — which has widened substantially in the past two years — will narrow in 2013.
- The average annual price of natural gas — as measured by the Henry Hub Gulf Coast Natural Gas Spot Price — will be higher than in 2012.
- The Obama Administration will approve the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline.
- US oil production will continue to grow (but at a slower pace than in 2012), reaching the highest level since 1995.
It has been a busy couple of days. Since 60 Minutes aired The Cleantech Crash on Sunday night, I have gotten quite a few emails and phone calls seeking more details, comments, or a clarification of my positions. In the previous article I wrote a “Quick Response” to the piece. Today I try to fill in some gaps. This isn’t a critique of the entire report. It’s just the back story on how I became involved, and includes some of the things we discussed that didn’t make it on air.
Let me make it clear that 60 Minutes did not take me out of context. My words were correct, in context, and I stand behind them. But only a small portion of my interview could be broadcast, and as a result a lot of issues that we covered were not aired. So, here’s the rest of the story.
Discussing Advanced Biofuels with Lesley Stahl. Photo from CBS.
Before the Interview
Back in September 2013, I was contacted by one of Lesley Stahl’s producers at 60 Minutes through LinkedIn. He indicated that he wanted to speak to me about a story they were working on, and we set up a time to talk.
As a result of Sunday night’s 60 Minutes story about cleantech, a lot of people are emailing me or clicking in here for the first time. I will have a more in-depth report on my contribution to the story — including bits that didn’t survive the editing process for a more complete context of my positions — but for now let me offer some quick answers to some questions/comments that are coming up frequently. First, if you have no idea what I am talking about, here is the story that aired last night:
Here are my choices for the top half of my Top 10 energy related stories of 2013. The rankings are mostly in no particular order, although for me there was one clear story at the top of the list. CONTINUE»
In the previous article, I presented my choices for articles that almost made my Top 10 Energy Stories of 2013. In the next two articles I will present my choices for the Top 10. The rankings are mostly in no particular order.
6. The year in coal
The US coal industry has been in decline for several years. The primary factors behind the decline are competition from cheaper and cleaner natural gas, and increasingly stringent government regulations. This year the EPA published draft regulations for new coal-fired power plants that will likely be economically impossible to meet. CONTINUE»
My Top 10 energy related stories of 2013 ended up being a 3,500 word story, so I decided to break it up into three parts. Today I will list some of the stories that could have arguably been placed in a list of Top 10 energy stories for the year. Later this week I will list stories 6-10 of my Top 10, and then early next week I will list my Top 5.
Note that this list of Honorable Mentions simply entails the headline without any detail, and are in no particular order. The Top 10 goes into detail on each story, which is why the story ended up being so long. CONTINUE»