Newsflash: We measure Peak Oil in production rates... not websites or google trends


And now one of those "I can't believe I actually have to write this" posts, but I should learn to never underestimate the ability of people to completely misinterpret things. Last week, The Oil Drum, a key Peak Oil blog, announced it would cease current operation and archive the site at the end of this month.

Of course, to hear the Twitterverse tell the tale, you would think that almighty Lord Shale drew his sword of truth and with a single swing slew Peak Oil once and for all. The peakists, blinded by the heavenly light reflected off Lord Shale's armor, quickly retreated into the Earth, stopping first to shut down the Oil Drum website before they left forever in shame.

Well... no.

To start - and it's embarrassing that I actually have to write the next line - we judge Peak Oil by rates of production, not by the presence of Peak Oil websites and discussion forums. So no, you can't just take the Oil Drum closing and make a knee-jerk comment on the status of the Peak Oil debate. It's almost as bad as the time they were trying to judge Peak Oil based on google trends... because that's a legit analysis...
If internet interest was the true measure of importance - we would have given the keys of the Earth to Justin Bieber a long time ago.

But a lot of people are judging the Oil Drum closure without really knowing what's going on. Andrew Leonard in Salon has probably the best look at the inside story in his piece "Peak Oil's death has been greatly exaggerated".

For my part, I was in a conference call with the Oil Drum editors a few months back. We knew this was coming, but we didn't know when they would make the call. Some of the actual reasons the Oil Drum closed:

  • Burn Out: Administrators in the average nonprofit last less than 5 years. The main reason for leaving - they just get burned out. And the Oil Drum wasn't even a nonprofit. It was just a collection of volunteers, each with their own full-time jobs, families, and other demands on their time. Sometimes you just want to do something else.

  • Politics: A brief mention of internal politics, just to say that any forum like the Oil Drum has voices that want certain content on the site vs other content. ASPO-USA has those same battles too... it can get tiresome, especially for volunteers. 
  • Type of Content: Here's a key point I think the cheap-seat critics out there are missing. The Oil Drum didn't just "talk about Peak Oil", it focused on new, novel, detailed analysis. The type of analysis that takes a lot of time and care to develop. For good or ill, it's important to understand that the Oil Drum had certain standards for the type of pieces allowed on the site. And when the judgement was made that the high-quality unique content wasn't going to be produced at the rate they wanted, they decided to stop.

    Contrast that to other groups, ASPO-USA for instance, that do simply "talk about Peak Oil". On my side, we do tell the basic story about Peak Oil over and over and over again. Because the basic story of Peak Oil is still the same: oil is still finite, production rises, reaches a peak, and declines, costs of production goes up, prices rise, with the potential for economic problems. The story changes slightly depending on the audience, but that's the basic tale we repeatedly tell. Like a politician giving a stump speech again and again - you do it because you know that the thousandth time you tell it - will be the first time someone in that audience hears it.

    But over at the Oil Drum, they simply didn't want to find creative ways to repeat themselves, it's boring, and they aren't being paid for it - so who could blame them.

So no, the closure of Oil Drum is not a comment on the state of the Peak Oil debate. But the thing I hope people do take away from this: Good analysis and advocacy for these issues isn't free. The Oil Drum didn't have paid staff or a pocket billionaire keeping them well fueled. Hopefully this is a wake-up call to the Jeremy Granthams and Richard Bransons of the world, those of means who recognize the importance of these issues. They have to step up and support organizations like ASPO-USA & Post Carbon Institute.

Because once they're gone, the only voices anyone will hear will be those consistently wrong voices of the oil over-optimists.