"US Oil Consumption In 2012 Was The Same As In 1979"

Oil consumption in the US has been decreasing and last year it dropped to levels unseen since 1979 - 34 years ago.

Wait - STOP - is that what you thought when you read that headline? Because it's 100% wrong. 

And I thought this was an interesting case study in how headlines can speak the truth, but suggest things to a reader that aren't true.

It's not my intention to pick on Ed Crooks here, there's only so much context you can include in a 140 character tweet after all. But it's important to remember what actually happened.

US consumption in 2012 was near the 1979 level. But after 1979, US oil consumption dropped dramatically, eventually reaching a bottom in 1983. Consumption picked up again, but didn't reach the 1979 levels again until 1997 - 18 years later. In fact, in the entire decade of the 1980s the US used less oil than the 1970s.

This is just a reminder to make sure you have the proper context with energy stats. In an earlier post, I said "Under skillful hands - data can say whatever they want it to say." And in another post I wrote, "The trick with misinformation isn't that people are lying to you. The trick is that they either tell accurate facts while withholding additional necessary information or they tell accurate facts while greatly implying things that aren't entirely accurate."

I wonder if US oil consumption drops to around 15 mbpd, the the same rate as 1983 - will the reports say that demand is at the "lowest point since 1983" or the "same as 1971" - because both are 100% accurate statements.

Here's hoping that whenever an energy professional throws one of those quotes around - that journalists will automatically glance at the BP Data or the EIA data to verify. 

Or when someone discusses oil production increases - hopefully someone is there to discuss production declines, a topic that rarely makes the news.

Or when someone discusses US oil demand declines - hopefully someone else explains that the US consumption is a decreasing part of total world oil consumption and that world consumption has increased every year for 30-years straight.

Without context, we risk losing sight of the larger picture and proper understanding. Or at the least, we lose sight of the fact that US consumption in 1997 was the same as 1979.