A place where the peak oil crowd gathered is no more  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Platts has a nice article noting the end of The Oil Drum - A place where the peak oil crowd gathered is no more.

There used to be a website driven by a completely non-transparent metric that would rank the “importance” of various Twitter feeds similar in their areas of interest. It’s defunct now, and the name of it is forgotten.

It would look not only at the number of followers, but other things like how many followers your Twitter feed’s followers had, how often your Tweets were re-Tweeted, and so on.

The @PlattsOil feed consistently ranked second in the oil category, for whatever that was worth. It was always a harmless time-waster to check and see how we were doing. And how we were doing was that from our #2 perch we were always looking up at the Twitter feed of The Oil Drum, which was the primary website for a dialogue on Peak Oil.

And now The Oil Drum is closing up shop.

Those people in the industry who have long believed that the devotees of the peak oil movement were completely wrong have been rejoicing the last few years as North America’s output keeps rising. They see the Peak Oil movement as another bunch of failed neo-Malthusians. The demise of The Oil Drum is sure to add to that feeling of glee.

In the announcement that the site was shutting to new content, to be kept online only as an archive of old posts, The Oil Drum’s owners said nothing about any shift in beliefs regarding the world’s ability to produce more oil. The possibility of shutting the site was “a discussion we have had several times in the last year, due to scarcity of new content caused by a dwindling number of contributors. Despite our best efforts to fill this gap we have not been able to significantly improve the flow of high quality articles.” The monetary requirements of maintaining the site also were cited.

The mission statement of The Oil Drum said it “seeks to facilitate civil, evidence-based discussions about energy and its impacts on the future of humanity, as well as serve as a leading online knowledge-base for energy-related topics.” Despite that lofty inclusive language, it still was pretty much an intellectual hangout for the Peak Oil crowd.

Andrew Leonard at Salon also notes TOD's passing - Peak oil’s death has been greatly exaggerated.
Sad news from the world of Peak Oil-awareness. On July 3, the Oil Drum, a fabulous one-stop-shop for news, analysis and discussion of energy issues, announced it was shutting down after an informative eight-year run. As of July 31, there will be no more new content published at the Oil Drum.

Back when I was covering environmental issues more regularly, the Oil Drum was one of the first places I’d go to get context on breaking news related to energy issues. The Oil Drum was also one of the best places to get educated about the threat of peak oil: the argument that the world was rapidly reaching the point — or had already reached it — of global maximum production of oil.

We don’t hear so much about peak oil these days. The most obvious reason: the deployment of technological advances that have increased production from old wells or made possible the extraction of fossil fuels from previously uneconomic sources, i.e., fracking. One commenter on the Oil Drum’s announcement went so far as to claim that “fracking had killed The Oil Drum.” Another posted a Google Trends documenting the sharp decline in searches for the phrase “peak oil” as contrasted to the sharp rise in searches for the word “fracking.”

I asked the Oil Drum whether the fracking-killed-the-Oil-Drum theory had any merit. Here is what “Joules Burn” told me (emphasis mine):

I think it is more the case that the majority of contributors (and editors and tech staff) are just burned out (sorry for that pun…). It takes a lot of effort to research and write quality articles, have reviewers whack at them for awhile, and then deal with the comments that come in (some useful, some not). I can think of many examples where folks just ran out of things they were passionate to write about. Even a regular (until recently) guest contributor stopped publishing on his own blog for this reason. Some have been pulled in different directions (including myself) with jobs and family and such. In short, there is probably no single reason. But as this is a collaborative effort of many individuals (and indeed with some differences of opinion on some issues), we just decided we no longer had critical mass and wanted to end at this still somewhat high point rather than let it morph into something unrecognizable.

I think TOD slowly died for a variety of reasons and editor and contributor burnout (or simply moving on to other things) was a major one.

Writing about the same topic (or set of topics) for free year after year (and having to deal with the local community while doing so, many of whom could be incredibly abrasive) can't be sustained forever - especially as people find new interests or have career and family demands take more of their time.

TOD also suffered from editorial divisions on topics such as global warming which resulted in some contributors moving on (in my view this was a prime reason for Stuart Staniford moving on, which was a major blow to the quality of the site) or taking a lower profile. This was always an annoyance to me - how we could (as a group) discuss peak oil as an example of "The Limits to Growth" while studiously ignoring (after a year of debate) or occasionally deriding another limit never made any sense to me.

The often heated division between traditional peak oil doomers and more rational peak oil observers was another large fault line that could never be adequately addressed. Abuse from the doomer community resulted in other contributors (Robert Rapier being the best example of this in my view) either moving on or taking a much lower profile. In retrospect, this was one of a number of reasons I drifted away - endlessly debating people who will illogically declare that civilisation will end soon as a result of peak oil or that nuclear power will solve all our problems or that global warming is a left wing conspiracy becomes incredibly tiresome after a while and you find yourself having to choose between letting people use your articles as a soapbox for their nutty views or wasting vast amounts of time debating the same topics endlessly with them.

I think the straw that broke the camel's back though was the ill-fated "Moving Forward - Towards A Kinder Gentler (Smaller) Oil Drum" declaration, which sapped energy from the site and demotivated contributors such as myself who wanted to look at a wider range of topics than simple oil depletion. Admittedly this was always going to be something of a turning point - Gail's editorial decisions were often baffling to me (as were her endless series of postings warning of financial doom), the Campfire posts, though wildly popular, simply fed the prevailing doomer mentality, and leading figures such as Prof Goose and Nate Hagens had drifted away from making regular contributions. The choice to downsize and become more tightly focused on a limited group of topics was the catalyst for things ending where they did in my view.


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