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20 January 2016


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William Fitzgerald

Pat Lang,

This post begs the question, why do low oil prices inspire fear for the general economy? With lower costs for production, transportation, and with more discretionary income for consumers; it would seem that prosperity is guaranteed.




One would think that. I don't understand it either. pl


I've been suspicious on the notion of peak oil as in "we are running out of oil" because there's lots of oil in the ground that's economical to pull out if the price is right. The $2.50 bbl oil is getting close to tapped out (poor Saudis) but the $250 bbl stuff is still waiting.

However, I don't believe current oil prices speak much to arguments pro-peak or con-peak. Supply and demand for oil are balanced to within a few percent. You can see big swings in prices if the are out of balance by much. That's short term market forces.

It's probably fair to say that we never run out of oil because long before that happens the price gets so high that alternatives (and there are lots of those at the right price) become more attractive. For this reason, the notion of peak oil is moot. At best it was used to justify high oil prices, but in hindsight that was more about strong demand from China - that's cooled off a few percent and the price drops.

There's lots of other examples of price drop offs in commodity linked to global trade. Look at the Baltic Shipping indexes (http://www.bloomberg.com/quote/BDIY:IND - check out the 5 year chart for a better view). We can't conclude that we are running out of ships when pricing is high - when prices were higher, and debt is cheap, lots of new ships were produced (we've had 100% growth in shipping capacity since 2010 apparently). Suddenly China cools down, demand for shipping drops and the fixed supply (which can't be easily taken offline once brought on) means a big drop in pricing. There are parallels with oil.

Sorry - long winded way of saying pricing only tells you about (short term) supply relative to (short term) demand, not long term supply on its own.

Babak Makkinejad

Likely too much money is tied to speculative oil futures in the capital markets as well as to un-conventional oil production ventures in which some influential people are going to lose their shirts.


Dear Colonel,

Truly, I did not see a glut of this extent coming - zero interest is allowing a lot of zombie producers to keep pumping rather than face their creditors.

On a national level, peak oil seems to follow:


On a global basis, well, its been near plateau oil for a long time (since 2004).


The EIA has been predicting that US tight oil is a short term phenomena - a decade or so before it runs out - but there is lots of tight oil globally.... Still, it took $100+/bbl to make it worthwhile to develop.

With all the global slowdown signs, prices will continue to fall. When it hits $10, might be a good time to buy a small oil company.



Oil price is a symptom. In a healthy economy, prices go up because industry and folk are doing well and willing to pay more for the stuff (or rather what energy can do for them).

In a sick economy (on a global basis), well....


Price volatility is a "standard feature" of resource exhaustion, the current glut is pretty much a conjuncture artifact, if TSHTF in Hormuz/Iran/KSA prices will jump *wildly* the other way.
The now defunct "Oil Drum" had a comparison with the end of whaling in the 19th century:


There are 5 new fracked wells in close proximity to my farm.


Col: At least in Texas, low oil prices means trading high paying energy sector jobs for lower paying jobs elsewhere.

Whether low oil prices will be a "good" thing might depend on how many financial instruments have been linked to the energy sector. We could see a cascade of bond defaults.

ex-PFC Chuck

I think Babak hit a Bingo in his reply above to WF's question. The Martens had an insightful post on effects the collapse of oil prices is having on banks. I was especially grabbed by this pithy sentence regarding the tanking of bank stock prices:

"The minute U.S. corporate media tells you that “the selloff isn’t about worries of banks blowing up,” you know the worries are about banks blowing up."


ex-PFC Chuck

Another, longer money quote from Pam and Russ Martens' "Wall Street On Parade:"

"Given that the U.S. financial system experienced the largest collapse since the Great Depression just seven years ago; that both the debt of the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve has exploded as a result; and that regulators have repeatedly assured the public that they’ve gotten the risky situation at the big banks under control – we should not be currently witnessing bank stocks melting away like the Wicked Witch of the West. Unless, of course, as Senator Bernie Sanders and the chart below suggest, they actually are the Wicked Witches of the West."

You'll have to click on the link to see the chart graphic.



It's a double-edged sword.

Lower costs for consumers on one end, loss of jobs in oil exploration (fracking) on the other.

The net is a wash. Many of the 'new jobs' created were in the fracking boom.

In general, saving money anywhere in one part of an economy creates an off-setting loss in another part…spending=income, always. Savings is income not spent.

Only growth in top-line spending (we call it 'money printing') can grow an economy. Credit can blow up bubbles but the payments have to come from money printing…private credit doesn't create the money to pay the interest, only the principal. The interest burden on $46T is enormous and ongoing, like overhead for a business.


There's another theory about oil, that its not made of squashed dinosaurs and ferns. The Russian idea of 'abiotic' oil says it is created by heat and pressure as a kind of lubricant below the earth's crust, and it seeps upward and slowly refills empty reservoirs. I don't know.

According to some of the views I've seen whilst browsing around, as jld suggests above, prices and supply are likely to yo-yo unexpectedly. Some say that current low prices mean that the loans used to finance the fracking boom can never be repaid and the companies are going broke. On the other side, demand is falling as the international economy falters. China is not buying so many raw materials. A few days ago I saw that for the first time ever recorded, literally no cargo ships are plying the North Atlantic routes and freight rates are at record lows.We've been accustomed to inflation all our lives, now we may be about to experience deflation.


A question for you.
If IS, in an act of desperation, decide to send teams of suicide troops to destroy Saudi wellheads and the price jumped up wildly would you be back with a 'The oils is about to run out post?'.


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I guess you missed the fact that I have always made fun of the notion of global oil shortages and Peak Oil . PL


US is heading into a slowdown, potentially quite a nasty one. Europe is perpetually broken thanks to the Euro, emerging markets are a disaster zone and China is only slowly emerging from it's slowdown.

I thought the Saudi's would cut back when oil dipped into the 30s, anything under 50-60 discourages investment in future production, but the Saudi's have been making the wrong choice for awhile now.


On a bright note those soon to be unemployed oil patch workers can find new careers in the Obama backed Solar industry and even the Tesla battery mega-plant.

Martin Oline

I don't think that it is the supply of oil but the large number of outstanding bank loans made to companies who borrowed on the promise of high oil prices. When bankers lose their shirts it seems to becomes a problem for main street.


It's sort of complicated, but this is how:

William R. Cumming

Perhaps a new tax on gas at the pump by the largely bankrupt states?

Charles Michael

In the last ten years for professional reasons at first, I have been following the trend. Sure the fracking made was possible and money worth (more or less) by 100 $ prices. It is still an exceptionnal US geological, technical and financial mix that made it possible.
And there have not been so far any repeat in any other country.

some recent links to help ascertain the situation:


by Gail Tverberg, originally published by OurFiniteWorld.com | DEC 22, 2015

Where Actually is that Much-hyped Global Oil Glut?
It is misleading to say the world sits on excess stocks of 3 bn barrels of oil, 2.7 bn of which are already needed in both crude and product stocks for a smooth operation of the refining and distribution system. Most of the stock build since mid 2014 seems to be related to US light tight oil which refineries could not accommodate due to their original designs.
by Matt Mushalik, originally published by Crude Oil Peak | JAN 5, 2016

by Kurt Cobb, originally published by Resource Insights | JAN 17, 2016

The Deflation Monster Has Arrived
Submitted by Chris Martenson via PeakProsperity.com,

Now we have this dilemma to solve; is China lower economic performances due to their investment mistakes or to the US, EU, Japan poor economics ?

The thing is that we are denied actual economics facts and figures by the MSM as much as in politics ME mess.


It's funny how language is used. The term "peak oil" describes a portion of a production chart over time. The part in between an ascending production and a declining production. That point or collection of points called a peak doesn't define anything other than that. It doesn't define the rate of production on the climb or the rate of production on the decline. It doesn't define ultimately recoverable reserves or mean "running out" anymore than an ascending line implies infinite or a descending line is zero.


you oilies are funny. There is no shortage of oil/gas and there will not be. pl


Even if we were not moving civilizational devolution, which I believe we are due to global demographics, I'm not sure we could so easily transition to alternative energies. Here's a very interesting 9-minute discussion on alternative energy sources (due to Peak Oil) from Prof. David Goodstein (Caltech physics dept.): https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=d7zZRT8gRT4

I'm not sure how you would define Peak Oil. More areas have reached Hubbert's peak in production than have not. Those places that have not, e.g. KSA, Qatar, Iraq, et al., are in the minority but might have more oil reserves than all the others combined. But even the optimistic projections have the Gulf states' supply peaking in 3-4 decades. None of us reading this blog have to worry about Peak Oil, but it will certainly be part of the coming dystopian, nightmarish civilization by mid century, if not sooner.



"... it will certainly be part of the coming dystopian, nightmarish civilization by mid century." I doubt that. If I could be around to collect on a bet I would wager that petroleum as a fuel will be long gone by then. pl

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