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A few days after Christmas I appeared on CNBC Asia’s Squawk Box to discuss the volatility in the oil market. I followed that appearance up with an article for Forbes called OPEC’s Trillion-Dollar Miscalculation (which went viral and received more than 100 times the traffic of their typical energy article). Two weeks later, Continental Resources CEO and shale drilling pioneer Harold Hamm went on CNBC and reiterated my argument. As a reminder, I strive to make predictions that are specific, measurable, and preferably actionable. While there are actually other stories unfolding in the world of energy, you would never know that by my inbox. For background, each year in January I make predictions for the upcoming year, and I provide the context for those predictions.
But one reader asked why I would even attempt to make predictions given such uncertain conditions.
I have made this argument a number of places, including in a recent Wall Street Journal article. In the past few weeks I have received numerous questions about the role of a “drop in demand” in the oil price decline.
Saudi Arabia’s decision not to cut oil production, despite crashing prices, marks the beginning of an incredibly important change. Fourteen years later, while Americans were eating or sleeping off their Thanksgiving meals, the twelve members of the Organization of Oil Producing Countries (OPEC) failed to reach an agreement to cut production below the 30 million barrel per day target that was set in 2011. The ramifications of this decision across the globe, not just in energy markets, but politically, are already having consequences for the global landscape. Today I offer up my predictions, and the reasoning behind them, for what I think will transpire in 2014. It is just amazing, Coalman, that your online comment accuracy record is zero for all time. Why are you asking me for personal information?We collect personal information including your contact and demographic information for the purposes of identification, account administration and display of personalised content and advertising.
We are now burning 10 times as much energy as a century ago to provide the goods and services we consume.
Energy consumption is still increasing rapidly, with an approximate 550 exajoules (523 Quadrillion BTUs) consumed at the primary energy level in 2010. The historic time for each energy source to grow from 1 to 10 exajoules in primary energy production was 12 years for nuclear, 33 years for crude oil, 39 years for natural gas, 52 years for coal, and 59 years for hydro-power. The charts below can be found in the Excel file, source attribution can be found at the bottom.
The historic data for bio-energy from Fernandes (2007) and Smil (2010) is calculated by estimating the average energy use per person for a large number of countries, multiplying this value with the population, and adjusting for other energy sources.
The data for coal is normally best taken in million tonnes of oil equivalent (mtoe) as this filters out the energy differences between coals, as opposed to taking data in million tonnes of coal.
To convert installed solar pv, geothermal, and wind power capacity to electricity produced, a number of conversion factors were applied.
The first two charts in this section display the evolution of primary energy consumption broken down by energy sources.


In this section, a dataset is graphically depicted wherein a comparison is made of the number of years for each energy source to grow from 1 exajoule to 10 exajoules of energy production. Four charts are shown below that outline the differences between datasets for bio-energy (biomass + biofuel), coal, natural gas, and crude oil.
Bernie Lo asked a question about OPEC’s strategy, and I characterized their decision to defend market share as “a big, costly mistake” that had already cost the group over $500 billion in 2015 and would likely cost them that much again in 2016. This has implications for several predictions so, as I cautioned last year, it will be a challenge to repeat 2014′s record.
Most of the correspondence I have received in the past week is still related to oil prices, particularly following the recent huge rally in crude futures. I make predictions to set up a narrative that describes what I see unfolding in the energy sector, incorporating as much data as I can into making each prediction.
These questions are driven by many stories in the media that have referenced a drop in demand.
One is that years of high oil prices have resulted in reductions in consumption through conservation and improvements in vehicle fleet efficiency.
There has indeed been reduced oil consumption in recent years in most developed regions of the world. This followed strenuous lobbying efforts by some of largest oil producing non-OPEC nations in the weeks leading up to the meeting. Lost in the effort to understand the vast implications is an even more important signal sent by Saudi Arabia, the owner of more than 16% of the world’s proved oil reserves, about its view of the future of fossil fuels. 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). 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 point of that story was to merely observe and document that period of time in the Basin. The data in the charts is normally displayed in exajoules (10^18 joules) and in a few cases in Quadrillion (10^15) BTU’s for data comparison.
To obtain primary energy data for nuclear power, electricity produced has been adjusted for the efficiency losses assuming a 33% efficiency factor, as per IEA standards.
In this manner, a reasonable estimate can be obtained for bio-energy consumption across historic time.
For solar a capacity rating of 15% was assumed, for wind a capacity rating of 23.4%, and for geothermal 90%.
By comparing these, it can be shown how long different energy sources took to become influential in global energy supply.
The main differences in the datasets can be found in the years after 2000 for biofuels, 1950 to 2000 for natural gas, and 1945 to present for crude oil.
But as always, the context is more important than the prediction itself, because context allows one to adjust one’s own views as events play out during the year. A few readers also wanted to make sure that I noticed that one of my 2015 predictions had fallen last week. I have been doing this for several years, and at the end of each year I grade my predictions.


While this is not an investment column, I am aware that some readers use it for investment advice. Lots of people predicted $20, the price went to $60, and the $20 crowd went quiet for a while.
The second reason is due to the strengthening dollar, oil has become more expensive for many countries since oil is generally traded in dollars. This group even went so far as to make the highly unusual offer of agreeing to their own production cuts. My only complete miss was that I expected approval for the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Pioneer Natural Resources, Apache and Kinder Morgan Production follow behind Oxy in Permian Basin production for 2012. Smil (2010) covers not more than a dozen countries in this manner, while Fernandes (2007) covers more than a hundred and is more complete in his decadal time series. Similarly, for natural gas the values were for BP Statistical Review (2011) converted from cubic feet to BTUs and exajoules using lower heating values. I may predict an oil price, but I also try to provide context as to what could go wrong with a prediction, so that readers can adjust their own expectations as the year unfolds. As I have stated on many occasions, context around a prediction can be more important than the prediction itself.
So without overtly recommending investments, I generally try to make predictions that are actionable. I remember when oil was $3 a barrel,” said Kotok, whose clients include former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean. I got into a debate on this topic with a person yesterday, and I am seeing enough of these predictions that I thought it warranted addressing. But despite the rationale that explains this drop in oil consumption, ultimately the data must support the narrative. When I grade the predictions, I will talk about the context when I made each prediction, and the reasons the predictions turned out to be right or wrong. I will give 2 examples of that today, one of which is the prediction that failed last week. My prediction could have been proven wrong before we even got out of January, so I really stuck my neck out on that one.
While the Bakken Shale and the Eagle Ford receive numerous well-deserved headlines, exploration and production (E&P) firms were busy making new history in the Permian Basin. In their communication, they mention producers speculate that the full development of the Wolfcamp Shale could result in 2 million barrels a day — more than the 1970s peak for the entire basin.



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