I have worked as a reporter and market analyst with some of the biggest information providers in the energy sector: Standard & Poors Platts, Reuters (now Refinitiv) and the Russian business data and technology business Interfax. I have also worked as a consultant with governments in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia; along with some of the biggest oil, gas and power companies in the world. Throughout this time, I have had a panoply of interesting economists, engineers and journalists from all over the world as colleagues and friends. I don’t know of any industry with a more diverse range of cultures, and the industry is gradually becoming more diverse in terms of gender, personality and ethnicity.
Reflecting on my career, I was struck by how little of my time was spent engaging with the people and communities who were affected by the energy industry. We would all talk with the people who had the money: the investors, the bankers, the upstream, midstream and downstream companies who were involved in the projects; the traders and brokers; and their advisors, from lawyers and consultants, to tax specialists and diplomats. But the only contact with local groups as a journalist was almost always through environmental pressure groups who purported to represent their views. And as a consultant, communities were only consulted by specialists conducting the environmental impact assessments (EIA), negotiating local content rules and policies, and higher beings responsible for corporate social responsibility (CSR).
It struck me that this was indefensible. The energy industry should be there to serve the goals of these communities; ultimately, it is the public that pays their bills. It’s obvious to me now that people and communities should be engaged with at every stage of a project, and throughout the energy value chain from production and generation to the end use in the home or office, not just when a problem blows up or there is a scandal.
The dichotomy we currently face, between a public who wants to “Save the Planet” and an energy professional class which assumes it knows what is in the public interest, results directly from this disintermediation. A huge amount of mutual suspicion exists between these two camps.
In 2012, when I set up Resource Economist, I had envisaged a training company that would be capable of providing expert knowledge to customers from within the energy industry, and to outsiders in government, environmental organisations and local communities who want to cut through the jargon and get to grips with the real issues. I felt this would play to my strength as a journalist, which was to explain things in a simple and clear way, as well as an analyst and consultant, which was to provide an unbiased expert view.
Nowadays, I feel this was at one level too ambitious, and at another level, not ambitious enough.
- Too ambitious, because most people have their minds already made up, depending on which camp they are in. The camps reflected were the binary categories of good/bad, pro-industry/pro-environment, protest/collude, etc.
- Not ambitious enough, because it sought simply to explain the industry through training courses in neutral terms, rather than to engage actively with the disparate communities that made up the energy sector as a whole, and to understand their motivation(s).
I have tried to refocus this website on the people who are responsible for the Energy Transition, from fossil fuels to cleaner sustainable forms of energy. In 2014, I began a series of interviews for the British Institute of Energy Economics, meeting with some of the most able and inspiring people in the energy sector, from government, community groups, CEOs of large companies, academics, start-up tech firms and a spectrum of others. Brief clips from many of these interviews are available on the BIEE website www.biee.org/videos.
There are two other milestones I should mention.
In 2019, I flew to Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada for a major gas conference in which I met members of the First Nations who had recently formed an alliance in support of the building of an LNG plant. The Wet’suwet’en First Nation were at the heart of this, reaching an agreement with Shell and a group of other investors that allowed the project and a gas pipeline to supply it to go ahead. The decision was hugely controversial. Shell and many in the gas industry saw it as a watershed, pouring out press releases extolling its virtues, while environmentalists reacted with dismay, and launched a furious and highly coordinated assault on those who had supported the project. The Wet’suwet’en were split.
I will do a separate post on what I learned (about myself as much as anything) from this dispute, but in short, it reflected a lack of communication that I believe mirrors the dichotomies mentioned above between “the industry” and “the environmental lobby”. I put these in inverted commas because in reality neither is as monolithic as it first seems, and a common dialogue between the two should be possible.
In August 2020, I bought an electric bike. After the Covid-19 crisis started, I spent the six months in lockdown rethinking where I wanted to take my career, and writing the draft of a book to be called Sustainable Transitions in Energy. The bike idea came to me about midway through writing this tome, which I realised would become one of many doorstopper tomes that everyone feels is worthy and no-one actually reads. My e-bike journey is at a very early stage (see the separate blog on easywheeling.com) but I thought it was important to take a stand by trying to go electric.
The Covid-19 crisis persuaded everyone I knew that they had been right all along ! It was like the mirror in the fairytale that told you only what you wanted to hear.
Aspirant Greens saw the collapse of the fossil fuel house of cards as energy demand plummeted and renewables took over. Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry retrenched as it always does, shedding staff to deal with prices that were half what they had enjoyed before the crash, but confident that market mechanisms would see a revival of oil and gas demand over time.
My goal now is, as it was at the start, to explain the industry inside and out, to the best of my ability. But I want to do this through talking with people, not about technologies, but what motivates them — that mysterious thing called “purpose” that reflects our humanity, and makes us so much more than the statistical noise that economists use in their model. I am deeply aligned with Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics, and I see the energy industry as a vehicle serving the needs and (often irrational) choices of people and communities.
This website is more extensive than I had originally planned, but it’s not because I have teams of people working for me. I have just drawn on the many materials I put out during my career as a journalist and analyst. But I hope it conveys my passion for the subject. Inevitably, because of the bias towards the large-scale players, it will take a while to develop my focus on people and communities. But it will happen over time. As well as delivering high-quality courses for energy professionals, I am determined to engage as much with communities, schools and even individuals, and to share what I have learned over the last thirty years so that everyone is better informed, I hope I will visit some of you on my electric bike.