• David Beaulieu

The End of Fossil Fuels?

It might be the case that the fossil fuel industry is moving into a new phase of inevitable decline. Many are speculating that we've seen the peak in demand for oil, that it occurred in 2019, and that going forward the industry will steadily, even abruptly decline. It seems too much to wish for, at least for those of us deeply worried about carbon emissions, but the evidence of the industry's problems is considerable, and a recent Sierra Club article didn't hesitate to announce "The End of Oil Is Near":


I have my doubts about that, and I wonder if there isn't a fair amount of wishful thinking here, as the author, Antonia Juhasz, is not only a journalist but a very committed environmental activist. Still, she makes a strong case. Given the dramatically decreasing prices of renewable energy, especially solar and wind, and the decade-long divestment campaign against the fossil fuel industry, demand for oil has plummeted. That, coupled with what looks like an addiction to non-stop production, has led to a price drop from $148 a barrel in 2008 to around $60 in late 2019. With the Covid-19 recession/depression, the price briefly dropped to below zero, though it has now stabilized at around $40/B. Small producers, those involved in fracking, for example, aren't profitable unless the price per barrel is at least $50, and many have gone out of business. The major oil companies are in a much stronger position to weather the storm, but they have declined dramatically in profit and value in recent years. Earnings fell at Chevron, Shell, and Exxon by an average of 58% from 2012 to 2017, and by the end of 2019 the fossil fuel industry was dead last among major investment sectors.

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