Thoughts on the Electoral College, Part I: Voter Eligibility

The Constitution of the United States specifies that the President be selected by electors, not by popular vote.

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress… (Article II, Section 1).

So there is no national uniformity in voter qualification, or in voting methods. Oregon has gone to 100% vote-by-mail. In North Dakota, there is no system of voter registration; voters go to the polls on Election Day, present ID, and vote.

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature. (Article I, Section 2).

This section specifies eligibility to vote in Congressional elections. Again, determination of eligibility is the responsibility of the states, not the Federal government.

Just for grins, let’s say we adopt a pure popular-vote system for electing the President.

Two things happen immediately:

  • The power to name the President devolves to the states with the highest urban concentrations of voters. Smaller and less-densely populated states lose their voice.
  • States could gain power by subverting Federal immigration law and lowering voter qualification standards. (Not that that would ever happen! </sarc>)

In such a system, a vote becomes a commodity, a currency of power, not a transaction between candidate and voter.

Only the biggest mass communication centers get any attention from candidates.

Power is determined by how efficiently and effectively voters can be motivated to vote and corralled to the polls.

How much attention will the 270,000 registered voters in Wyoming receive? Their vote becomes insignificant.

One flaw in our current system is the attention paid to small-state interests when during presidential primary season. The Renewable Fuels Standard, which mandates the use of corn ethanol, is one manifestations this. I hate the RFS, but use it as an example to demonstrate that under an national popular election, only urban and big-state interests (read: CA, TX, NY, IL, FL) will be served.

The Constitution is a contract, voluntarily entered into by states of varying sizes with varying interests. One of the key compromises was the formation of the Senate, in which each state has an equal voice. Absent that compromise, small states had no incentive to ratify. Thirty-seven states have joined and the population has shifted, but the need for balance and equity among the states is the same as it was in 1789.


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Dear Democrats: If my choice is between Elizabeth Warren and a cur dog for President in 2020, the cur dog gets my vote. This is why.

Elizabeth Warren has a plan to save capitalism, by Matthew Yglesias,

Warren wants to create an Office of United States Corporations inside the Department of Commerce and require any corporation with revenue over $1 billion — only a few thousand companies, but a large share of overall employment and economic activity — to obtain a federal charter of corporate citizenship.

The charter tells company directors to consider the interests of all relevant stakeholders — shareholders, but also customers, employees, and the communities in which the company operates — when making decisions.  …

More concretely, United States Corporations would be required to allow their workers to elect 40 percent of the membership of their board of directors.

Emphasis added.

  1. “You had me at ‘Matthew Yglesias.’” Fair enough.
  2. ”We must kill capitalism in order to save it,” he said, without a hint of irony.
  3. A new, massive federal bureaucracy to regulate the public behavior of “only a few thousand companies” (= 80% of GDP). Central planning, here we come.
  4. Who will run the OUSC, and who decides what is in the public interest? Would that person be (unconstitutionally) beyond the reach of the White House, the way Sen. Warren designed the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau?
  5. ”ExxonMobil, we’d like to see you allocating 60% of your capital investment to algae research and solar panels. It’s for the children, mmm-kay?”
  6. ”Koch Industries, you’re in time out, mmm-kay?”
  7. Because labor bosses have historically been tireless fiduciaries for the interests of their workers.
  8. One road to economic equality is called “Dow 5,000”. Liz’s proposal will take us there.

Here we are, scarcely 25 years removed from the fall of the Soviet Union, and we have American politicians openly espousing government control of private corporations.

SMDH, as the young folks say.

I have long sensed that our freedoms are most vulnerable to attack from the collectivist Left, not the Right. Indeed, many apolitical corporatists may go along with such a proposal out of perceived self-interest and a promised coziness with government.

Survival of our freedoms as we know them, should such a policy be pursued? If the over/under is 15 years, I’ll take “under”.

That’s how big a threat I perceive from Liz Warren.


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Thoughts on the Monarchy and Pro Wrestling

On a recent trip across the pond, we shared conversation with a couple from the U.K. Fine folks, actually.

We had toured sites of Christian history dating to the Middle Ages. The conversation turned to today’s low rate of church attendance among Europeans compared to Americans.

The gentleman, a retired software engineer, offered as explanation that, to paraphrase, they’re beyond all that.

Then he asked with more than a little disdain, “We hear that in the States you have a substantial faction that supports teaching Biblical Creation in schools; is that true?”

That’s true, I said, adding that while I don’t agree with teaching Biblical Creation in school, in my mind scientific observation cannot disprove a metaphysical answer to the question, “Why are we here?”

The conversation pretty much ended there.

Since returning Stateside, we’ve endured a barrage of media coverage of the impending nuptials between a pretty American actress, Meghan Markle, and a red-headed fellow named Harry Mountbatten-Windsor. Ms. Markle is the one they invariably call a “commoner”.

The institutions of the monarchy and the peerage assume that it is possible for a person to be worthy of privilege and a higher station by virtue of birth.

At least my Bible-quoting countrymen don’t believe any of that bunk

I’m reminded of the Don King era, when boxing aficionados felt a similar disdain for fans of Professional Wrestling, because Pro Wrestling was so obviously fixed.

Boxing was beyond all that, old chap.


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Belgian Malinois Owners Cry Foul as Bichon Flynn Nabs Best In Show

BRUSSELS (AKC) – Dog owners worldwide expressed outrage over the surprise victory of Flynn, a Bichon Frise, as Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Tuesday night.

Indeed, Belgian Malinois owners seemed to take the news the hardest.

In a prepared statement, Queen Mathilde of Belgium, titular head of the Organization Nationale pour le Chien Exquisite Malinois, said, “We were screwed!”

At a hastily-organized ONCEM press conference, Queen Mathilde produced a dossier of unflattering information about Flynn. Pictures purportedly tie Flynn to several unregistered bitches, including a Louisiana coonhound of unsavory pedigree.

Based on the dossier, the AKC has launched an investigation into suspected collusion between Flynn’s handlers and those of Vlad, the Russian Wolfhound Best-In-Breed. The handlers allegedly spread anti-Malinois stories to judges in the Working Group in an effort to sway their votes.

Malinois owners say it worked. One distraught Arlington, VA-based Malinois owner posted on Facebook, “Bichon Frises (sic) suck, that judge sucks, the Westminster Kennel Club sucks.” His identity is being kept secret in the interest of his safety.

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Tricky Dick and Me

The Friday before Election Day 1972, the Nixon campaign scheduled a last-minute whistle stop rally in a huge hangar at the Tulsa airport. It was my junior year; school let out early, so I hitched a ride home (I thought). My friends thought it would be a great idea to go see the President. Super.

The problem was, the rally was in the late afternoon. Our last football game of the season was that night.

The crowd at the airport was huge. We had to park two miles away and walk to the hangar.

Nov. 3, 1972 – A crowd of 20,000 greeted President Nixon in Tulsa. A huge traffic jam prevented an estimated 10,000 more people from reaching Tulsa International Airport, where he spoke …

In his speech, Nixon promised “a peace with honor” in Vietnam.

A small group of George McGovern supporters attempted to interrupt the speech with chants of “no more Nixon” and “Watergate.” Nixon supporters tried to drown them out with their own chants of “four more years” and the combined noise kept many from hearing the president’s speech.

In the election a few days later, Nixon defeated Sen. McGovern in a landslide. He also carried all 77 counties in Oklahoma by a margin of more than half a million votes …

Being short is a big disadvantage in a large crowd, and it seemed like I was surrounded by a basketball team. To top it off, the place had the acoustics of … well, an airplane hangar.

Never laid eyes on the S.O.B. Never heard a word he said.

Not only that, the rally didn’t matter one whit. The next Tuesday, the Nixon/Agnew ticket rolled to a historic landslide. Before three years passed, both men had resigned in disgrace.

In the football game the night of the rally, we got our asses kicked in a game we should have won. I got on the field for exactly one play, during which I got kicked in the ankle. By the end of the game it looked like a misshapen eggplant.

To this day, I don’t like crowds, I don’t trust politicians, and I’m glad I was never a fanboy.

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Young Earth Creationism & Old Earth Geology

[Note: I made a comment on a blog thread at Perry Marshall’s website, Perry is the author of Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design. He invited me to expand on my remarks relative to oil & gas exploration as applied earth science & earth history. This is a draft of my submission.  SM]

During my 39-year petroleum engineering career, I’ve worked alongside hundreds of geologists and geophysicists, most of whom hold advanced degrees; for most of them, finding new and profitable places to drill is Job #1. An engineer’s job is evaluating them and then making them happen.

Geologic science provides a framework for understanding where petroleum accumulations exist. A skilled geoscientist applies the science, interpreting the data accumulated from thousands of wells in a search for as-yet undiscovered accumulations. The working geologist’s goal is not to publish a paper or to gain professional recognition. His/her goal is to find oil and gas. Feedback is immediate and tangible. For a talented geologist, it can be financially rewarding, too.

A company will risk several million dollars drilling a single new well. Science can’t eliminate the chance of a dry hole, but good science can make the risk manageable.
If tea leaves worked, we would read tea leaves. If dowsing worked, we would dowse. They don’t. Conventional Old Earth geology is the best model for finding oil and gas. Every well drilled is a multi-million dollar bet on that proposition.

In this post I’ll try to explain why.

The Setting

Geologically speaking, the Gulf Coast is the youngest oil and gas producing basin in North America. Its complexities cannot be explained in a blog post. Instead, I will describe how conventional geologic science can be applied to determine correlative relationships among rock layers.

The Gulf of Mexico Basin has received a massive sediment load — 40,000 feet or more in thickness — a product of erosion and sediment transport from the Appalachians to the Rockies over the last 50 million years. Most of the deposition was gradual, and the depositional patterns we observe in the subsurface — including barrier islands, distributary channels, submarine fans — have analogs in present-day land forms.

As the basin fills, faults compensate for the continuously increasing load of sediment. Many faults extend to the surface where their rate of displacement can be observed and measured today. Accumulated rock layers are thicker in the lower “downthrown” fault blocks, hence the name growth faults. One characteristic of growth faults is their “long-term continuous displacement”, to quote Wikipedia. The downthrown side can slide down the fault plane at rates up to 0.4 inches (1 cm) per year relative to upthrown.

fig_1_emad_final_thin_boundary1-1By Emadelfar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Considering the growth fault diagram above, one may wonder how we know that the pink layer on the left corresponds to the thicker, folded pink layer across the fault. Often, that is the challenging part of a geoscientist’s job. Correlating rock layers would be easy if the many layers of sandstone and shale came color-coded, or with growth rings like trees; instead, geologists rely on index fossils to establish time relationships.

The key index fossil for the Tertiary Period is a class of mud-dwelling invertebrate called foraminifera. “Forams” have a hard calcareous shell called a “test”, and each species has a distinctive test that gives a clue to the environment where it flourished while alive.

Forams have trod (?) the earth for the last 500 million years. The succession of species — evolution, some would call it — during the Tertiary Period has been intensively studied and documented by paleontologists. Dozens upon dozens of species make up the recognized sequence.

On critical wells, drill cuttings are examined by a paleontologist, either in a lab or on the rig. At least one firm, Paleodata, Inc. of New Orleans, specializes in analysis of foraminifera and nannoplankton for the oil and gas industry. (Here are Paleodata’s biostratigraphic chart or its government-issued counterpart, both in pdf format. A detail of the second one is reproduced below.)


Detail of BOEM Biostratigraphic Chart of the Gulf of Mexico Offshore Region, Jurassic to Quaternary, Witrock et al (2003). Notations added in red.

During the drilling process, the paleontologist notes the depth of first occurrence of certain foram marker species. The “bug names” have been adopted as the names of the rock layers and also the producing trends associated with them: for example, the Tex W, the Big Hum, the Cris I and the Cib Op are abbreviated names for separate Middle Miocene markers, 11 to 15 million years in age. There are dozens of other Gulf Coast producing trends named for their index fossils, both older and younger than the Middle Miocene.

Not only do the forams indicate timing, they also indicate environment of deposition. Some species were adapted for living in shallow water bays, others for much deeper water. The paleoenvironment can be an important clue for the geoscientist in the search for hydrocarbons.

Conflicts with Young Earth Creation

The Old Earth/Young Earth debate centers on Uniformitarianism, a founding principle of geology (and other sciences): simply stated, “The present is the key to the past.” It means that the basic processes of geology that can be observed in action today — weathering, sedimentation, and fault movement, as examples — were governed by the same physical laws and proceeded at a similar rate in the past as we observe today.

Uniformitarianism is such a threat to the Young Earth proposition that there is a website to debunk it.

The Young Earth concept of earth history seems to fall on a continuum between two endpoints:

  1. God created the heavens and the earth in the form we observe them now, taking 6 earth-days, about 6,000 years ago.
  2. God created the heavens and the earth, taking 6 earth-days 6,000 years ago, and much of what we observe in the geologic record is due to a global flood that happened since that time. Processes which appear to us to be constant (such as the speed of light) have been variable. Scientists have incorrectly assumed these processes to be constant, leading them to conclude that the earth and universe are much older.

I actually have less of a problem with Proposition #1: a Creator of infinite power could do anything, by definition. But if He did so, He didn’t distribute the oil fields randomly. The fields fall in trends that can be understood in the context of a dynamic Mississippi River system and multiple high- and low-sea level cycles. In other words, He distributed oil fields systematically, in a way that requires the study of conventional geologic science to find them.

Why in the world would He do that?

As for Proposition #2, there’s plenty of evidence that it’s just not so. When we drill wells, we measure the physical properties of the rocks we drill through. We can tell a lot about their environment of deposition and speed of deposition. For the most part, deposition is gradual, maybe inches per year. We find evidence of catastrophism in sudden mass-flow events, a lot like mudslide episodes that have been observed in the present, but these events are localized and not global.

A single-year global flood event that deposited thousands of vertical feet of sediment would necessarily leave a poorly sorted, chaotic pile of rocks. It would not leave a series of finely-bedded sandstones and shales, deposited in varying and cyclical water depths, with an orderly succession of invertebrate fossils. We have also observed small-scale “bio”-features, like worm burrows, that would be hard to account for in a Biblical Flood.

Creation Science provides a way to force harmony between modern scientific observations and a literal interpretation of the Genesis account of Creation and its translation into modern English.

What Creation Science lacks is the predictive power of a true science. Of the tens of thousands of wells that have been drilled in the Gulf Coast and offshore, I am not aware of a single well drilled based on a Creation Science concept, ignoring conventional geology.

Believers and their Beliefs

I am a member of a mainstream Christian denomination. A number of my industry colleagues are members of Fundamentalist and Evangelical denominations. I’ve never had occasion to discuss Old Earth vs.Young Earth theories with them, so I have no idea whether or how they reconcile the conflict in their minds.

At work, conventional geology is the lingua franca. It is how we communicate our ideas, how we explain our failures, and how we make our plans to drill the next well.

My beliefs? Genesis reveals our Creator God and His desire to have a relationship with man. He gave man dominion over all the earth, and set lights in the sky so that we could mark the passage of time; for me, that includes the red shift. God gave man curious and discerning minds so that we can understand His creation and thereby benefit mankind. Through this understanding we can come to appreciate the design of creation, the better to know the Creator.


Much of the controversy about origins and earth history involves school curricula. What should we teach our kids?

I’m imagining a two-sided protest placard.


On the other it says, “DRILL, BABY, DRILL!”

Friends, our young people need to learn science, and more importantly, the scientific method.

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Oil, Gas, and the Electoral College

An illustration from my profession, petroleum engineering, might shed some light on the Electoral College, and what the founders were trying to accomplish when they designed it.

So please indulge me. Don’t sweat the details. I promise I’ll keep it understandable and try to make a point.

Welcome to Cowlick County

Oil has been discovered in a remote corner of Cowlick County! In fact, eight wells have been drilled to date: There are five producers making 500 barrels per day total, and three dry holes that define the limits of the oil reservoir.

There are 25 farms of equal size in the vicinity. Each farm is a square tract owned by a different farmer. In the diagram below, green circles represent producing wells, black circles dry holes, and the large green oval delineates the extent of the accumulation.


How lucky for the farmers who own tracts B2, C2, B4, D4 and E4! All the other farmers within the outline can’t wait to have a well on their property, as shown below:

Drill, baby, drill!


The problem is, this scenario benefits no one, as a shiny-pants reservoir engineer has determined that the five original wells are all draining a common supply and should be quite sufficient to recover the estimated 1 million barrels of so-called”primary” reserves. The 14 additional wells simply compete with each other; each additional well guarantees that everyone ends up with a smaller slice of the same-sized pie. But you can hardly blame the owners of B3, C3, D5 et al for wanting a piece of the action.

The reservoir engineer has a better plan


The reservoir is better managed with a secondary recovery project. In this case, a single new well is drilled for purposes of water injection. Water will sweep oil toward producing wells while it maintains high pressure in the reservoir. The producing rates of the wells doubles, and we project that recovery of oil-in-place may be as high as 25%, 2.5x the recovery with no injection.

Pretty fantastic for Farmers B2, C2, B4, D4 and E4, eh, what!

Except that it’s not as easy as all that. Obviously, the owners of the wells can’t just traipse onto land they don’t own, in this illustration Tract C3, and take it over for their own . . . pursuit of happiness.

That’s where Unitization comes in.

In this simplified illustration, it is obviously to the benefit of the landowners (and their oil company lessees), and to the regulatory jurisdiction to cause a water injection project to happen.

Most states enjoy considerable economic benefit, direct and indirect, from oil production, in the form of income and severance taxes. The state’s oil and gas regulatory body (Dept of Natural Resources, Corporation Commission, Railroad Commission, etc.) has rules that are designed to:

  • Protect the resource and optimize its use;
  • Protect the environment;
  • Prevent waste (including preventing unnecessary wells from being drilled).

State rules generally support and sanction a project like the one illustrated above, but the affected landowners must agree on how they are going to split up the “pie”.  Typically a supermajority (~85%) is required to “pool” acreage; that means that owners of 85% of the area within the green outline must agree on how to share costs and revenues. By doing so, they create a larger entity — the Unit — from many smaller pieces. Once formed, each participating tract owner owns an undivided share of the whole.

This process is called “Unitization”. It is designed to balance the disparate interests of parties and to give each a share of the “pie” that can be deemed to be fair.

It works because all parties benefit from an agreement. Absent an agreement, nearly everyone is worse off.

The Formula.

In the illustration, the owners of the tracts where producing wells have been drilled are in the catbird seat. They have a stream of revenue, except that, absent an agreement, that stream is threatened if more drilling happens.

The owners of the undrilled tracts are needed if ever an agreement is to be reached. They need just compensation for not drilling a well.

A typical unit participation formula balances the value of current income against the ownership of the resource. In the example above, Tract E4 had 30% of “current income” but maybe only 5% of the total acreage in the reservoir. A simple formula might weight these factors 20%/80%, resulting in a 10% equity share of a much bigger pie for that tract. (20% of 30% is 6%; 80% of 5% is 4%; total 10%.)

With an agreement, Tract E4 ends up with 10% of 2.5 million barrels, or 250,000 barrels.

With an agreement, non-producing Tract C4 gets 8% of the same pie (20% of 0% plus 80% of 10%). That’s 200,000 barrels, without having to drill a well. Not bad.

So what does that have to do with the Electoral College?

The Electoral College came about in much the same way as an oil unit: Both involve previously separate and distinct entities with disparate, even unique, interests, but each of them perceive it is in their common interest to join forces.

The benefits of joining in union far outweigh any party’s individual benefit of going it alone. That was the deal in 1787; the dynamics work today to balance the interests of small and large states, resource-rich and resource-poor states.

A supermajority is required to reach an agreement. Supermajorities protect the rights of the outnumbered in a democracy. That’s why the Senate has a filibuster. That’s why we don’t amend the Constitution by a simple majority; instead it takes 3/4 of the States.

The Electoral College is not something that merely happened by chance. The Founders were savvy and sophisticated dealmakers. The contract they drafted to form our remarkable union of states has survived the stress of 230 years. Some would call the Constitution an anachronism; I call it a miracle.

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Donald Trump, the Energy President?

This is an excerpt from a blog post I wrote after Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address (emphasis in original):

I keep circling back to the central irony of the Obama Presidency: Obama could have been the Energy President. Clean, responsible North American energy security is within our grasp, and nothing would jump-start our economy faster than to make that commitment. Think Kennedy/Space Program or Nixon/China: every president since Nixon has promised progress on energy, and now, the president in 2012 is in a position to deliver.

But will he?

It would mean making workable compromises with industry. It might mean giving in on ANWR. It might mean telling the anti-development Luddite environmentalists who have loyally backed him to go pound sand. It might mean acknowledging that we’ve been sold an elitist bill of goods in Global Warming. It might mean backtracking on alternative energy giveaways.

Ain’t gonna happen.

Fast-forward to 2016: It didn’t happen. As much as Obama would like to claim credit for energy abundance and cheaper gasoline, the collapse in oil prices has more to do with (excessive) private investment in the shale boom and the Saudi commitment to nip it in the bud.

Judging from Cabinet-level appointments and names being mulled, Donald Trump intends to claim the title of Energy President. Consider:

  • Rex Tillerson at State.
  • Rick Perry at Energy.
  • Ryan Zinke at Interior.
  • Scott Pruitt at EPA.
  • Gen. James Mattis at Defense.

Of these, Interior is key. They set leasing policy on Federal and tribal lands, collect royalties, and regulate safety and permitting for offshore oil. Zinke, from Montana, has supported the Keystone XL pipeline and western coal. Montana is also an oil-producing state. Industry knows how to develop American mineral resources without sacrificing the environment.  Offshore regulation needs to become less oppressive and more pragmatic. Given Zinke’s bio (geologist, MBA, Navy SEAL commander), it’s safe to assume he has the requisite leadership skills.

Why is Defense important? The Army Corps of Engineers regulates the nation’s wetlands and waterways. Permit approvals are notoriously slow. A take-charge SecDef could patiently explain to the Corps the urgency of this task; I’m fairly sure they’ll see things Mad Dog’s way. There’s also the stalled Dakota Access Pipeline, which would bring 500,000 barrels of Bakken crude to refineries in the Midwest, replacing more expensive (and dangerous) rail transport.

The Keystone XL pipeline was hung up at State before Obama unilaterally nixed it. Trump really doesn’t need Tillerson on board (as if that were a hurdle); State’s authority derives from an Executive Order, which President Trump may choose to reverse using his phone and pen.

Energy has already had a shot fired across their bow. Good luck on the follow-through, Mr. Perry. And Mr. Pruitt is set to spoil EPA’s picnic with the green groups.

Beyond that, what could President Trump do?

Open ANWR, for starters. Alaskan North Slope production has declined steadily to about 450,ooo barrels a day (down from almost 2 million bpd at its peak). Without more North Slope drilling, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System throughput will decline to its critical minimum — about 200,000 barrels a day — in just a few years. (Graph below.)


As much as government can do to provide a less-hostile environment for energy development, investment (read: oil and gas drilling) will not happen unless and until operators perceive firm prices, now and in the future. Prices have run up lately, partly due to OPEC restraint. If we spur domestic development, that will be bearish for prices. Oil being a global market, there is little government can do to affect prices. But …

Trump (or at least Trump’s rhetoric) is unafraid of import tariffs. A tariff would offer domestic producers a price advantage over imports. As a conservative, I don’t like the idea, but with this guy, nothing would surprise me.

As a candidate, Trump showed that he understood the quick positive impact domestic energy development has on a region (Ohio, as one example). He obviously sees domestic energy as a tool for kicking a lethargic domestic economy in the backside.

All of a sudden, the greenies, watermelons, and whack jobs who oppose every pipeline and frack job will find themselves playing defense in a multi-front war, straining their capacity to resist. Stay tuned.

[Originally published 12/13/16. Remarks revised & extended 12/17/16. Crossposted.]

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Teats on a Bull

Willis Eschenbach is my favorite writer at You really need to read his latest, “The DOE vs. Ugly Reality”.

It seems the Washington Post has the vapors over a letter that the Trump transition team sent to the Department of Energy. In it, the Trump team asks 74 probing questions of the agency, asking it to clarify such things as

  • the role of DOE staff and scientists in the climate debate;
  • DOE’s controversial “green energy” loan program;
  • redundancy in programs at the national labs;
  • Congressional authorization for staff and programs;
  • politicization of the Energy Information Agency (EIA), the primary data-gathering and reporting arm of DOE;

and so on.

If this is typical of the level of scrutiny that all the departments will undergo, it’s a wonderful thing.

Obama’s Fiscal Year budget for DOE is $32.5 billion. You can find out how they spend it, if you are patient enough to cut through the bureaucratese, here.

Jimmy Carter created the Department of Energy in 1977, largely as a response to the second Arab oil embargo and a perceived shortage of natural gas. I graduated college in 1978 with a degree in petroleum engineering and have been engaged in the oil and gas business ever since. It may come as a surprise to the lay reader that the DOE plays almost no role in regulating the domestic oil and gas industry. (That role largely belongs to the Department of the Interior.)


It’s not that DOE doesn’t do important things. Some 20% of their budget goes toward cleaning up the nation’s Cold War-vintage environmental mess at Hanford WA, Savannah River SC and other places. The EIA is a great repository of energy statistics (a soon to be an apolitical one).

We also have to thank the DOE’s labs for the compact fluorescent light bulb and the mandate for dimmer clocks on our microwave ovens.

Ultimately, Jimmy Carter’s Energy Crisis was solved by the private sector. DOE labs participated with research and helped with seed money in the early days of shale drilling, but the credit for success belongs overwhelmingly to the private sector.

The oil and gas private sector has been under repeated economic stress. Thanks to price-driven boom-and-bust cycles, with severe busts in 1986, 1992, 1999, 2008 and 2014-16.

But as a government bureaucracy, the DOE’s growth has been steady throughout. In DC, 6% annual budget growth is a baseline, less than that is considered a cut.

It is high time that a government agency have to answer the questions facing the private sector every day.

  • Is what you are doing authorized?
  • Is it justified?
  • Is it redundant with another program, inside our agency or outside?
  • Is it critical to our mission?


Of course the Washington Post is offended. Unchecked government bureaucracy is the Capitol region’s primary economic driver. I am highly encouraged that the Trump team is asking the right questions.


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BREAKING: USGS Did Not “Discover” 20 Billion Barrels of Oil in West Texas.

Oil and gas can only be discovered with a drill bit, and credit for the discovery goes to the entrepreneurs who risked private capital to make it happen.

The USGS hasn’t “discovered” sh*t. They compiled data from industry sources and estimated how much oil, gas, and gas liquids might be technically recoverable once drilled. Good work, but not a discovery.

The Geological Survey press release is accurate and fact-filled. Apparently the notion of “discovery” was created by journalists, then parroted by bloggers.

The Wolfcamp shale in the Midland Basin portion of Texas’ Permian Basin province contains an estimated mean of 20 billion barrels of oil, 16 trillion cubic feet of associated natural gas, and 1.6 billion barrels of natural gas liquids, according to an assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey. …

(emphasis added)

That’s a world-class resource, on the order of the Alaskan North Slope. I’ll summarize the technical points of the press release:

      • The Wolfcamp Shale is not new. Operators have been producing vertical Wolfcamp wells since the 1980s.
      • More recently, operators have recognized a thick shale/tight sand sequence in the Wolfcamp/Spraberry (“Wolfberry”) geologic formations as a target for horizontal wells. More than 3,000 have been drilled.
      • USGS pencil pushers for the first time have compiled a comprehensive assessment of the resource. (I don’t use “pencil pusher” in a pejorative sense; I’m one of them.)
      • The estimate covers a wide range of possible outcomes. The mean (average) of those estimates is the 20 billion barrels reported. Could be more, could be less, probably by a wide range; it is a SWAG.
      • Importantly, “The Wolfcamp shale is also present in the Delaware Basin portion of the Permian Basin province, but was not included in this assessment.” So, more to come.

Conspicuously absent from the release is an estimate for the number of wells and the total cost of proving up this potential resource. (Hint: It’s a lot.)

President Obama famously (and repeatedly) said things like:

The United States consumes more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but we only have 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves — 20 percent we use; we only produce 2 percent.* And no matter what we do, it’s not going to get much above 3 percent. So we’re still going to have this huge shortfall.

The president’s declaration misled because the distinction between “reserves” and “resources” is technical but significant. (Just ask the Washington Post if you don’t believe me.) Similarly, the difference between “discovered” and “assessed” matters, and it grates me to see any government agency assigned credit for a private accomplishment. Note also that credit goes to American independent companies, not “Big Oil”.

They did build that.

*  Wrong on a second count. The U.S. is one of the top 3 producers of oil. Domestic production accounts for 10% of global production.

Cross-posted at

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