Tag Archives: business

Oil Industry Investments Rapidly Becoming Uneconomic

My letter to The Southland Times published in today’s paper:


I heartily agree with Richard Soper [October 29] that Environment Southland is “not a green pressure group”.

Clearly that label cannot apply either to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund, etc.

Oil is rapidly becoming an uneconomic option and divestment is actually the prudent economic decision.

Responsible institutional investors globally are weighing the evidence and making the choice on an economic and moral basis.

Right now, the oil industry is being driven to a crisis point by the combination of restricted cash flow due to depressed oil prices, and declining return on investment from (ever harder to access) new reserves.

Well before the current low prices prevailed, oil majors were issuing profit warnings, and performing desperate accounting manoeuvres such as share buy-backs to sustain their investor’s yields.

BP, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Saudi Arabia, are all in major trouble, with investors calling for capital restraint. Witness also the fracking ponzi schemes unravelling in the USA, where investors promised high returns have been continuously disappointed.

Additionally, the global economy appears to be sinking further into a deflationary spiral, which may well serve to depress oil prices further, worsening the crisis as noted recently by Goldman Sachs.

The coming oil supply crisis that this inevitably leads to is a major risk to our entire economy here in New Zealand. Investing in risk reduction in this context, preparing our community for an energy and capital constrained future, would be a far better use of our capital.

This would show they are taking the welfare of our children, and our children’s children seriously.

Nathan Surendran

Here’s the fully referenced version: http://bit.ly/1XNyPFt

Here’s hoping Environment Southland and Venture Southland take note…

And here’s an image to accompany the letter which reinforces my case that any industry cannot do well with declining productivity of capital on the scale the oil industry is currently seeing, making it a BAD INVESTMENT…

oil - capex vs production

We desperately need to get serious as a community, nation and species, about the need to leave oil before it leaves us!


Leave a comment

Filed under What, When, Where, Why

The religion of ‘economic growth’ – where is it leading us?

‘sustained economic recovery’? Not by any sane assessment. Printing money is illegal at home for good reason. The same ought to be true of QE, as it has a worse effect, even just considering its scale, but also as the ‘trickle down’ effect that the policy is predicated on (in theory, restarting banks lending to SME’s) is clearly not real (http://bit.ly/1lQRv6r), and worsens inequality (http://bit.ly/TNgZqn). And never mind that we’re all indebted up to our eyeballs, and the SME’s and general public have no appetite for further indebtedness…

Public confidence is an illusion, as is control, and will evaporate sooner or later, as the ability to direct and manage the financial crisis with ‘more of the same’ thinking is shown to be unsustainable. “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

I wouldn’t wish the obvious challenges of the next term of government on my worst enemy. The sooner we accept growth is dead, and there is a fundamental shift under way, the better for everything and everyone. It’ll become obvious in the next few years to even the dullest of career politicians, lets just hope it galvanises them into asking the right fundamental questions. I feel these are:

Q1 – Why do we need growth? A: To service interest payments on money lent into existence as debt. http://bit.ly/1rfcumz

Q2 – Why is the economy moribund? A: Because we’ve hit diminishing returns on capital and energy in many spheres, as the expansion in economic activity and natural resource throughput of the last couple of centuries bumps up against planetary boundaries. http://bit.ly/1qhWoXB

Q3 – What is a realistic view of the future? A: De-growth of economic activity, energy consumtion, natural resource exploitation rates, population, until we get back inside the sustainable capacity of the planet. http://bit.ly/1qhWluX and http://bit.ly/1z69MSK


It’s the basic maths of (exponential) growth, and people shouldn’t be allowed to govern nations until they’ve externalised this basic and fundamental concept: http://bit.ly/1rfc6Ve or review the talk given by Professor Albert Bartlett here: http://bit.ly/1vtJk0L

Not convinced? Further resources worth a look:

  • Limits to Growth–At our doorstep, but not recognized: http://bit.ly/1sVx3X0 – I’d actually recommend all Gail Tverberg’s writing at her blog ‘Our Finite World’ http://bit.ly/1qDeFgB
  • The Next Global Meltdown Is Baked In: Connecting the Dots Between Oil, Debt, Interest Rates and Risk: http://bit.ly/1m6WvmW



So what about positive alternatives, Nathan..?

The lower net energy future that we’re looking at makes certain activities more or less worthwhile, notwithstanding the probable disruption coming due to shortages in fundamental needs, primarily food (http://bit.ly/1pUDHHi) and water (http://bit.ly/1lxmYpr).

Do I think all growth in economic output is bad? No. Southland as a region has to grow in some respects, as we will have to provide more for ourselves going forward, if we want to sustain a human presence in the province. This will be a result of ever more expensive transportation costs. In a practical sense, the seas will again expand (http://bit.ly/1pI2Eu1), but also the effort for the trip to Dunedin, or even Invercargill… As we look to a more local future, we’ll recognise more the inter-dependence with our closer neighbours, and we’ll have to reconfigure food and water supplies, finance, business, politics to suit this new reality. It’s why I’m interested in the Transition Towns movement: http://bit.ly/1iSSfsq, and Transition Engineering: http://bit.ly/transitionengineering and why I support the Wise Response appeal: http://bit.ly/wiseresponse, submitted to parliament, which posits that:

A risk assessment is the first step in determining the nature, urgency and interrelationship between potential threats to New Zealand’s future economic social and environmental security. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2014 report is an example of such an assessment. A report for New Zealand would provide a firm basis from which to engage the public and businesses in identifying practical ways to respond.

This petition therefore calls on Parliament as a whole to see funds allocated for an assessment of NZ’s critical risks in 5 key areas:
1. Economic / Financial Security: the risk of a sudden, deepening, or prolonged financial crisis.
2. Energy and Climate Security: the risk of continuing our heavy dependence on fossil fuels.
3. Business Continuity: the risk exposure of all New Zealand business, including farming, to a lower carbon economy.
4. Ecological / Environmental Security: the risks in failing to genuinely protect both land-based and marine ecosystems and their natural processes.
5. Genuine Well-Being: the risk of persisting with a subsidised, debt-based inequitable economy, preoccupied with maximising consumption and GDP.

I made a recent submission to the Venture Southland draft business plan 2014 (http://bit.ly/1lxqCQb), outlining what I feel are some alternatives to the directions the region is currently looking:


Page 7
Relating to: statement that “significant growth opportunities” exist.
● Given: Vision and Mission Statement
● Given: increased environmental impacts from ‘growth’ at odds with the Vision and Mission statement
● Question: Does VS believe that ‘growth’ in the commonly accepted ‘GDP increase’ from increased levels of economic activity (which automatically creates increased throughput of natural capital and therefore increasing environmental impacts) is actually desirable?

Pages 16-20
Relating to: “Major Initiative: International Marketing Alliances”
● Missing category of potential migrants is people looking to relocate to an area with the following characteristics:
○ Non­nuclear (serious question marks exist over decommissioning of commercial nuclear power plants in a high price oil future ­ e.g. no long term waste storage facilities currently fully commissioned, anywhere in the world).
○ Low population density and high food production capacity.
○ Projected to be less affected (low lying coastal areas excluded) by global warming than most other parts of the world.
○ Abundant fresh water resources ­ huge catchment area above the plains, and natural storage in the lakes.
● Market to them on the basis of the above advantages. The people who are aware of these factors and have a desire to relocate are likely to be of a desirable demographic (affluent, educated, motivated to help with transition to a lower carbon, more strongly sustainable economy).
○ Idea: why not create a strategic plan for encouraging new sustainable communities with similar characteristics to http://bit.ly/1om4rRJ

Pages 21­-23
Relating to: “Major Initiative: Rural Community Engagement”
● Community owned distributed power capacity ­ wood gasification, with short rotation coppice, biogas, etc. Leverage global open source initiatives such as http://bit.ly/1mMFNp4 ­ can be locally manufactured ­ job creation… Would also provide an alternative and probably cost effective alternative to the existing renewables proposals. There will be significant manufacturing capacity available when the smelter winds down.
● Further reading: ‘Power from the People’ http://bit.ly/1lQCXE7 -­ I have a copy for loan.
● Link this to the marketing to the demographic mentioned in my previous comment. Why can’t Southland Market itself of the basis of the highest number / density of off grid settlements in the world? It’d save on all the grid infrastructure maintenance that must be a significant proportion of the standing charges rural communities pay. Do the maths on whether this makes sense.

Pages 24-­26
Relating to: “Major Initiative: Events Promotion and Development”
● Given Southland’s geographic location and rising energy / transportation costs, this should be viewed from the perspective of community building around ‘worthwhile’ activities based on what will be affordable from an energy / travel perspective in the longer term ­ in this light, the ‘crank it up’ day is probably the most worthwhile event in Southland…

Pages 27-­29
Relating to: “Major Initiative: Land­use opportunities”
● I’m a founder of Love Local ­ a charitable trust, set up to provide locally sourced fruit and vegetables from the
○ Opportunity: create a food hub or hubs for Southland on a ‘not for profit’ (or ‘for benefit’ as it’s more appropriately termed) basis, to provide a direct grower to market pipeline that can bring small / medium size local producers into the market.
○ Opportunity: Use the blueprint designs from the likes of Open Source Ecology http://bit.ly/1w0LJSE as the basis for a local manufacturing industry geared to supplying the needs of these small scale farmers. Many other tools for low carbon agriculture exist which could be locally fabricated. There will be significant manufacturing capacity available when the smelter winds down.
○ Further reading: the blog posts I’m writing on behalf of Love Local for the sustainablesouthland.co.nz website. To date: http://bit.ly/LLSustSthlndBlog1, http://bit.ly/LLSustSthlndBlog2, with more in draft.
● Why not look into Bamboo and Hemp as well, both have huge potential for the local economy and a large, existing export market for products that local industries could adapt to service: sawmills for bamboo, bamboo and hemp as a biomass coppice source for biomass energy projects (higher biomass production per acre by far than forestry, and a lot faster to realise a return).

Sorry if these comments are a bit rushed / terse. I didn’t realise this was out for comment in time to put more effort into it. I hope the above is helpful!

Sincerely, Nathan

I’m speaking to my submission on the 14th. It’s a public meeting. Want to have some discussion on this..? Call me or come along: 03 221 7487 – the meeting is at the Venture Southland offices at 143 Spey Street in Invercargill, and submission hearings start from 1pm for an hour and a half.




Filed under How, What, When, Where, Who, Why