The rise of news blogging sometimes creates a sense that the revenge of the nerds is on us. Blogs tend to highlight “nerdish” qualities – a tunnel-vision focus on particular subjects, and an obsessive attention to detail. Those characteristics seem like a neat fit with the subject of energy, which is full of complex arguments and counter-intuitive truths. It is also followed by industry readers and enthusiasts alike, many of whom are passionate about their chosen subjects and willing to send spreadsheets into battle to defend their views.
One of the best things about editing Energy Source, the FT’s energy and environment blog, since it was launched last February has been hearing back from its intelligent and engaged readership and the sense of community this creates.
A blog also offers flexibility. In traditional print journalism, the news is largely told in lightning flashes: pegged to events, each of which must stand alone and fit in limited space. A blog, by contrast, allows its writers to return to a subject and explore it further, to add context and background, and to dedicate as much or as little space to the story as it needs. It also allows us to be fast and iterative, such as when Carola Hoyos, chief energy correspondent, blogged the historic Iraqi oil development auctions in June.
That quality also came to the fore during the Copenhagen climate conference in December. Much media coverage focused on the so-called Danish draft, a leaked draft agreement that – to believe much of the reporting at the time – had been hatched to allow rich countries to stitch up poorer neighbours and continue their polluting ways.
The truth was more complex, as explained in a series of posts by Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent. They gave Energy Source readers a much better sense of the role of the Danish text, why it had suddenly attracted coverage, and the real reasons why the positions of developed and developing countries would ultimately prove so difficult to reconcile.
Both the news media and financial markets thrive on generating narratives to explain the world. A great advantage of a blog is its ability to identify and expand on those narratives at their earliest stages.
One of our most interesting themes has been “peak demand” – the idea that demand for oil will actually peak before supply does. We began exploring the issue via a February 2009 paper by Peter Hughes.
Since then we’ve seen the launch of a peak demand-themed investment fund and comments on the subject from BP chief executive Tony Hayward and Deutsche Bank analysts.
Attention grew to the point that even Opec became privately concerned about falling demand in developed countries – and when it accidentally tipped its hand to journalists in a presentation slide, our commodities reporter, Javier Blas, had the photographic evidence on Energy Source within hours.
Another theme has been the growing interest in natural gas, after new technology began to open up large domestic reserves in the US.
One of the many outcomes of this is that the relatively fragmented industry there has tried to increase its lobbying power, particularly in respect of its low emissions compared with coal.
Sheila McNulty, our Houston correspondent, has reported how that argument has gained ground. But as Ed Crooks pointed out in October, while natural gas is better than coal, it is by no means as low-carbon as nuclear power or renewables.
Whether the shale revolution will take hold in other parts of the world remains to be seen.
We haven’t always predicted developments well in advance. We did observe a growing scepticism, even in some unexpected places, about whether human activity had contributed to climate change, through the increasing use of the acronym “AGW” (anthropogenic global warming).
But following the hacking and publication of the so-called “climategate” e-mails, the strength of reaction against the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and climate science in general in recent months has come as a surprise.
But most of all, it has been exciting to be in the middle of a group of writers and readers so fascinated by their subject. Energy is a vast topic but it is not a big priority for many general news outlets and the energy blogosphere (with the exception of a few sites, mostly focused on peak oil) is still relatively young compared with sites dealing with, say, economics or technology.
Finally, the blog allows us to pose questions instead of claiming to have all the answers. In our end of year posts, instead of presenting a “best of”, or our forecasts for 2010, we posed the biggest 10 questions for 2010 for both hydrocarbons, and climate change and clean tech.
Some of the answers are already unfolding and our second year looks like being even more interesting than the first.
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