Changes Planned to ‘The Oil Drum’

As many readers know, I write for The Oil Drum, a website about Energy and Our Future. The Oil Drum is currently undertaking changes in content and in how the staff are organized. I was not part of the group developing the changes, but I would like to offer my second-hand perspective. Let me start first with two things that I see as impetus for change: (1) Changing External Situation and (2) Internal Organizational Issues.

Changing External Situation

One of the issues that seems to be driving the change is the fact that the peak oil in conventional oil production is more and more in the rear view mirror. Because of this, we are getting increasingly close to the situation where serious disruptions may start taking place. In addition, it is becoming more and more certain that there is no way of fixing the situation that will allow us to maintain our current lifestyles.

The question becomes, “What should The Oil Drum write about?” Writing more and more about what may be ahead, when this situation may be quite bleak, alienates a lot of readers and may lead to rash actions by a few. But writing about proposed solutions, as if they will work, when there is serious doubt about this by many staff members is not really an acceptable approach either.

The approach that seems to have been selected to solve this dilemma is to narrow the focus of the site–although I am not sure how much narrowing will take place in practice. The view seems to be that if the site sticks to analytical posts about energy, it can stay out of difficult questions, such as whether a collapse might occur and what readers should do to prepare.

Internal Organizational Issues

On a site such The Oil Drum, nearly everyone would like a say in decision-making. Many have thought that I have had too much power. My power was actually considerably less than what one might expect based on the wording of the Oil Drum staff member listing–with me being the only one listed as Editor of the main web site–because The Oil Drum is really a subsidiary of Institute for Study of Energy and Our Future (ISEOF). The board of ISEOF oversees the operation of The Oil Drum, so I received a fair amount of direction from board members regarding what types of posts to run, including advice on some individual posts. I also have had the assistance of an assistant editor, who helped me particularly with guest posts.

This organization has had some difficulties. For one thing, it was difficult to turn down problem posts from staff members, unless the problem was really egregious. The most I could do was help the author improve the proposed post.

I don’t think there was ever any real intent to have only one person listed as editor–it just happened that way, as other people had less time, or didn’t want that much responsibility.

Now other Oil Drum staff members would like more “say” in what posts are accepted. Some feel that I have been writing too many posts (even if editors have always had to write a certain number of administrative-type posts). Some think that some posts by staff members are not of adequate quality, and there has not been a good way of turning those posts down. Some do not like particular types of posts (news related posts, or interviews, or transcribed videos, or reports on conferences). And as mentioned previously, there is the belief that the scope of the site needs to be narrowed somewhat, in view of where we are now relative to peak oil.

The New Plan

The new plan was developed by a group of people, including Nate Hagens (an ISOEF board member), SuperG (another ISOEF member), Euan Mearns and others. I was not included in the group. Leanan has been an endorser of the plan. There has been at least one previous attempt at reorganization, which never was implemented, so the idea of reorganization has been discussed for a long time.

The plan is to run only “higher quality” posts. How “higher quality” is defined is a sticking point, since nearly everyone seems to have a different view. As I understand the situation, the decision as to what is a higher quality post will be left open to the individual editor.

The plan would require staff members to submit proposed articles to a board of eight (or nine) editors, including me. Each editor will be able to vote to accept or reject a post. There are rules as to how many votes are required for acceptance, and how many votes are needed for rejection (a smaller number than for acceptance), and what happens in the case of a “tie”. I understand there will also be a box to write in suggested changes.

It is expected that there will be fewer posts published each week, partly because of the narrowed range of Oil Drum content, and partly because posts which are not considered “higher quality” would be rejected.

I understand that there will also be a paid staff member who will monitor the comment thread and have some other responsibilities.

I understand that at some point, Leanan is planning to cut back on the number of days per week that she will do Drumbeat. The plan is that on Monday through Friday, some type of content will be provided–either Drumbeat or a new post, but not necessarily both.

My reactions

I will have to admit that I have been less than happy about the proposed changes. This kind of change is difficult for those involved in the process.

I hope that content will not be cut back too much. It is easy to try to target some imaginary “higher level” reader, but it seems to me that The Oil Drum needs to have posts for real world people, too.

Furthermore, all posts don’t need to be “innovative”. We need to build some redundancy into the system, so that readers who miss major information in a post two years ago aren’t permanently cut off from those ideas.

I expect that more staff members, including myself, will have their own blogs, and The Oil Drum will publish, some, but not all, of these posts. There is an advantage to this, because even now, there are topics The Oil Drum does not write about.

A big part of what makes The Oil Drum special is the willingness of staff members to share information and to work together on posts. I would not like to lose this.

I think The Oil Drum is important, and I have said I will continue to try to make it work. So I hope the new system can be worked out, even though I didn’t have a part in putting it together.

About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to inadequate supply.
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23 Responses to Changes Planned to ‘The Oil Drum’

  1. dan allen says:

    Hi Gail.

    Your analysis has been BY FAR the most helpful to me of all energy/economic stuff I’ve read during my ‘education’ over the past several years. Although I’ve cringed a bit at some of (what I felt to be) your pro-industry leanings, on the whole you’re stuff is the best around. You, Kunstler, Foss, Martenson, and Heinberg are the cream of the crop.

    Best of luck & I look forward to more ‘education’ from you.

    Thanks!! – Dan :-)

  2. Fred Magyar says:

    Hi Gail,

    Despite my occasional differences with you, mainly stemming from our rather different world views, I very much respect what you do and hopefully will continue to do with raising awareness about peak oil.

    I will bookmark your blog as well.

    A heartfelt thank you!

    Fred Magyar

  3. Gail,

    Thanks for the detailed information on the changes and for your tact in presenting them. I appreciate the huge effort you have put forth to keep The Oil Drum going over the last couple of years. The regulars at TOD have built a true community and your posts have been a very important part of bringing all these people together.

    Personally, I look forward to a little more focus on the analytical side. But I hope we get to read your prescient thoughts on economics on a regular basis.

    Best Regards,

    Jon

  4. Engineer Earl says:

    I have always appreciated your articles — I thought your analyses and questions were insightful.

    I agree that the time of peak oil is here, and maybe peak gas and peak coal are close behind. So I have looked for a site which discusses proposed solutions, including what individuals can do. Alas, it seems that there is way too much pessimism out there as the “doomers” tend to dominate.

    I am more optimistic, and I think that we can adjust with some prudent effort. Even if our energy usage were to decline by say, 90% (using only renewables), I think we could order our society and economy so that our lives would generally be happy and fulfilled. Maybe even, in some areas, better than what we have currently.

  5. Bryan says:

    Gail,

    As an outsider and onlooker reading Oildrum since 2005 (when Katrina struck) I am worried about content control on Oildrum. It is a diversity of voices and perspectives that drew me there in the first place.

    The site should maintain a sense of diverse perspectives, a clash of discourses, if it is to maintain its broad appeal.

    yours,
    Bryan

    • I agree with your concern about keeping a diversity of voices and perspectives. That is a concern I have too.

      When The Oil Drum started, it started with two professors–one of whom was a political science professor and one of whom was a professor of mining engineering. Their views were very different. The plan was to bring together people from a wide range of disciplines, to discuss a difficult subject. The problem in doing this is getting adequate balance-some felt that my views were getting to be heard too strongly, and also that they should have veto power over the content.

      I don’t really know how much change will happen as the plan is actually implemented. It may be that the changes that are implemented are mostly toward trying to restore balance. To me, the site gets to be awfully boring, if its focus gets to be too narrow.

  6. Craig Crosby says:

    Hi Gail.

    TOD has been an important resource to me, directing me through items posted to new sites and interesting materials concerning the oil industry in general, and peak oil in particular. I have been appreciative of the variety of views, and until recently the blend of philosophies with little acrimony, unlike the political posts on so many other sites.

    Over time readership, and responses, have grown to the point that, today, it is difficult to keep up with a single day’s Drumbeat.

    I will continue to follow TOD and will be adding your blog to my list of regulars. Thank you for your very knowledgable contributions and for all of the time and effort you have devoted to TOD.

    Zaphod42

  7. phil harris says:

    Dear Gail
    As a one-off contributor and occasional ‘commenter’, thank you for the enormous effort and the breadth of your contribution to The Oil Drum.
    A personal thank you.
    Phil

  8. smallhat says:

    As one of the great mass that was totally ignorant of Peak Oil prior to a chance visit to TOD, I and my most valuable persons may eventually owe you and TOD a debt we cannot repay…

    I found the comments to be as important to my education as the original articles and posts, because it provided opinion and additional information filtered through the eyes of professionals and experts, giving me a perspective on much of this information that I could never have determined on my own. Even the critics and trolls added value by refining my ability to analyze and understand …

    If your personal inputs move to this blog, so be it… we will follow.

    Thank you.

    Ken

  9. Kye Bay says:

    Thanks Gail for your important contribution and for being a calm voice of reason.

  10. eric says:

    Thanks, Gail: no doubt I speak or many others who read TOD regularly and rarely if ever post comments. I’ve been reading TOD for five years now, and you have ever been a voice of reason. I can’t quite follow the internal politics of the shift you describe, but I hope that TOD does continue to be a place where we can go for thoughtful discussion of the major energy problems we are now beginning to have to contend with. Anyway, thanks a lot!

    eric

  11. Paul Stahnke says:

    Gail,

    Thank you so much for your efforts. I have always counted on your steady voice to clarify. As one poster put…”I am getting sick and tired of how how many joules can fit on the head of a pin”.

    Your ideas always rest upon people, with a firm link to facts/data. In other words, the numbers of energy mean bugger all without the link to our lives and the changes we may face. That is what you have provided. Just today I forwarded on to a colleague one of your past efforts on the economy and credit.

    I have bookmarked this site.

    Thanks again.

    Paulo

  12. Scott Englert says:

    Gail –

    As others have posted before me, thank you so much for all you and the other contributors to TOD have done to open so many eyes to the inseparable conundrum of energy and financial problems we currently face. I’ve never seen another site that can so often weave its way through very in-depth technical discussions and arguments that are reminiscent of grade-schoolers going after each other (and then somehow managing to pull it back together again all in the same thread).

    Again, as others have said, I would consider this is one of the few truly important sites ond the internet. Good luck with whatever direction you and others take it – my partner (a geology professor who uses a lot of TOD content for “educational” purposes) and I will continue to follow TOD no matter what direction it chooses to follow in the future – in return for the site having radically changed our world view and providing a lens through which to view nearly every world event, we’ll remain close followers of whatever format or content the organization decides to provide.

    Cheers,

    Catskill

  13. K. O'Brien says:

    Hey Gail,

    I haven’t been able to post on TOD for quite some time (supposedly a technical glitch, but have no trouble with any other site on the web), but still check it regularly because it is a valuable resource. These changes will make it less so, in my estimation, for it was the broadening combined with a relatively high quality of comments that has kept TOD relevant. Just energy? Then other sites will do and there will be no reason to come to TOD unless one needs a tech answer on something. How often does that happen?

    Interestingly, I think you are a bit of a poster child for what has made TOD such a valuable resource. 1. I agree that you have been a little pro-industry, 2. find some of your posts a little light in quality and style, 3. I assumed your volume meant there weren’t enough contributions rolling in and 4. I generally find that your contributions, because of 1. above, help keep the breadth of input balanced. We all decide for ourselves what is dreck and what is useful, but if the information/point of view is not there to be taken in, balance cannot be maintained.

    I agree with you about most of your concerns. The idea that TOD would ratchet back and narrow down boggles the mind. Must not be any permaculurists on board because we need whole systems approaches and can only do that with information reflective of the whole system.

    Such a change is all the more confusing because the tech side of things will actually become less relevant over time. Mitigation and adaptation are where our focus must shift to, and neither of those can be addressed solely in terms of energy. These changes will likely make TOD much less relevant to the discussion which will reduce traffic. If traffic reduces, the comments will likely become less active, and as another person pointed out, the comments are as valuable as the posts in many ways.

    Oh well.

    • Check with SuperG if you are having trouble posting. There are even a few situations where one of the editors blocked someone because of some perceived offense–I know a few blocks were made without a lot of careful thought in the deluge of comments after the oil spill.

  14. K. O'Brien says:

    In relation to 2. above, I meant to add that I have simply always taken that as evidence that TOD wasn’t staffed solely by a bunch of Ivory Tower-esque, polished writers with not much to say, but a gift for saying it, but also by some real, everyday people who happened to have some useful insight into a massively important topic and enough skill to put coherent thoughts into the public domain.

    Bradford? Now, that’s a fellow needs an editor…

  15. joe says:

    As one of the most provocative commenters(IMHO),
    I believe I’ve been censored a number of times but not by you, Gail to your credit.
    There is always a choice to be made either of turning a forum into a one-way soapbox or a two-way dialogue. You were very good at doing the latter.
    When they ask you back as editor-in-chief, ask that they pay….YOU.

    Majorian

  16. Lee Wells says:

    I would like to see more posts on…….moving to a small town. Although one would think moving to a small town would involve more driving it would seem to me actually make survivability more likely.
    Yes, i am *very* aware this is Mr. Kunstler ball of wax but I think a series of how much land one could get by on, what kind of small commute one might be able to make, with real world examples. I think would send the message that ‘well since this is a good idea on several levels not just peak oil i.e. it is more environmentally friendly to grow your own food, know your neighbors, and leave the problems of the big city in the city, could very well help everyone
    A smaller population in large cities would make them more survivable also, even if their peculiar jobs don’t allow them to move.
    Europe has literally lived for EONS with small towns being about as far away as one could walk in a day. I think we would do well to converting the USA toward this end.

  17. Todd says:

    Hi Gail,

    My experience is that these kinds of changes never end well based upon my experiences on other forums. I think for many current posters and lurkers, TOD will become a site to look at now and then but to not become “attached” to. I go back to the early days (I’ve been a member almost 5 years and lurked prior to that) and recognize how TOD has changed. However, I think it is foolish to believe that TOD will ever have any significant influence on TPTB.

    I also believe it is/was a mistake to not have an absolutely clear view of what TOD is going to be. There are too many asides by Nate and others that things will sort of be the same.

    What I think a better answer would have been is to have started a new forum to address the overall issues that, to me at least, are more important than another technical paper. Peak everything is here – ok, let’s move on. I recognize that having a second forum to deal with would be a pain ( I was a mod on another large forum before I moved on to TOD so I know how it works.) Alternatively, I would have liked those making the decision to have taken the time to investigate existing forums where people could find a new home or to have had a tread devoted to these forums that people could check out.

    Thank you for all you’ve done.

    Todd

    • Thanks, Todd, for your comment.

      It will take a little while for this to sort out. I plan to write some posts here, and if TOD wants, will post them there as well. I don’t want to harm TOD, but at the same time, I don’t want to leave readers looking for good posts to read and discuss.

  18. Julie says:

    Gail-

    I’ve been lurking at TOD for years, and THANK YOU for your efforts at making that site extremely valuable. Your posts have been the most interesting and valuable to me, and I say that as a PhD chemist! ;-) That’s especially true as the conventional peak appears to be confirmed.
    I can understand why the technical guys want to narrow the focus of TOD: it gets them back to their comfort zone. However, that seems to be a big mistake. Peak Oil is pushing us ALL out of our comfort zones, and I look for the broadest possible perspectives to guide my personal decisions and preparations.
    I will continue to learn from you at this new location.

    Thanks again-

    Julie

    • Glad to hear you will be around. I think women especially get put off by too much technical jargon–especially if there is an overemphasis on the individual trees, and not much vision of the forest as a whole.

      I will keep on doing what I know how to do, and hope it is helpful to a few folks like you.

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