Doomberg Embarrasses Himself

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Doomberg’s recent views about oil on Thoughtful Money were painfully amateurish and often just wrong. I have always respected Doomberg even when I disagreed with him but I was embarrassed for him in this podcast discussion with my friend Adam Taggart.

Doomberg thinks that he has made some big discovery—that oil should include natural gas liquids (NGLs) and condensate.

“We have a pretty unique definition of what oil is”

—Doomberg

No you don’t. The International Energy Agency (IEA), Energy Information Administration (EIA) and OPEC have included NGLs, condensate (and more) in what they consider oil for decades. You just don’t know enough about oil to know that.

He doesn’t think that proved reserves include condensate.

“Condensate is not currently counted in the world’s oil reserves.”

—Doomberg

But they are included. NGLs too.

He thinks that gas-to-liquids (GTL) technology is a plug-and-play app that will add five or ten million barrels of oil per day to global supply.

“GTL plants are nothing more than sophisticated refineries.”

—Doomberg

The definition of what oil is or is not is largely irrelevant. Here’s what’s important. Natural gas liquids are useful products but do not have the same energy content as crude oil nor can they be used to make most of the things produced from oil.

In 2022, ethane accounted for 65% of NGL consumption in the United States. A lot of ethane isn’t even used as a fuel. Most is used as a feedstock to make baggies and other plastics; the rest is a substitute for natural gas. Propane, butane and natural gasoline account for most of the remainder of NGL consumption. They are used mostly for heating, cooking, camping stoves and lighters. The average spot price of NGLs is about half the price of crude oil for a reason—NGLs don’t contain as much energy as oil and are not as useful as oil.

Doomberg’s argument that NGLs are really oil is like saying that beer is really whiskey. Both contain alcohol, after all.

His view of EROI (energy return on energy invested) is beyond wrong.

““Let’s say we produce 100 BTUs in the Permian and it cost us 20 BTUs to do that…What if that 20 was co-produced in the Permian on site and so…the buyer of that hundred BTUs doesn’t care where that 20 BTUs came from because it didn’t come from the existing grid. And so the pessimists would say the energy return on energy invested is five-to-one…The energy return on energy for consumers is infinite.”

—Doomberg

What I think he’s saying is that if the energy from the NGLs were used to produce the oil instead of flared with the natural gas and wasted, then the EROI would be close to zero at least to the consumer. I’m not sure—and I’m not going to try to explain it further because I can’t. It’s absurd.

Oil company executives understand the trade-offs between flaring gas and its NGLs versus the capital expenditure to build pipelines and pay processing plants to strip NGLs from the gas. That’s what EROI is all about—adding up all of those energy inputs and outputs and deciding if the balance makes sense.

“People radically underestimate the sheer technical brilliance and the horsepower embedded in the fossil fuel industry.”

—Doomberg

Does he believe that those brilliant people are wasting resources and have never thought about the value of NGLs?

He expands his inscrutable EROI logic to liquefied natural gas (LNG) export.

“LNG is a very poor energy return on energy invested material but not to the Europeans who buy all the energy. What went into producing it doesn’t matter when the carrier shows up and offloads its enormous amounts of BTUs into the European grid.”

—Doomberg

Europeans are glad to be able to replace lost Russian gas supply with LNG imports, and are willing to pay for them. That doesn’t make the EROI infinite.

He mistakenly thinks that energy prices in Europe have now normalized.

“Beginning with the near miss in the winter of 2022-2023, Europe has now shifted to a period where I think it’s pretty undeniable that we’re at the global level integrated across markets. We are experiencing a period of relative energy abundance.”

—Doomberg

European gas prices have decreased since their peak levels in the summer of 2022 but remain double what they were before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In fact, the higher price of energy, the capital expenditures for LNG import terminals and the need for governments to subsidize consumer energy costs have weakened the European economy.

He believes that Europe could reduce its energy dependence on imports if it just got over its political and regulatory stupidity.

“Germany has an enormous amount of fracking potential and it’s just politically decided it’s not going to do that. There’s all manner of fracking resources around the world that are waiting to become reserves.”

—Doomberg

The geology of Germany does not support his statement and Germans have a different view of the balance between environment and energy. Germany’s politics seem to reflect what its people believe is important.

“It is very uncertain what contribution fracking could make in Germany to strengthening security of supply.”

—Karen Pittel, Institute for Economic Research

As far as the fracking resources around the world, it’s mostly a geological and less of a political problem. Most shale in the world has the wrong kind of organic carbon, is not at the right level of thermal maturity or is not buried deeply enough to have the pressures needed for production.

Doomberg brings his expanded view of NGLs and EROI to a crescendo with a discussion of gas-to-liquids technology. He correctly states that Shell’s Pearl GTL plant in Qatar currently produces diesel, jet fuel and natural gas liquids from natural gas.

“What happens if the world were to bring online 5 or 10 million barrels per day of GTL capacity? Natural gas would become, in effect, just another variant of “oil.” GTL plants are nothing more than sophisticated refineries.”

—Doomberg

The first thing to understand about Pearl and Oryx (the other GTL plant in Qatar) is that the gas is provided free by the Qatari government. That makes the awful economics of building a $20 billion plant and its outrageous energy input costs less awful. The natural gas is largely stranded in the giant North Field in the Persian Gulf so monetizing its cost is important to Qatar.

More importantly, we have to think about the physics. GTL plants use the Fischer-Tropsch process to convert methane to petroleum liquids. The input to the plant is methane from natural gas. Its energy density is 0.4 megajoules per liter (MJ/l). The diesel produced has an energy density of 37.3 MJ/l—almost a 100-fold increase. How does that happen? By adding a lot of energy in the form of electric power. No free lunch.

That’s where EROI becomes important and perhaps why Doomberg wants to ignore it.

“The whole system reveals the electricity-to-FT [Fisher-Tropsch] liquids efficiency of 51.0% in lower heat value (LHV) and 54.8% in [the higher heat value] HHV.

Luo et al (2021)

That means that the EROI of GTL is about 1:2. It takes as almost twice as much energy to produce the liquids as they contain.

“GTL penetration has an impact only under very extreme assumptions…It is also necessary for natural gas to be still cheaper to produce than the current shale revolution in the US has realized. These very negative results obtain assuming no restrictions on carbon emissions, which is another generous assumption that favors the profitability of GTL. Our results make clear that with limits on carbon, GTL is a fortiori not economical.”

Ramberg et al (2017)

This civilization simply cannot function on EROIs or thermal efficiencies as low as GTL regardless of economics.

Doomberg has built his thesis of energy abundance on a house of cards.

“We have a pretty unique definition of what oil is and once you widen that definition—which isn’t necessarily always captured in the official quote-unquote oil production statistics—you then can see that we have a tsunami of hydrocarbons coming online especially in the US and that is a significant head wind for prices.”

—Doomberg

He doesn’t have a unique definition of what oil is. His “unique” definition has been used as the standard for decades, for better or for worse.

NGLs are not going to create a tsunami of hydrocarbons. They are not oil in the real world of energy. They have real value but that’s old news to people who—unlike Doomberg—actually know something about oil.

Liquids production from natural gas in Qatar is an outlier. It’s stranded gas and it’s free to the plants. There’s a reason that U.S. gas processors prefer LNG export to GTL synthesis.

EROI is important even if it is a blunt instrument. There’s nothing blunt about a GTL process than uses more energy than it creates. There is no infinite EROI in the universe. It defies the laws of thermodynamics.

Oil production will peak and decline at some time sooner than later. That’s not pessimism, just thermodynamics. All the fantasies about technology and efficiency in people’s imaginations won’t change that.

I sincerely regret having to write this post, Doomberg. All the cards in your energy abundance thesis have collapsed. Let’s talk.

Art Berman is anything but your run-of-the-mill energy consultant. With a résumé boasting over 40 years as a petroleum geologist, he’s here to annihilate your preconceived notions and rearm you with unfiltered, data-backed takes on energy and its colossal role in the world's economic pulse. Learn more about Art here.

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30 Comments

  1. loïc abadie on June 17, 2024 at 3:55 am

    Hi, I read carefully your article, and think you make a significant reasoning mistake.

    Fischer-Tropsch process is exothermic (https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/fischer-tropsch-process)
    That means the natural gas to be turned into liquids will provide the energy of the process.
    50% thermal efficiency doesn’t mean EROI 1:2 (actually it is a bit better), it means you will lose half of initial energy content of the gas during the process.
    If extracting that gas had a initial EROI of 30 : 1 for instance, then the global EROI of gas production + GTL will be at 15 : 1
    OK, people who are afraid of climate change may not like it because GTL (or CTL) will produce a lot of CO2, but it doesn’t mean it has negative EROI, and those processes can be economically viable and useful to produce energy under certain conditions.

    Your article from “Luo & Al” can not be used here too, because your quote (The whole system reveals the electricity-to-FT [Fisher-Tropsch] liquids efficiency of 51.0% in lower heat value (LHV) and 54.8% in [the higher heat value] HHV) comes from an article describing production of fuel from C02 and electricity (which of course can not have a positive EROI) :
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0360544212006792

    So before accusing Doomberg to be an “energy imposter”, I think it is important to read carefully your sources and study deeper the subject of GTL and CTL.

    • Art Berman on June 17, 2024 at 12:31 pm

      loïc,

      Those are fair comments.

      Best-case EROI estimates for GTL is between 3:1 and 5:1. That is considerably below any credible estimates for what is required to support today’s economic demand for diesel.

      My reasons for calling Doomberg an energy imposter, however, are not based solely or even primarily on his gas-to-liquids beliefs.

      He has stated that there is an infinite supply of oil that will never peak and decline. That reflects such ignorance or delusion that “imposter” is a relatively kind and generous description.

      All the best,

      Art

  2. Sandra Faber on February 17, 2024 at 7:59 pm

    Art, you have called Doomberg an “energy impostor”. I’d be interested in your reactions to his piece on Feb. 16 concerning probable high future coal consumption. Given the much larger total number of carbon atoms locked up in coal reserves vs oil/natgas, isn’t future coal consumption really the elephant in the room for CO2 production, and therefore global warming? Might Doomberg be right (and important) on this point?

    • Art Berman on February 22, 2024 at 10:59 am

      Sandra,

      I show projections for coal in my latest post: https://www.artberman.com/blog/the-energy-transition-is-being-led-by-a-clown-car/

      I don’t see a coal renaissance just no serious coal decrease.

      I agree with Doomberg that coal is the “elephant in the room” but that’s not a new insight although it may be for Doomberg.

      And that’s why I called him an imposter. Those of us who have been in the energy sector for our careers don’t find what he says at all enlightening. His posts are like book reports in which he copies and pastes what other people say. I like to see data and its interpretation and that’s what I try to provide.

      I’m not against Doomberg. I just don’t find his work very useful except to generate revenue for his support.

      All the best,

      Art

  3. Mike on January 17, 2024 at 5:31 am

    It was the bald-faced lie about “natural gas not being the cause of the 2021 Texas outages because the renewables crowd got their propaganda in first” in the Taggart interview that proved to me that Doomberg ignores anything inconvenient. Natgas output dropped 5x the amount that wind output dropped. See, eg, Wikipedia, or do the analysis for yourself: https://www.eia.gov/electricity/gridmonitor/knownissues/xls/Region_TEX.xlsx

    • Art Berman on January 17, 2024 at 2:12 pm

      Mike,

      Doomberg invents information—like Trump.

      All the best,

      Art

      • Yordan on January 30, 2024 at 4:38 am

        I like that comparison with Trump. All politics is just theater to conceal resource scarcity and to prevent chaos.

        • Art Berman on January 30, 2024 at 4:08 pm

          Thanks, Yordan.

          There are some apparent behavior and style similarities between Trump and Doomberg.

          All the best,

          ARt

  4. Fast Eddy on January 17, 2024 at 3:39 am

    Dunceberg?

    • Art Berman on January 17, 2024 at 2:11 pm

      Nice, Fast Eddy. Possibly Dumb Berg?

      All the best,

      Art

  5. Ben Wyse on January 16, 2024 at 6:11 pm

    Thanks for your efforts to educate and communicate. Over 20 years ago I became a bike mechanic because I wanted to help others use bikes as a “sustainable” form of local transportation. As a curious observer of society and our energy consumption I need folks like you who are willing to put in the time to write articles like this one. 20 years ago I was reasonably confident that some people in my community would be willing to change their lifestyles in various ways to become less energy intensive. Now I think it will more or less happen when shortages and high costs become a problem. Thanks again for being an important voice in the overall conversation about the energy system.

    • Art Berman on January 16, 2024 at 6:55 pm

      Thanks for your encouragement, Ben.

      All the best,

      Art

  6. Kgaard on January 16, 2024 at 2:31 am

    Very good takedown Art. I had listened to the Doomberg podcast and found his arguments interesting. It seemed his basic argument was simply that the US was building more refineries to make use of NGLs. I didn’t get too much beyond that because the podcast format was low cost/benefit.

    • Art Berman on January 16, 2024 at 2:47 pm

      Thanks, Kgaard.

      All the best,

      Art

  7. John Gentile on January 15, 2024 at 9:06 pm

    Thank you so much Art. A lot of us of course follow ‘the green chicken’ and with respect for the detailed information, topical positions he takes – agree or disagree as you mention in your own comments – and therefore the financial perspectives often he provides. Frankly, lately he seems to me to be ‘getting out there’ in some of his admonitions. Now I know much better, after reading your review of this interview, why I felt this way. So important to have your ‘counter point’ and understanding.

    • Art Berman on January 16, 2024 at 2:19 pm

      John,

      I have followed Doomberg for many years and found him credible on many subjects. Energy is not among them. He is a complete energy imposter.

      All the best,

      Art

  8. kramm on January 15, 2024 at 5:28 pm

    I habe read Doombergs substack in the „early days“. He always was assembling what was out on the internet the three weeks before. I thought this was redundant and stopped reading. Always wondered about his seeming great popularity.
    Does Art know the work of the Energy Working Group at Urbana Champaign univ in the 70‘ties? (Costanza and colleagues).
    They found what one would habe guessed. Energy is produced at cost and sold at value. So cost is a good estimator of value.

    • Art Berman on January 16, 2024 at 2:43 pm

      Kramm,

      Thanks for reminding me about the Measures of Energy Cost and Value in Ecosystems (1986).

      Doomberg’s notion of using gold to calibrate oil prices is interesting but largely irrelevant since oil is traded in currency–US dollars may not always be the price basis but some currency will. I think his motive is to get around EROI as a valid way to evaluate energy efficiency and costs. That’s because NGLs are not value-equivalent to oil and GTL is an EROI non-starter.

      All the best,

      Art

      • kramm on January 17, 2024 at 10:18 am

        Bruce Hannon is another interesting name from that group. Inexplicable that the project has not been revived. Most needed thing right now. Current pseudo understanding is deeply flawed imho.

      • John Deuss on January 17, 2024 at 8:03 pm

        Yes! I found Doomberg’s “oil priced in gold” argument to be so unbelievably disingenuous to the point of insanity. For one, it is not surprising that oil and gold would correlate given the nature of the modern financial and currency system. Gold is treated as a store of value, not as a currency. If gold suddenly became a valid currency for use in buying oil, the value of gold would shoot to the moon and the correlation would change dramatically.

        Their argument is one that looks right at first, but it so totally wrong it almost beggars belief.

        • Art Berman on January 18, 2024 at 3:31 am

          John,

          Doomberg’s gold idea was so absurd that I didn’t even address it in my post.

          All the best,

          Art

  9. Luca Morotti on January 15, 2024 at 2:43 pm

    Thanks Art.You helped me having a better understanding of the world I live in.
    Again thanks sincerely.
    Luca

    • Art Berman on January 15, 2024 at 2:49 pm

      It is my pleasure, Luca, and I appreciate your comment.

      All the best,

      Art

  10. David C Messler on January 15, 2024 at 12:07 pm

    Thanks for this piece and the one you put out the other day. It does seem Doomberg had a little bad gas. 😉 I am glad to see you publishing regularly. I do my part to educate folks in my blogs. Perhaps we can turn the energy ship away from the crazy green destination of energy poverty that lies ahead. I look forward to reading more of your thinking!

    • Art Berman on January 15, 2024 at 1:10 pm

      David,

      It’s more than bad gas. Doomberg is an energy imposter.

      All the best,

      Art

  11. Amir on January 15, 2024 at 10:31 am

    Thank you for the your arguments, always appreciate having a good quality information and clarification. I have been listening to some of your interview and podcast over the last years.

    • Art Berman on January 15, 2024 at 1:08 pm

      Thank you, Amir.

      All the best,

      Art

  12. EnergyAndEntropy on January 14, 2024 at 8:34 pm

    you then can see that we have a tsunami of hydrocarbons coming online especially in the US and that is a significant head wind for prices.” —Doomberg

    With every new tsunami – you’ll see another Gaza, the Red Sea – after Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ukraine, Russia, Sudan – plunging one after another a victim into a vicious peak energy musical chairs game.

    This is ‘Becoming Ungovernable At Scale | Fabian Dablander’ – indeed.

    “The first thing to understand about Pearl and Oryx (the other GTL plant in Qatar) is that the gas is provided free by the Qatari government”Art

    And this is exactly why oil, coal and n. gas production in war-torn nations is nationalised – to hide the unfathomably negative EROEI – actually – a Communism-disguised-Capitalism system.

    No energy store holds enough energy to extract an amount of energy equal to the total energy it stores” (2017).

  13. Robert Dixon on January 14, 2024 at 7:26 pm

    Thank you. I did read Doomberg piece. I had lots of questions about costs in today’s $. Now after reading your input, and your educational background. I can understand your argument. There just is no free lunch. Rob

    • Art Berman on January 14, 2024 at 8:37 pm

      Thanks for those thoughts, Rob.

      Art

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