By Jan Lars Mueller
It’s been a busy end to 2012 and beginning of 2013 for ASPO-USA. We’ve been following up on the incredible bounty of new information, ideas, and contacts that came out of our conference in Austin. We’ve been planning next steps following our milestone meeting with senior officials at the Department of Energy (DOE) and Energy Information Administration (EIA) including EIA administrator Adam Sieminski.
Both the conference and DOE-EIA meeting in December capped a year of accomplishments that has poised us to elevate our work to the “next level” in the coming year. Before we can seize the opportunities before us, however, ASPO-USA needs to solidify its financial condition and raise the necessary resources to support staff and expand our work.
We would like to reiterate our deep appreciation for all of our members, donors, sponsors, contributing experts, volunteer leaders, and many others who supported ASPO-USA in 2012. You are the “energy” that keeps us going and striving to advance our mission.
Looking ahead to 2013, let’s remember ASPO-USA’s primary goals: 1) to serve as a cutting-edge education and information resource; and 2) to raise awareness and spur positive action among decision-makers and the public. These two goals go hand in hand. Weighing the best available information is critical to making wise decisions for the future, while ASPO-USA’s credibility as an authoritative information source is fundamental to our effectiveness as a catalyst for action.
In 2012, we took important steps to both strengthen our role as an information and education provider and position ASPO-USA to be a stronger public voice. We renewed our core focus on fundamental oil and gas issues which has already paid dividends in our relationships with the media and partner organizations.
In 2013, we plan to strengthen our technical analysis and educational resources with more attention to the economic and financial consequences of an oil-constrained world. At the same time, we will strengthen our work on measures and strategies to respond to America’s oil and energy challenges. While we need to continue to promote clearer understanding of “the problem,” it is incumbent on us to frame the discussion in the context of “what to do.”
Please see below for more details on our 2012 accomplishments and how, with your help, we will build on them in 2013.
Peak Oil Review, Peak Oil News
ASPO.TV, Webinar Series, YouTube
Conferences, Outreach Events
Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy
Communications, Constituent Outreach
Media, Influencing Public Discourse
In 2012, ASPO-USA made important strides to enhance our online resources and visibility. The ASPO-USA website, our central tool for sharing information and educational resources, underwent a major overhaul which made for easier navigation and more clearly organized content. The user interface looks and functions better, and on the back end, the site is much easier to manage and update.
Our other online and social media tools are important to lead users to our website and magnify its value and impact. In 2012, we greatly enhanced our Facebook and Twitter pages and increased our “interconnectness” with other information sources to provide more content to our constituents.
These improvements will allow us to more effectively provide timely, high-quality information content. For 2013, subject to securing adequate funding, we are planning to develop a new section of our website called the Energy Xchange which would gather more in-depth journal-length articles as well as blog posts and shorter pieces by contributing experts. An online forum to promote and share dialogue among our network of experts and other interactive features are also in the works.
A recent feature article by Erik Townsend on the connection between oil and the International Monetary System is a prime example of the type of in-depth pieces that the Energy Xchange would feature and of the economic and financial issues that ASPO-USA needs to examine more deeply. As with all our work, the Energy Xchange would not advocate “positions” but would rather promote vigorous discourse among diverse perspectives on key issues.
Peak Oil Review, Peak Oil News
We published another full year of daily news compilations and weekly news synthesis with our flagship publications, Peak Oil News and Peak Oil Review. Chief editor Tom Whipple continues to scour traditional and alternative media sources for the most timely, pertinent articles and postings, and deliver them to your inbox, day after day, week after week.
In 2012, both publications underwent technical and design improvements to make their rich information content more accessible to more readers. For 2013, we aim to expand coverage of economic and financial issues related to energy. Expanded coverage of national security and environmental issues related to energy is also part of our plans, but more in-depth coverage of economic issues will be our initial focus.
ASPO.TV, Webinar Series, YouTube
Much of the best information that ASPO-USA provides is in video form. Videos recordings of presentations from past ASPO-USA conferences and other live events and, new in 2012, from the ASPO-USA Webinar Series are now all available on ASPO.TV, the online library for all of our video content.
In 2012, we made most ASPO.TV content available free of charge. This change will help broaden our reach, but we also hope it will help increase financial support from new members and donors to allow us to continue to offer this free content.
We made essential back-end fixes to make ASPO.TV more reliable and easier to manage. For 2013, we will be moving ASPO.TV to a new technical platform which will allow us to provide more high-quality video content than ever. We also plan to develop the ASPO-USA YouTube channel and push out more ASPO-USA content as individual YouTube videos to help broaden our audience.
The ASPO-USA Webinar Series was a popular and highly-regarded addition to our information resources in 2012. For 2013, we will continue to add more webinars with more experts presenting in-depth analysis on a wide variety of issues—again, with an emphasis on economic and financial implications of energy issues.
These webinars are a huge opportunity for expanding our constituency and delivering high-quality information to key target audiences. Preparation and coordination of presenters and presentations for each webinar, however, can require considerable staff time. The frequency and quality of webinars that we can offer will depend directly on the resources we are able to raise to support this work.
Conferences, Outreach Events
The 2012 (8th annual) ASPO-USA conference at The University of Texas at Austin (UT) continued a long tradition as the preeminent gathering of experts on issues related to Peak Oil. The Austin conference was co-hosted with the UT Energy Institute, Cockrell School of Engineering, and McCombs School of Business, as part of our efforts to strengthen ties with major research universities. Holding the event in Texas again (the 2007 conference was held in Houston) also reinforced our renewed focus on core oil and gas issues.
By all reports, the quality and density of information shared at the conference was remarkable. In addition to making formal conference presentations more interactive and in-depth, additional opportunities for informal discussions and networking proved to be highly successful and valued by conference attendees. Video recordings of plenary conference sessions will be available for distribution and purchase soon.
Our partnership and experience with The University of Texas was so productive and successful that our next conference is likely to be held there again. However, to engage important new audiences, we need to think and reach beyond our annual conference. Going forward, we will work to increase ASPO-USA’s visibility and participation at non-ASPO conferences and events. We will also shift focus to smaller outreach events and targeted meetings with specific audiences. For these reasons and to better fit the academic calendar, the next ASPO-USA conference may be scheduled for winter/spring semester of 2014—contingent on securing sponsorships to support the event.
In the interim, we are developing other speaking and outreach opportunities for ASPO-USA-affiliated experts. For example, we arranged for Dr. Roger Bezdek to speak at the 2013 annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) in Washington DC, the largest and most comprehensive national gathering of leaders from across the transportation sector. Dr. Charles Schlumberger will also be speaking at this session (both Roger and Charles are ASPO-USA advisory board members).
Many experts associated with ASPO-USA are already notable speakers at major conferences around the country, such as the annual conferences of the American Geophysical Union, Financial Planning Association, and American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Other conferences and meetings in which we are working to increase our visibility and outreach capacity include: U.S. Society for Ecological Economics (annual meeting), U.S. Association for Energy Economics (annual meeting), Total Energy, RETECH (Renewable Energy Technology Conference & Exhibition), and the Electric Drive Transportation Association (annual conference), among others.
Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy
On December 17, 2012, for the first time in our history, a group of leading experts representing ASPO-USA held a two-hour formal meeting with senior representatives of the Energy Information Administration and other branches of the U.S. Department of Energy. This meeting was prompted by a public letter that ASPO-USA had sent to Energy Secretary Steven Chu and EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski that raised concerns about DOE and EIA’s failure to properly examine and address key issues regarding oil and gas supply.
ASPO-USA members and constituents have raised numerous questions and concerns about DOE and EIA’s work over the years, and there are many areas that merit greater scrutiny by ASPO-USA. For this initial meeting, we addressed two major technical issues while focusing most of the discussion on exploring specific ways that ASPO-USA can provide guidance and input on the information products and activities undertaken by DOE and EIA.
Based on work by Jeffrey Brown on global oil exports, we discussed whether DOE and EIA were neglecting to examine potential risks of a global oil supply crisis. Also, based on work by Art Berman on the outlook for U.S. shale oil and shale gas production, we critically explored how EIA develops and communicates its projections for oil and gas supply.
The most important outcome of the meeting was the designation of a liaison within EIA that ASPO-USA will work with more closely to address our concerns and develop mechanisms for providing input to and collaborating with EIA staff. In particular, we discussed the need for additional workshops and workgroup meetings where EIA staff, ASPO-USA representatives, and other outside experts would examine the assumptions and input variables that go into the models used to generate EIA’s future supply projections.
Moreover, we discussed the need for a formal advisory group that would provide EIA with ongoing input from outside experts including ASPO-USA. The idea for such a group has been championed persistently by ASPO-USA president emeritus Jim Baldauf, who has been the driving force for all our work concerning DOE and EIA.
One of the most important things that we learned from the meeting was how EIA defines the boundaries and priorities for its work. For example, however important trends for global oil supply and oil exports may be, collecting and interpreting international data is not clearly regarded (or funded) to be part of EIA’s core work. In addition, Administrator Sieminski’s stated priorities as incoming administrator (his tenure began in mid-2012) are focused much more on the quality and timely delivery of its historic data and analysis, and much less on its future projections.
The meeting created important new opportunities for ASPO-USA to influence and work with EIA and DOE. We are working to develop and refine plans for future working meetings with EIA and DOE staff. However, fully capitalizing on these opportunities and advancing ASPO-USA’s work on other fronts will require an increase in staff resources and more stable financial support for this work.
Participants in the meeting representing ASPO-USA included board members Dr. Tad Patzek (ASPO-USA president and chair, University of Texas Department of Petroleum Engineering), Jim Baldauf (president emeritus), Jeffrey Brown (ASPO-USA secretary, petroleum geologist ) Art Berman (consulting geologist) and advisory board members Chris Skrebowski (UK Energy Institute, Peak Oil Consulting), Dr. Roger Bezdek (president, Management Information Services Inc.), Tom Whipple (editor of ASPO-USA’s Peak Oil Review and Peak Oil News) and Steven Kopits (Managing Director, Douglas-Westwood), and executive director Jan Lars Mueller. Also assisting with preparation for the meeting were eminent advisory board members Dr. Colin Campbell and Dr. Robert Hirsch and oil expert Henry Groppe, as well as numerous other ASPO-USA members and supporters who responded to our invitation to provide input.
In 2012, we made substantial progress to organize, coordinate, and deploy our extensive network of experts and leaders. This “behind-the-scenes” work is critical to strategically harness the brain power and expertise of our network for our education and outreach work and to build stronger relationships with journalists, decision-makers, and partner organizations.
We reinforced our core expertise in technical and quantitative analysis of oil and gas supply issues, which has been evidenced, for example, by the strength of the presentations at the Austin conference, the quality of the ASPO-USA webinar series, and the technical experience and qualifications of the experts involved in developing a working relationship with the Department of Energy and the Energy Information Administration.
We made important strides to strengthen our capacity to address energy-related economic and financial issues. Our education, outreach, and media work in this area has been fueled and guided by research and analysis by distinguished experts such as Dr. Charles Hall (State University of New York), Michael Kumhof (International Monetary Fund), Mark Lewis (Deutsche Bank), Steven Kopits (Douglas-Westwood), Gail Tverberg (Our Finite World), and Deborah Rogers (independent financial analyst). We will continue to develop and strengthen the expertise and critical perspectives that we can bring to this aspect of our work.
In particular, strategic coordination of our expert network has allowed us to more effectively engage and respond to media inquiries and a wide variety of information requests. The importance of this work cannot be over-stated, however, we will be focused on solidifying funding for this work before we initiate a full-fledged media outreach campaign.
Communications, Constituent Outreach
In 2012, we invested in enhanced capacity to manage communications with our constituents and multiple audiences. We developed a more efficient and sophisticated database to track contacts with members, donors, media, policymakers, and partner organizations. Notably, we unified what had been separate databases for member/donors, publication subscribers, and general email contacts.
While we greatly streamlined our database system, there are still many opportunities to sharpen our tools for growing our constituency and reaching new audiences. It is particularly important that we develop more sophisticated and integrated online outreach tools—social media, email, video clips, online marketing, etc.—as well as more robust mechanisms for organizing constituents, cultivating leaders, and facilitating communications among local, state, and national partner organizations.
Media, Shaping Public Discourse
In 2012, ASPO-USA made significant strides to build and strengthen relations with journalists and media outlets. As discussed above, this progress has been greatly aided by our renewed focus on technical oil and gas issues, and our efforts to coordinate and leverage our expert network. In short, the more we are able to serve as authoritative and useful source of information, the more media traction we will be able to gain.
Key written articles and video recordings from the ASPO-USA Webinar Series have been valuable tools in demonstrating our credibility to media. In addition, the strength of our conference speaker line-up, even in advance of the conference itself, attracted increased media inquiries. As a result, we have increased our visibility and developed stronger relationships with journalists with the Washington Post, Dallas Morning News, TIME magazine, Platts, USA Today, Christian Science Monitor, Houston Chronicle, McClatchy, CNBC, Bloomberg, RT television, and others.
For 2013, ASPO-USA is in a much stronger position to get our information and perspectives included in media coverage. However, while being a reliable “go-to” information source is important and helpful, it is also extremely important to continually cultivate relationships with journalists and editorial boards and actively develop opportunities to place experts and stories. As mentioned, ASPO-USA is not yet in a position to implement a full-fledged media outreach campaign, but we are moving steadily in that direction while we seek the necessary resources to support such a campaign.
Meanwhile, we are also cultivating other media and visibility opportunities to influence the national discourse on energy-related issues. Notably, we are continuing to develop relationships with key policymakers that can help increase public attention on key issues. The U.S. Congress lost its most stalwart champion on Peak Oil issues when Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) lost his seat in the November election—mostly as a result of an unfavorable reconfiguring of his district. At the same time, the new Congress may create important new opportunities. For example, the new chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), has expressed a strong interest in our issues and a desire to explore further collaboration with ASPO-USA. This development may be particularly helpful in harnessing the relationships and support we have developed with other key Members of Congress.
As noted, all the prospective future work described above is contingent on increasing our base of financial support. Our action strategy, in short, is meaningless without an effective fundraising strategy.
Our members and small donors provide an important and essential baseline of financial support, and as discussed, we are working to expand our membership and individual donations. These sources, however, generally cover a relatively small share of our budget. Other larger funding sources have been and will continue to be critical to ASPO-USA’s existence, growth, and success.
Major donors and sponsors—individual or corporate—have historically provided the majority of ASPO-USA’s funding support. Much of this generous support has been provided in the context of sponsorships for our annual conference. Our strategic program activities, as discussed, need to expand far beyond our annual conference, however, and consequently, our donor and sponsorship program is evolving to include but also extend beyond conference sponsorship.
Another important source of potential support is philanthropic foundations. To date, this has not been a significant source of funding for ASPO-USA, especially given that Peak Oil is generally not a program area defined by most foundations. ASPO-USA, however, is working to change that. Partnering with the National Community Action Partnership, Aspen Institute, and Meridian Institute, we are developing a workshop specifically intended for philanthropic leaders to help them better understand Peak Oil issues and grapple with the implications of these issues on the work of different foundations.
At the same time, ASPO-USA’s efforts to strengthen its educational offerings have also positioned us to be a stronger candidate for support from foundations interested in broadly promoting energy education and better public understanding of critical energy issues. Accordingly, we are pursuing foundation grants for specific aspects of our education and outreach work as well as general capacity-building.
Perhaps most importantly, we are making concerted efforts to involve more of our friends and colleagues in our fundraising activities. Potential funding opportunities and resources can often be identified in ways that may not be readily apparent. We are working to engage our existing members and supporters to help develop new donors and funding sources. If you are interested in getting involved, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Huge Challenges…and Opportunities
ASPO-USA’s mission is to help America understand and adapt to a new “energy reality”—confronting one of the most monumental challenges in human history. The challenges we face to advance our mission are tremendous—especially when misinformation about the nature of our energy predicament is abounding.
At the same time, ASPO-USA has never faced more abundant opportunities to inform and shape the actions that businesses, governments, communities, families, and individuals take to respond to changing energy realities. Seizing these opportunities will continue to be the goal that drives ASPO-USA’s work in 2013 and beyond. We profoundly appreciate your continued support of our work as we move forward.
Thank you for being a part of ASPO-USA!