I am a product of the oil patch. My father was a tool pusher (rig manager) on semi-submersible drilling rigs that explored for oil at sea all over the world. We were not wealthy growing up, but we always seemed to have more than we needed to get by. When I was a teenager in the mid-1980s, we saw the first difficult times financially that I can remember. One thing we know about in the energy sector is volatility. There are wonderful times (that we often take for granted) and there are difficult times as well. When all is said and done, energy is a commodity. It will always be controlled by a simple principle – supply and demand. In that simplicity is the beauty of volatility. Some people love a simple Sunday drive while others love a roller coaster that scares living daylights out of us.
Oil and gas will forever be the roller coaster. It is beautiful for what it is just as it is. My father did not have a college education, yet he developed a small amount of intergenerational wealth for his family that lives beyond his death thirteen years ago. How does a poor kid with no advantages accomplish that? Oil and gas have been good for my family. I want to challenge those who curse the industry and threaten to abandon it when times are tough. What the hell did you expect? It is what it is! It is the game. That is what makes it so beautiful.
The value in energy is the volatility. Volatility makes the most money. Volatility creates opportunity. Remember the wildcatters; the billionaire crowds created by this wonderfully complex opportunity. In his 2013 book, “The Frackers”, Gregory Zuckerman shares the careers of five entrepreneurs, George Mitchell (Mitchell Energy), who for years pursued the Barnett Shale against the recommendation of many at his company, Harrold Hamm of Continental Resources who developed the Bakken, Tom Ward and Aubrey McCLendon of Chesapeake Energy, which built the 2nd largest natural gas producer through a levered land grab and Charif Souki of Cheniere Energy, who originally built a natural gas import terminal and then later converted it to an export terminal after the shale revolution drove prices down. These five people changed the world with oil and gas. Many fortunes were won and lost in the shale revolution business game.
Opting for something safe is based on fear. If you don’t want to play the game, that’s fine. Just like football, some people don’t like being hit and the sport is not for them. It is cool. Don’t hate the game. Play another game. As with energy, do not curse an industry that has always played by the rules of supply and demand. Many people took a big hit with subzero oil. Some are ready to quit oil and gas. We should always expect the unexpected. Nobody planned for this pandemic.
Safe bets never make as much money as those involving risk. We are predisposed to fear loss twice as much as possible gains, according to Richard Thaler, Nobel-Prize winner in behavioral economics. We are in a low period for energy. There is an opportunity when the price is high. There is an opportunity when the price is low. The puzzle to be solved is determining what to do next with low prices that may stick around for a while.
The coronavirus is an additional challenge impacting the demand for energy. We don’t know when demand will increase or how fast. We do know, however, that it will increase at some point. What goes down must come up. People are not going to abandon planes, trains, and automobiles. People need plastics. People need chemicals. An optimist thinks the pent-up global demand will accelerate after the virus is controlled. A pessimist will think it’s going to be a while before demand recovers. A realist will prepare for both outcomes. Our tanks are full for the time being, however, there is a large global appetite. The global stomach will begin to rumble and it will soon be ready to consume again.
I know there are some that despise this energy sector. These people hate any and all forms of carbon energy. Let me remind you that life as we know it depends on these products. Almost all parts of the N95 masks worn by health professionals are made from fossil fuels. Here are a few more that might surprise you: Vaseline, yarn, lotion, aspirin, crayons, ink, upholstery, clothes, nail polish, food preservatives, soap, trash bags, heart valves, contact lenses, toothpaste, and detergents. Oil and gas are woven into the fabric of our daily lives.
The economy will become hungry again. Demand will increase. Just like night and day, oil and gas will recover. People will return to the lure of good money, small fortunes, and huge wealth opportunities. Those who curse it now and those who abandon it will return for the next round of pain that will eventually come as certainly as the next sunrise. Don’t be so quick to bad-mouth this beautiful thing; it’s complicated, it’s feisty, it’s dangerous. That is what makes it so amazing!