[Editor's note: A version of this story appears in the June 2020 edition of Midstream Business. Subscribe to the magazine here.] 

I’m pleased to present our popular Midstream 50 feature again within this issue, listing the top, publicly held firms in the sector, based on financial results for the prior year. This article in years past proved a great way to benchmark change and get a sense of where things will go for the midstream. Will it prove so useful again in 2020?


We all know everything changed in the latter weeks of the first quarter and further developments continue as we go to press.

It is hard to predict where things will go in 2020, given that the entire energy industry finds itself lost in a Terra Incognita as we wait for the compass needle to stop its jiggle and point north again.

Meanwhile, some of our partners on this sojourn have disappeared over the far hill, sadly.

We try to provide some cognizant pre­dictions of what lies ahead in other articles, but it is tough to determine where you are going when you don’t know where you are.

In and around babysitting my 4-year-old granddaughter while our son and daugh­ter-in-law struggle to keep their day jobs functioning from the dining room table, I’ve had the opportunity to read the newly published “A Question of Power: Electricity and the Wealth of Nations” by Robert Bryce. Midstream Business profiled Bryce in the December 2019 issue, and his latest book adds to his reputation as a deep thinker about energy and economics.

The point of his new work is that electricity is the foundation of the lifestyle we enjoy in the modern world. He also reminds us that a billion of the people on this earth, roughly one in eight, still do not have electricity—even today—and live by the sun as they cook with gathered twigs and dried dung. More than that have only enough juice to, say, run one light bulb and maybe a fan. Forget a microwave and A/C.

Free electrons can’t be gathered off trees or dug out of a mine, of course, so we must first employ some sort of thermal or mechanical energy to herd them along in usable streams that make televisions glow and keep refrigerators cold.

Thus, Bryce has a lot to say about natural gas. Its role in gener­ating power is big and continues to grow.

“It appears counterintuitive, but the more natural gas we find, the more we find,” Bryce wrote. “Global gas reserves now stand at some 193 trillion cubic meters (6.8 quadrillion cubic feet).”

How much is that?

“That’s enough to last for 52 years at current rates of pro­duction. The shale revolution has made the United States into the dominant player in the global natural gas business,” he said.

Bryce pointed out that, of course, the energy business will need to add and modify infrastructure to process and pipe all that methane to power plants, or LNG liquefaction operations that chill it before it goes in tankers for use abroad, to make electricity someplace else.

That midstream investment will take a lot of capital, but that’s relatively inexpensive compared to what it would cost to swap out gas or other fossil fuels for renewables. Most of the gas-moving infrastructure we need is in place and has been for years. That’s not so for renewables, and renewable proponents lose sight of that, he said.

Also, consider that “making solar and storage work at the [world’s] terawatt scale will require billions of tons of mate­rial to be mined, transported and recy­cled,” according to the book. “Mining and smelting all that stuff will have significant impacts on people and the environment.”

Given the gas infrastructure in place and methane’s comparative low-carbon environmental impact, can there be a meaningful alternative? Well, yes, accord­ing to Bryce. Consider nuclear, but that power generation source seems even less politically correct than natural gas.

Bryce’s thought piece is a reminder that the long-term oil and gas business has a promising future. The world’s population grows, and everyone wants the electrically powered conveniences most of us enjoy. I highly recommend the book for its big-pic­ture view of what the future holds for the energy industry, in particular, and civilization, in general.

The current crises required Hart Energy to postpone its pop­ular conferences for the first half of 2020. I had planned to be at the annual Midstream Texas event about the time you read this. That event has been rescheduled for November, and we hope to see you there.