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Bob McNally | March 2017

1 Mar 2017 10:00 AM | Anonymous member

President, The Rapidan Group

Please note your affiliation and years of experience in the energy and/or environmental field, and any particular achievement/interest in energy/environment you would like to mention.

I have 26 years’ experience in energy markets, policy, and geopolitics. My career began as a starving returned Peace Corps Volunteer who needed a job to defray grad school expenses and was hired during grad school by Energy Security Analysis (thank you Sarah Emerson) as a part-time research assistant and later full time analyst. This coincided with the aftermath of the First Gulf War, publication of Daniel Yergin’s masterful book The Prize, and implementation of Clean Air Act fuel regulations. I realized energy and oil were tremendously interesting and dropped plans to become a history teacher to pursue a career in energy. Thereafter, I worked for Tudor Investment Corporation, in the George W. Bush White House serving both as Special Assistant to the President on the National Economic Council and Senior Director on the National Security Council, and nine years ago founded The Rapidan Group, a growing market, policy, and geopolitical consulting firm with a great team of whom I couldn’t be prouder. Over the years I have been extremely fortunate to have been mentored, assisted and befriended by many energy titans, a number of whom are NCAC members, including Adam Sieminski, Larry Goldstein, Sarah Emerson, Daniel Yergin, Guy Caruso, Neelesh Nerurkar, James Koehler, and Mark Finley to name a few.

Any particular achievement/interest in energy/environment you would like to mention?

I am proud to have authored a recently published book titled Crude Volatility: The History and the Future of Boom-Bust Oil Prices (Columbia University Press, 2017). The book examines the entire history of the oil market through the prism of price volatility and efforts to suppress it via supply control. It concludes we entered a third boom-bust period about ten years ago and cautions this will pose challenges to industry and government alike. This project allowed me to delve into my passions for history and energy markets. As part of the book project my able assistant Fernando Ferreira and I developed the first monthly continuous oil price series extending back to 1859, which I made freely available in the interest of making notoriously opaque energy data a little less murky.

In your opinion, what are important economic/policy issues facing the energy industry nowadays?

The most important issue in my mind will be coping wisely with a new era of boom-bust oil price cycles. We have barely any living memory of the last time oil markets were ungoverned and prices oscillated in wild boom-bust fashion between World War One and the early 1930s, an experience so traumatizing the states of Texas and Oklahoma were impelled to dispatch troops into the fields to control supply. Since 1932 officials have attempted with varying degrees of success to stabilize notoriously volatile oil prices with supply control, the first being US oil states and Seven Sisters and then OPEC. But OPEC’s era of control ebbed and vanished ten years ago and notwithstanding recently production restraint pledges I am skeptical it will reclaim effective, sustained supply management. While many will cheer OPEC’s demise, we will find managing the negative oil industry, broader economic, and geopolitical implications of persistent proneness of oil prices toward the wild oscillations seen in the past ten years to be quite challenging. As usual with energy, there is no magic wand to usher solutions. Hopefully policymakers will avoid incorrect diagnoses and prescriptions: My experience taught me at least half of achieving good energy policy is avoiding bad energy policy. Finally, improving energy data and broader energy literacy are essential and enduring priorities.

How long have you been a member of NCAC? Any particular NCAC memory you would like to share with us?

I’ve been a member since 2009 and always found the lunches, dinners, and events to be very helpful and informative. My favorite memories – one in the past and one I hope to make this month – have to do with my energy colleagues and friends letting our hair down. That is, I tremendously enjoyed when my bipartisan energy band Sound Policy entertained at an NCAC happy hour social under the direction of former president Neelesh Nerurkar several years ago, and I am very excited about Sound Policy’s return gig as part of a Roast, Toast, and Rock & Roll tribute for our friend and energy leader Adam Sieminski on March 16! Sound Policy is composed of bipartisan energy experts and former officials, including former Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman. Energy is an extremely complicated, multifaceted, and vital profession and NCAC brings out the best of us practitioners not only by sponsoring thoughtful, nonpartisan, and pertinent events and conferences, but also by allowing us to have a little fun once in a while.

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