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Posts Tagged ‘Half Moon Bay’

les deman

March 22: I drove down to Half Moon Bay to meet natural gas energy consultant, Les Deman. Half Moon Bay is 25 miles to the south of San Francisco’s southern border. The town is located on the first available agricultural land along the ocean after a 20-mile stretch of cliffs to the north. So steep are these cliffs, in fact, that the State of California has decided to build a tunnel to bypass what continues to be the most dangerous pass on the coastal road, named Devil’s Slide, because of its continual erosion into the sea.

Everyone in the energy business I speak with begins their reference to Les Deman by making fun of his name because it sounds like “less demand” which suggests de-growth in an industry oriented toward unlimited progress—climate change notwithstanding.

Arriving early, and recognizing that I would have an extra half-hour before my meeting, I decided to walk down to the beach in order to grasp some fresh air.

These days, it seems more than ever, there is nothing like a little self-immolation to get my heart going: “What is my reason in meeting with Les? To collect his personal history? Compare notes? Outline my project? Assemble raw data quaint to the anthropologist? Or more likely: To horde data like swatches of cloth to a quilt-maker who collects with no other purpose than to observe the decay and clutter of the unrealized.” And so on.

Upon leaving the beach, I noticed the wooden staircase up to the road had a worn quality to each step, where the human foot had defied gravity. Martin Heidegger, in Building, Dwelling and Thinking, I believe is the essay, talks about the objects that hold residue of the human hand and foot. A wooden fence post or leather pouch, visibly worn with the continuous touch of the hand is simultaneously a material sign of the human being. Heidegger contrasted this nostalgic image to the modern daily technological wonders of our lives that never seem to leave a trace of the human heart. The Refrigerator Door. No matter how many times you slam the steel frame, your hand will never leave the quality of life on it.

Enduring indents in steps

Ephemeral indents in steps

Les Deman turned out to be a small-in-stature, dapper, semi-retired energy consultant, with 40 years of experience, beginning his first gig (after completing a Master’s in Economics at U. of Oklahoma) in a boutique energy consultancy in New York City in 1971. After nearly 2 years becoming acquainted with the oil and gas industry, he moved to Houston where he worked for a marketing firm, Texas Eastern gas transmission, which had been acquired by Panhandle Eastern, which was then acquired by Duke Energy, all natural gas marketing firms, and where Les spent a total of 18 years of his life.

At Tenneco, a firm he subsequently worked at, he was named Director of Competitor Intelligence, where he and four analysts under his guidance, examined competing natural gas transportation firms, struggling to discover — well, what made their competition tick, what gave them higher earnings, etc.

It was at Tenneco, that Les hired the North American natural gas consultant, Ed Kelly. Coincidentally — or not, because as Les says, consulting is a small world — Ed Kelly was the lead director for the State of Alaska contract with Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA). I write quite a bit about Ed Kelly in my book, actually. He is the subject of Chapter Two, when — during the period I was working as an energy lobbyist– we (State of Alaska Officials) were holed up in a hotel room, asking Ed his opinion about government support of arctic gas development. As Les explained, Ed Kelly and he were both at Tenneco, when the company was acquired by El Paso, after which Kelly went to CERA, and Les went to the Texas Railroad Commission, which is the regulatory body in the State of Texas.

His established corporate career came to a close after working for the Canadian firm, TransCanada Pipelines (2.5 years) and then Shell Energy North America where he worked an additional 10 years. Well, by my calculations, that comes up to 37+ years of corporate oil and gas economic experience. Good grief.

What had Les learned about energy consultants during that time?  What had he learned about himself as a consultant, or the role of those experts working independent of any particular sector of the market, or in general, the assemblage of capital for these project?

A few no-brainers reminded me of things I should know by now. For example, economics is a supply-demand market fundamentals prescriptions, that Les applies to anything he has his hands on, and this reminded me to how my own objects of analysis are shaped by my own discipline.

Something else, that consultant knowledge, in his view, rarely comes out with an idea ahead of its time, but in fact, after industry, as individuals and collective, have decided to move in a certain direction. In this sense, for Les, consultants are there to “bless the work” and to “cover the management’s ass”. What this means, in a sense, is that for Les, consultant knowledge (1) comes after and (2) verifies, rather than the predictive quality that I often assign to it. And this makes sense when I think about many of the reports created on Alaska natural gas – basically, they were following the money, there was an investment community interested in the projects and to some extent willing to put money behind it, so why turn your back so to speak.

One final point, Les remarked upon in connection to the added value of consultants was project “structuring”. There are, carved out into various projects, various ways to turn them around so that you could see what other values you could take from them, and on this practice, consultants were helpful.

Finally, after hearing me talk about some of my research, Les ask me the question, “are you interested in being a consultant”?

“No, not at all” was my response. Fee for service is not my gig. I left the man in the parking lot, and I was sort of taken aback by what I consider the ridiculousness of my situation. I seem to know enough about a topic, that someone else with experience would want to know how I am employing it in a way that I profit personally from the knowledge. And yet, I do not consider what I am doing knowledgeable, in the sense, that anything I do fits with the standard models of rational knowledge and behavior expected of any field, when making a profit for others. Making ideas rational is a critical point when selling knowledge-objects.

nothings speaks more of being than walk path

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