This is part of the “Unsung Heroes” series, highlighting outstanding individuals who don’t always get the public credit they deserve. “Unsung Heroes” is sponsored by Aramark. Read more posts in the series »
If shale energy production booms in the U.S. but no one’s there to count the barrels, does it make a sound?
Thankfully, this conundrum has yet to materialise. Adam Sieminski has virtually guaranteed it never will.
Two years into his term as the administrator of the Energy Information Agency in Washington, Sieminski has helped put a quantifiable face on what’s been an unprecedented surge in unconventional oil and gas production. As demand for information has increased, Sieminski has successfully ushered the EIA into the big data era.
“There were things EIA simply couldn’t do in the existing surveys and resources available to the agency,” until now, he told BI in a phone interview Friday.
In many ways the EIA has come full circle. It was created in 1977 as part of the federal government’s frenzied attempt to grapple with 1970s energy shocks. In its write-up of Senate discussions to found the agency, the New York Times noted one senator had complained among other things about “a seemingly endless argument over basic natural gas data” covering reserves and production.
Today, Sieminski said, the agency manages “millions and millions” of data points. They now run 41 different email lists with over 440,000 total subscriptions.
Until he took over in 2012, Sieminksi’s 40-year career as an energy analyst was spent largely in the private sector, most recently at Deutsche Bank. For Kevin Book, the managing director of Cleaview Energy Partners, that experience has been critical to his success.
“He was, for many years, a consumer of EIA’s products, so he may be uniquely positioned to improve them,” Book told us in an email. “Adam worked for decades — as I do — as an analyst, relying as all energy analysts must on EIA’s output. Adam also came directly to EIA from the National Security Staff where, in that capacity, he was trying to make decisions that relied on EIA’s data. In other words: he’s been both kinds of customer.”
His achievements haven’t gone unnoticed. This year, the agency got a 17.6% budget increase, to $US117 million. As far as federal budgets go, it isn’t much. But Sieminski says it speaks to a recognition of the agency’s work.
“In the world of tighter and tighter public finances, that’s a huge success for EIA, and a reaffirmation that we’re doing critical work that is valued by both parties here in Washington.”
Under his watch, Sieminski has expanded the agency’s reach both locally and abroad. They have beefed up state-specific data through a new state energy portal,
and relaunched the International Energy Outlook, which had been suspended in 2012. Last year the agency rolled out a huge new portal for state electricity data.
Among energy analysts, the consensus is that Sieminski’s greatest recent success was the launch of the monthly Drilling Productivity Report. The releases, which began last October, provide up-to-date and short-term forecasts of drilling output in the country’s six major shale oil and gas production plays. Judith Dwarkin, the chief energy economist at ITG Investment Research in Calgary, says the report fits the pattern of robust response to data demand. “The EIA continuously improves the breadth and depth of the data it provides regarding energy markets, along with thoughtful synopses on topical issues,” Dwarkin told us by email. “The Drilling Productivity Report launched under Adam Sieminski’s watch is a case in point.”
Book said it represents a “big departure” from previous reports like the Annual Energy Outlook that were largely retrospective.
Sieminski agreed the Annual Energy Outlook, which is still published but relies on lagged data, wasn’t cutting it. The 2013 edition was rendered obsolete within months of its release as production screamed higher, so Sieminski went about creating a more forward-looking product.
“We asked what it would take to get a good estimate of current oil production, and we said ‘Well if we do it the standard way, it will take a year for OMB to approve a new survey,” he said. “So we said ‘Well, what can do with existing data from states and private vendors?’ And we came up with a methodology that looks at hte six fastest-growing areas.”
There’s more coming down the pike: Sieminski says the agency plans to add 15 more states to its production survey, near-real-time electricity generation data, and compile more data on fracked wells, including chemicals being used. And they have not neglected renewables growth, although he said their focus is largely proportional to an energy source’s share in the economy.
As one might expect, Sieminski was quick to praise his colleagues, saying he was struck by their dedication to public service and “trying to really actually provide good value to the public for the resources they [pay] … to being accurate and objective, and doing a good job, to help maintain the trust of the public, has been extraordinary.”
People are starting to notice.
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