Great white whales: the end of oil and gas?

Whale oil was a dominant, albeit barbaric, lighting fuel in the 19th century. But what happened to pricing as the industry was disrupted by kerosene and ultimately by electric lighting? We find whale oil pricing maintained a 25x premium to rock oil and outperformed other commodities as the whale oil market collapsed. As whaling declined, the prices of by-products (e.g. whale bone) also rallied very sharply. This 8-page note presents our analysis of the whaling industry from 1805 to 1905 and draws implications for the future of the oil and gas industry.

The rise and fall of the whale oil industry is put into its historical context on pages 2-3, including data on the industry’s productivity and the timing of its disruption.

The relative pricing performance of whale oil is discussed on pages 4-5, in comparison to rock oil and a basket of long-term commodity prices.

A rally in whale bone prices (a by-product of whaling) and the premiumization of whale oil supplies are found on pages 6-7.

Implications for the oil and gas industry are presented on page 8, as the historical analogy shows prices could rise sharply if future supply falls faster than future demand. Side-products such as lubricants, plastics and jet fuel could rally if EVs and renewables disrupt core oil and gas markets.

The full database underlying our analysis is available for download here.