Energy isn’t just a commodity; it’s the lifeblood of real estate. For today’s episode, we have Howard Crosby to discuss the interplay of energy, oil, gas, and the real estate industry. From the influence of energy markets to property values (and vice versa) to the existing opportunities in the oil and gas sector, Howard explores it all. He gives an extensive look at the LGX Energy— his innovative venture that offers investment access to everyday individuals. Howard’s discussion also expands to the future of nuclear energy (how it has a crucial role for a sustainable future), copper connection (how its increasing demand posits it to become the next hot commodity), and much more. Throughout the episode, Howard emphasizes the value of continual learning, as it’s the key to successful investing and staying ahead in the energy and real estate landscapes. Don’t miss this opportunity to make informed investment decisions and embark on a journey to create wealth, simplified. Tune in now.
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Understanding How Energy, Oil, And Gas Impact The Real Estate Industry With Howard Crosby
In this episode, I have a special guest with me. I have Howard Crosby. Howard, how are you?
Great, Chris. It’s a pleasure to be with you.
I’m ecstatic to be on this episode because we’re going to talk about something we haven’t talked about. We’re going to talk about the energy sector and how that influences real estate and investments. Howard has been in this arena for many decades. In 2001, he founded a company, Cadence Resources. In five years, he took that from a modest-sized million-dollar company to a modest $400 million valuation. We see some significant growth there. Howard’s been on CBS Evening News with Anthony Mason. Fast forward, he’s focused on LGX Energy, which is his reentry into the oil and gas sector. Howard, thanks so much for being here.
It’s my pleasure.
How did you get into the energy sector?
I parlayed my Bachelor’s degree in History from the University of Idaho into a career in natural resources. How that all came about is a long story but it does turn out that my late brother-in-law who passed away in 2022, a wonderful man, Bob Ferguson, back in the late ‘70s was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy for the United States. He was later in charge of a major utility. He was head of a major energy project for Westinghouse at Hanford.
Very early on in my career, he got me a job working at Westinghouse when we were a prime contractor on the nuclear test facility at Hanford. That somehow spun into a whole career in energy. While I never got a degree in geology or geophysics, I’ve spent a lifetime working with geologists and geophysicists and the management role of mining companies, oil and gas companies, and investing in the same. While I didn’t get a degree in petroleum engineering or mining engineering, I’ve probably paid far more in real-world experience lessons than I would’ve paid for a PhD from Stanford.
It’s interesting how many people will go to school for whatever their degree is and end up doing something outside of what their degree is. I have a Civil Engineering degree. I thought I was going to design bridges and roads for a living, and got into construction. I’m in real estate and finance. It was a different turn. I forgot who made the comment that college is more for people to show that they can take some responsibility for going through something for 4 years for some people, 5 for others, and be responsible enough to get through it. Let’s talk a little bit about the companies that you’ve had. When you’re in the energy sector, there are so many different facets of energy. There’s nuclear, wind, oil, gas, and solar. What have you been mostly involved in?
I got a job fairly early on in my career with United Nuclear. We were a uranium producer. I spent the better part of a year in Australia working on a uranium project there back in the early ‘80s. I’ve been involved in oil and gas exploration, development, and production. I’ve been an investor in other sectors related to mining and energy. I pretty much experienced the whole breadth of it. There are so many misconceptions about the energy business. A lot of people have lost sight of the big picture in terms of the critical role that energy plays in civilization, prosperity, and economic development in all manner.
I continue to be a tremendous proponent of the development of oil and gas, particularly domestically, which has been choked off in the last few years. We think it’s critically important. Oil, for instance, is the largest commodity market in the world. In 2022, there were $2.1 trillion worth of oil transactions in the world, which is more than double the total volume of all transactions in all other hard metal elements, including iron ore, gold, copper, nickel, lead, zinc, and everything. The oil markets double the size of all of those put together.
It’s the most important and most critical element of commodities anywhere in the world. The whole world runs on it. There are over 6,000 products that people use every day that are derivatives of oil and the petrochemical industry, not to mention the critical importance of oil and transportation. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about oil’s critical role in society in the development of prosperous economies. Also, the uplifting of poor countries from poverty into some semblance of a more equitable situation.
A lot of lessons are being learned about the so-called move to entirely “renewable green energy production.” The Germans were one of the first to go down that path. They closed all their nuclear plants and tried to rely very heavily on wind and solar energy. Neither of those forms of energy produced firm power. They produce intermittent power at best. Solar power works only when the sun is shining.
Wind power, a lot of the early windmills that were built in Germany have reached the end of their useful life with no provision for decommissioning of these old windmills that are beyond their planned life expectancy. They’re encountering tremendous problems with the disposal of the blades, for instance, which are massive, hard to transport, have to be buried in landfills, and they’re very environmentally destructive. I’m all for people driving electric cars if that’s what they want to do but don’t delude yourself into believing that somehow electric cars are environmentally more beneficial than an efficient internal combustion engine running on gasoline because it’s not so.
I look at it similar to somebody’s diet. You need a mix of many different things. Similar to our energy, you can have ancillary systems such as wind or solar but that’s not going to power an entire country. If $2 trillion or twice more than anything else is based on oil, I’m guessing you can’t.
It’s not feasible. The only firm power that is “carbon-free” is nuclear power. You could also include hydroelectric dams but there’s a limited number of those that can be constructed. My late brother-in-law wrote seven books on the energy business and was a brilliant man. He always said it’s an all-of-the-above solution. That’s the only solution.
You need oil, gas, coal, renewables, and geothermal. Whatever works, it is the most economically efficient and serves to be the best. Right here in Palm Desert, California, passive solar power for home heating and home needs works great. The sun shines 360 days a year here. Collect your solar panels on the roof and your needs are taken care of. I suspect where you came from in New England, that may not be the case.
That was not the case. If you tried to run electric heat in your house up in New England, you would be bankrupt in about three months. You’re either running off of gas or on oil. I’m in Virginia and we still have winter and the seasons. Most residences here run off of natural gas or oil. I wanted to shift a little bit. You mentioned the importance of all of this and I made the comment that you can’t flip the switch and all of a sudden cut off any one type of energy source. Also, it’s not only the energy source itself but all the ancillary impacts it could have. One of the things that you like to talk about is the interplay between the real estate sector markets and this energy. I love to talk a little bit about that.
Anytime you have any development, whether it’s commercial real estate or residential real estate, one of the first issues that you have to confront is, “How are you going to provide the power to make this work?” That’s going to depend on where you are and what the available sources of energy are. Let me give you a classic example that hit the news here. In Kansas, Panasonic is building a giant plant to build batteries for electric cars. They’ve been given something like an $8 billion subsidy by the federal government for this gigantic plant to manufacture lithium-ion batteries for electric cars.
There’s a huge piece of real estate development around this giant plant in Kansas. What they discovered was this plant was going to require so much electricity that their grid could not provide it. What they’ve had to do is take a shuttered coal plant and restart it to provide coal-fired electricity to power the plant that’s going to build batteries for electric cars, which I find quite ironic.
Being in the real estate market, I hear a lot of people say, “Let’s take this empty office building and turn it into residential.” I’ve done that in the past and I’ve seen it fail significantly. The first thing I tell people is, “You don’t have the power.” Think about a floor. On a 10,000-square-foot footprint, that could be 10 residential units that have 10 kitchens, 10 baths, and 10 sets of appliances. If that’s an office space, it’s got some outlets and maybe 1 or 2 kitchens, and then all the lighting that you need and everything different. All these office buildings don’t have that load requirement to even power these buildings. Never mind when you look at the other resources of water and everything else they need.
You’re going to have to have water heaters, which require power and facilities for plumbing that may not exist or be readily convertible. You’re going to have to have a lot bigger electric load to meet the demands of multiple residential units versus an open-floor office concept. It’s apples and oranges, not apples and apples. There’s another thing that is missed a lot and this is another one of my favorite things to tell people. In the year 1900, which seems like a long time ago but in the overall scope of human history, it was only 123 years ago, about 94% of the US workforce was engaged in subsistence farming. That’s what people did. They grew stuff to eat.
Our modern-day 2023 workforce consists of less than 2% of the workforce that is involved in agriculture. Yet, that 2% produces orders of magnitude, greater amounts of the output of agricultural products than 94% did 125 years ago. How is that possible? Two reasons. Oil and gas. It’s petroleum-based products that allow tractors and combines to work to greatly exceed the amount of agricultural work that could be done by a guy with a mule and a plow.
Even more important, and this is something that is very seldom talked about, is the advent of natural gas-based fertilizer. Without the fact that we have natural gas-based derived fertilizer, we couldn’t feed the planet. It would be impossible. The reason that we’re able to even come close to feeding eight billion people on this planet is because we use natural gas-based fertilizer. We’re not going to be able to do it with cow dung. It’s not possible. We’ve got to have natural gas-based fertilizers to feed this planet. That means you have to be drilling for oil and gas reserves for all the needs that we have in a modern society.
Let’s talk a little bit about the drilling. I’ll go to real estate conferences and see a company offering oil and gas funds where we’ve got wells or drilling. To me, the first thing that pops into my head is, “Am I investing in real estate, the well, or the equipment?” Can you talk about how people can invest in leverage oil and gas as part of an investment portfolio? I’ve also heard that there are some great depreciation benefits in investing in some of those markets or sectors.
For a long time, there were a lot of what’s called oil and gas limited partnerships where people got a working interest in oil wells. That is a tax-advantaged investment because you’ve got the ability to write off what’s called the intangible drilling cost of a well. Also, you could then get a depletion allowance as the well is produced.
There’s an upfront tax benefit to direct participation in oil and gas drilling. There’s also a longer-term tax hedge caused by the so-called depletion allowance. There were a lot of investments structured that way back in the ‘80s in particular. It fell out of favor because a lot of people who got into that business got into it for tax benefits without understanding how drilling for oil works and how to mitigate the risk.
I like to look at it in terms of it’s like anything else. I suppose it’s applicable to your business as well, Chris. If you invest in one building somewhere and everything goes well, you’ll make money. If something goes wrong with that one building, maybe you can’t get the permits you need for it or whatever it might be, you’re going to encounter a lot of risks versus a diversified portfolio across real estate investments in a variety of places, different locations, and different end-use of the real estate. For some residential, commercial, office, strip malls, or whatever it might be, a diversified portfolio is going to reduce your risk.
It’s the same in oil and gas. If you’re going to be involved in a 1, 2, or 3 well program, you’ve got a lot of risk. Anytime you’re involved in a small number of wells, there are a lot of things that can go wrong. You can drill a dry hole, which is not the worst thing in the world. You can also have problems with the completion. The well may not perform as well as you expected. There’s a myriad of things that can go wrong. That’s why a lot of the tax-advantaged oil and gas investments didn’t perform as well as people had hoped. They were counting on cashflow that materialized not at all or slower than they expected. They got the initial tax benefits but, in the end, it wasn’t a very successful investment.
The way I look at oil and gas is it needs to be a part of everybody’s portfolio because it’s the most important commodity in modern society. It’s best if you have a diversified portfolio. In other words, you’re involved in a lot of different wells or the hands of management that knows what they’re doing and knows how to mitigate risk.
If you’re investing in that sector, I’m going to assume that the price or barrel of oil also is something that probably needs to be looked at or watched. Is it safe to assume as oil prices go up, you might get better returns? Is that an it-depends type of question?
It depends. I don’t know how far you want me to get into the weeds here but this is an important discussion. I’m going to go back a few decades. In the 1950s, there was an eminent geologist for Shell Oil called King Hubbert. He developed a thesis called Hubbert’s Peak. What he did was predict based on the rate of discovery of giant oil fields and their depletion rates that the US production would peak in January of 1972 at 9.2 million barrels a day, and then would begin a long decline and would never again reach that peak because our super giant fields would’ve been discovered and they would be beginning a long slow depletion. We would never again reach that 9.2-million-barrel level of domestic production on an annual basis.
It turns out that he missed it by less than a month. US production peaked in early February of 1982 at 9.2 million barrels a day and then started declining. By the early 2000s, we were down to less than 5 million barrels a day of US production. There was no indication that we would ever return to that high level and that probably Hubbert’s Peak was correct. He missed something very important. I have to admit. At the time, I was a devotee of Hubbert’s Peak as well. We all missed an important thing and that was the impact of technology.
What happened in the first decade of the new century is we perfected the ability to frack type formations with powerful heavy fracking technology. That meant that huge oil reserves that were never considered producible, like those in the Bakken Formation of North Dakota, were suddenly economic at prices above $75 or $80 a barrel. Doing this new technology was much more costly than simply drilling a vertical hole acidizing the bottom of the well and producing oil out of a pump jack. There was a lot of oil that was brought onto the market.
By 2011 or 2012, we were back above ten million barrels a day, which is something King Hubbert would’ve said was impossible. He didn’t figure in the impact of the new technology of being able to access tight formations. In other words, where the rock was not very permeable or porous. What we’re looking at is there’s a tremendous amount of undeveloped oil in the United States. A lot of it, however, is in these tighter shale formations and has been burned by operators that are in some of these tighter formations like the Marcellus Shale or the Bakken Formation in North Dakota. Even with $80 oil, they’re reluctant to invest large amounts of capital with the risk that the oil price might fall back below $60 where they can’t make money. The answer is not all oil wells are the same, and it depends.
It’s interesting because the acquisition costs can fluctuate on an asset. Just because the overall commodity may increase in value. If the cost to mine and get it is increasing more significantly or a price point that doesn’t make sense, then that makes perfect sense.
This is why the Middle East or Russia are simply draining traditional reservoirs where their lifting cost is under $2 a barrel. It doesn’t matter what the oil price is. They can produce it at a profit and sell it. That’s why it’s a fungible product in the world market. Many of our reserves in this country, although they’re giant reserves, are going to demand higher prices to be economic in many locations.
Is that for both oil and natural gas or more on the lines of oil?
I’m thinking more in terms of oil but natural gas is a special case. Natural gas reserves tend to have very high flush production. In other words, when you first drill a successful gas well and it’s pressurized, you get a great deal of production quickly. Let’s say you have a successful gas well that comes on at 10 million cubic feet a day, which would be a great gas well. A year later, it’s probably doing 1 million cubic feet a day. Two years later, it might be doing 100,000 cubic feet a day.
The decline curves are very steep on these pressurized gas wells, which means if you don’t continue to drill new wells, it’s very tough to keep stable production. That’s a concern that’s not so prevalent in oil wells, which tend to deplete on a slower curve. The area that we’re working at in Indiana has decline curves but these wells will economically produce for 30 to 40 years from initial production. That’s not the case with a gas well, typically.
Out of curiosity, you were originally from the Pacific Northwest. I’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest. When I was talking to a colleague who lived in San Diego, heating a house was something that even had to fathom. In New England, oil and gas go through the roof. If you have a 250-gallon tank at $6 a gallon, you’re spending $1,500 to fill that thing that might last you 45 days. You can run some pretty expensive heating and so forth. Here up in the Pacific Northwest or Minnesota across that Northern Strip, how are homes and stuff heated up in those areas? Is it oil?
Interestingly, the Pacific Northwest is a unique place because the vast majority of the electricity historically has been generated by hydropower. All the dams along the Columbia River and hydropower that meant generally power rates in Washington and Oregon are lower than anywhere else in the country because of the contribution of hydroelectric dams. When I was a boy, we heated our house with electricity. We had baseboard electric heat.
You could afford it because electricity was $0.2 a kilowatt hour. There’s also some contribution from nuclear power. That brings me to an interesting story. Before I moved to California, I lived in Walla Walla County, Southeastern Washington State. In the last several years, the largest wind farm in the country was built along the Columbia River Gorge in Walla Walla County, an 800-megawatt wind farm owned by Florida Power & Light. If you look at the map of the US, Southeastern Washington is quite far from Florida.
I’m wondering how they thought this was viable to put a wind farm in the Pacific Northwest if you’re from Florida when everyone else in the country decides against it.
I had lunch with the project manager a year or so after the windmills were all up and running. We’re having a friendly chat over a hamburger. I said, “How’s the wind farm working for you guys?” “It’s okay,” he said. I said, “That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.” He said, “We have problems.” I said, “Such as?” “There’s a maintenance nightmare. They don’t exactly pulse the power into the grid at an even hertz so we have some dirty power issues that crop up. We kill a lot of birds with them.” They chop up a lot of birds.
He said, “The biggest problem is that as a utility, we’re required to deliver power to our customers during peak load demand. Typically, that’s a time when the wind isn’t blowing so we have to keep a power plant on standby, ready to kick in, and deliver power when the wind isn’t blowing.” I said, “You guys are smart. You knew that all ahead of time.” “We knew all of that.” I said, “Why the $800 million investment in a wind farm in Walla Walla County?” He said, “We needed the green credits.”
I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “By building the wind farm, we got enough green credit that we were able to build a 1,500-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Ocala, Florida.” It turns out that the subsidies for the green power in Walla Walla County were looked at by Florida Power & Light as sunk cost part of the coal plant that they needed.
One area that I’m curious to hear your opinion on being in this space for decades is that nuclear is the only one that is somewhat carbon neutral, hydro, and so forth. I don’t think the US is a big producer or looking into nuclear energy. Correct me if I’m wrong. Some places in Europe and stuff are more mainstream with it. Is the reason we don’t do it, the fear because of the name nuclear to it? Are there other reasons because of the industry, oil, and natural gas, the lobbyist saying, “Let’s keep it how it is?”
Nuclear power plant construction in other parts of the world is burgeoning. They’re building nuclear plants in Asia and parts of Europe. Sweden is building new nuclear plants. It’s because everybody realizes that it’s the only source of firm power that’s carbon neutral and produces no carbon out whatsoever. We’ve seen the uranium price which has up nearly 30%.
We still have 110 old nuclear plants operating in this country, producing about 19% of the country’s total electricity output. We haven’t built any new ones in a long time. It’s sad because over the last 40 years, since we built our last nuclear plants in this country, the technology has advanced light years. The new generation of reactors is inherently safe in ways that the reactors that caused the problems that Three Mile Island in Fukushima were not.
In this country, we’re way behind the times in terms of nuclear energy technology. It’s become such a political football. It’s quite sad because if you are concerned about carbon output, nuclear power would be the best way to build a prosperous society without having to deal with that. It’s a fear factor here and it’s an irrational fear based on where the technology sits but people have their ears and minds close to it and they’re not willing to educate themselves.We're way behind the times in terms of nuclear energy technology and it's become such a political football that it's really quite sad. Click To Tweet
As we start to talk and wrap up this episode, you mentioned there’s been a lot of technology in this sector throughout. A lot of people who tune in are in some type of investing or passive investing type of where they like to look. Where do you see the opportunities for people in the energy sector in the next years? What should people be looking to invest in?
I can tell you what we’re doing at LGX. We found an area where there’s an opportunity for relatively shallow traditional reservoirs that were under-explored. We’re using the best modern science in an area that never had it applied. We can profitably produce oil without worrying about what the price is. We love $85 oil but we could make a lot of money at half that because these are traditional reservoirs. We don’t have to do heavy fracks. We’ve got a very good business climate in Indiana. We’re not drilling deep wells or doing horizontal fracks and things that are costly. There are opportunities in oil and gas.
The other thing is if you believe that we are going to continue to transition more and more of the transportation fleet into electric vehicles and so forth, which is certainly the trend in the Western world, then you better add some copper to your portfolio because we simply don’t have enough copper in the world to make that happen.
Most of the major banks, including Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and others are forecasting much higher copper prices in the coming years. An electric vehicle uses 2 to 3 times as much copper as a conventional car. You’d have to have all the copper needed for the charging stations and everything else. It isn’t going to be there. They came out with a saying about a year ago that copper may be the new oil in terms of the investment world. You need copper in all your buildings too.
Copper is used for wiring and plumbing. It’s hit or miss depending on some mains to run copper but people are looking more at a lot of plastics and stuff.
Plastics are made out of oil. It’s going to be copper or oil.
You talked about that and LGX Energy, which is your company. People who are reading can invest in your company, I believe, through the website. Delmore is your broker/dealer.
They’re managing the Reg A offering for us. The website is LGXEnergyCorp.com. I love to have people take a look.
You and I together have gone through that Regulation A process. That’s a fun little venture to go through. Do you want to talk a little bit about the fund, offering, minimum investment, and how the fund works?
It’s what a Reg A plus is. It’s open to the general public. Delmore manages the compliance aspect of it. They take a 1% fee on monies raised and make sure that people aren’t investing more than 10% of their net worth. They’re qualified and so forth. We’re doing a couple of webinars every week to explain the transaction. The minimum investment is 300 shares at $4 a share so $1,200 and on up from there. We’ve tried to structure this as an attractive investment for people who want to have some diversification into oil. I would recommend that whether it’s with us or somebody else, you should have some energy as part of your portfolio without a doubt. The world runs on energy.
That’s one of the wonderful things I like to see about the Regulation A offering. You get to invest in some private companies at a low barrier of entry where previously a lot of these deals or offerings, especially on the real estate side, required a $150,000 investment. Howard, it’s great, as I like you on this one show, it takes a lot for me to kick somebody $50,000.
Somebody is saying, “For $1,200 you can get in, see what it’s like, learn how the process is, watch the webinars, and get educated. If you want to up that investment or diversify, learn the Regulation A process.” People who read the show know what that is. We talked about our offering and how we structured that as well. It’s something that’s out there I find to be very worthwhile for people to start to invest and get an understanding of what they want to invest in.
When you understand what you invest in, you end up doing much better. Final thoughts. What’s one thing over your career that you’ve had that’s been your biggest lesson learned from everything that has got you to where you are? You’ve been very successful throughout your career. There are probably 1,000 things that contribute to that but is there a moment or something that sticks out to you?
The answer is pretty simple. Education and learning. It starts when you get your college degree and walk out with a diploma. You haven’t learned anything yet. Learning is something that needs to go on for your entire life.
That is a great comment because a lot of people go to college and are like, “I’m educated.” You’re college-educated. You’re not work-educated. The only way to do that is by doing. It’s great that people can take additional training and courses but you can’t rely on spending a weekend with somebody to teach you on a topic to think that you’re going to be a master in that. It’s something people would take away.
Continue to educate yourself in all sorts of areas and things. Read different opinions and books. Watch different podcasts. Continue to keep your mind open as a trap to learn more things about more things. That’s the lesson.Keep your mind open as a trap to learn more things about more things. Click To Tweet
Listen to some that might be an alternative view to what your view is.
One of the worst things that’s happened in this country is people listen to their echo chambers, whether it be in politics or anything else. That’s a very dangerous trap to fall into. You better be listening to people that disagree with you.Better be listening to people that disagree with you. Click To Tweet
Where I come up with the best ideas a lot of times is talking to somebody and coming into a disagreement with somebody. All of a sudden, they might be half right, three-quarters right, or a quarter right making it whole. Realize that if you take part of what that person’s saying with what I’m saying, if I merge those two, that’s a good idea. Howard, thanks again for coming on this episode. As always, people, thank you for reading. Make sure to leave us a review on your favorite platform. Howard, thanks for having you.
Thanks, Chris. It’s a pleasure to be here. Have a great day.
About Howard Crosby
From $1 Million to $400 Million: Founding Cadence Resources in 2001, in just five years, Howard grew a modest oil and gas producer from a $1 million market cap to $400+ million and achieved an uplisting to AMEX. Second Largest Silver Mine in US History: Howard founded the company that acquired the Galena Mine in north Idaho’s historic Silver Valley – the second-largest silver mine in US history. Oil Price Oracle: Howard has a proven track record of correctly calling oil price movements.
His 2003-04 CBS Evening News interviews with Anthony Mason attest to this. Howard has also worked in Uranium, consulted on major natural resources project financing, and has successfully listed multiple companies on the TSX that were later sold for significant increases over their original market values. Today, Howard is focused on LGX Energy — his reentry into the oil and gas sector, targeting an underdeveloped resource in the Illinois Basin with major potential amid rising demand and increasing oil prices. As an interesting aside, Howard’s late uncle was the legendary American entertainer Bing Crosby, whom he knew well as a frequent golf companion in the 1970s!