Petroleum is the Power Behind our Politics

by Duane Nichols on July 5, 2017

The American Petroleum Institute has an "agenda"

The power of petroleum is supreme nationally and globally

Essay by S. Tom Bond, Lewis County, WV, July 3, 2017

Why does petroleum, oil and gas, have so much political power? Why are they able to buck the interests of the population as a whole, such as the advance of renewables? Why can they walk all over landowners to get what is good for the fossil fuel industries and threaten the future of the human race with global warming?

When steamships were invented, they revolutionized warfare. Being able to ignore the way the wind blows and its vagaries gave steamships a huge advantage over wind driven ships. Petroleum driven engines were smaller, lighter, more easily controlled and eliminated the horrible job of shoveling coal into the boiler. These engines were adaptable to moving war machines on land too; tanks, trucks, artillery, and so forth, too. Adequate petroleum became necessary to wage war.

Immediately, the European nations and the United Stares began to make claims overseas where there was oil. Some by staking colonies, some by adroit manipulation of favored parties in nations possessing oil, such as the Saudi Family in Arabia.

Originally, coal was labor intensive. Think how many miners there were in the days of pick and shovel mining. Labor efficiency improved fostered by the labor movement. Coal operators from the days of Matewan to Don Blankinship and Robert Murray, have been able to make remarkable concentrations of wealth with the help of their workers. Today, however, there are more florists in the U. S. than miners! We now have less than 70,000 miners, less than 16,000 of which were involved in extraction, 0.019 percent of the nations work force, according to the Washington Post.

The same story plan applies to oil and gas. Originally rigs were built by hand, engine blocks were hauled by horses and site preparation was done by pick and shovel. Also petroleum has two extra layers of workers compared to coal or gas, those who refine the raw material into salable products and the low paid filling station workers (which makes up half the industry claim as jobs it produces). The total direct oil and gas job figure is somewhat less than 2 million, according to the Center for American Progress.

Several companies are working on methods to drill wells with an operator and one or more robots, which will further reduce the need for workers. So petroleum creates great wealth, but mostly, and increasingly, for the wealthy. This translates into political power in our system, where candidates must raise money for publicity. To coin a phrase, they go where the deep pockets are. The accumulated wealth also creates goodwill with investors and banks, which increases petroleum’s power.

The United States has been described as ”an oil company with an army.” The country exported oil for many decades when oil use first began, and it quickly moved to control other nations oil, as demand increased and our reserves were exhausted. The “oil company with an army” bit refers to these manipulations and the size of our military, which is famously the largest in the world, larger than the next ten nations combined (or all the other nation’s military, depending on what your read).

Our military takes over half the disposable budget for the U. S. We can’t afford to maintain and improve the infrastructure (the locks and dams that are necessary for the export of our agriculture, one of our most reliable exports, the bridges on our highways, the water systems of our cities and towns, and such). We can’t afford top quality secondary schools (but tiny Finland can). Our Internet is not top level (South Korea’s is). We can’t afford inexpensive health care for our people. The money goes to the huge military with 10 or so aircraft carrier battle groups and 800 installations in 70 countries. For comparison, Britain, France and Russia have 30 overseas installations between them. Big military isn’t the only source of U. S. financial problems, of course. See here.

Petroleum people work very hard to make us think there is no viable alternative, that oil and gas will be the mainstay for the indefinite future. I read this morning that Tesla has a backlog of 400,000 orders for it’s Model 3 at $35,000 each, and production is just now starting this summer. People bought them on faith. Tesla is riding high on the future.

How are renewables doing? Here is a quote from Adam Vaughan, Environment Editor of the Guardian newspaper:

Last year, for the first time, renewable energy accounted for more than half of new power generation worldwide…. China is expected to build more than twice that global amount in the next five years, driven by its thirst for more electric power capacity, public anxiety over air pollution and the need to fulfil its climate change pledges.

The world is changing, and Europe is no longer the big driver of green energy growth that it once was. “In the next five years, the People’s Republic of China and India alone will account for almost half of global renewable capacity additions,” says the IEA in a new report.

…. renewables are forecast to provide just over a quarter of the world’s electricity by 2021….

The accumulated wealth of the petroleum industry is used in another way: advertising and public image. You can’t fail to be impressed by all the advertisements. Night after night on TV, in the newspapers, radio, everywhere. Ads can be slanted to what ever they want; including pipelines and the idea the petroleum is the only alternative (see illustration). This income for the media makes the individual newspapers, radio stations and TV stations avoid stories that might offend petroleum companies and thus cause them to withhold advertising revenue.

One use for petroleum is largely ignored, its use in making plastics. The world is polluted with diverse present day plastics. Eight million tons of plastics are dumped in the oceans every year. Plastic is cheap and versatile, even the world’s poor can use it. It clutters beaches. Tiny pieces in the oceans are ingested by water living creatures, poisoning both fish and the creatures that they feed on.

The petroleum produced plastics are not easily digested by microorganisms, like biological materials. It damages essential life services. There is a desperate need for plastics that decompose to prevent this problem. This will mean starting with plant based materials and some new chemistry, which the industry fears.

It is easy to conceive of renewables for electrical generation – in fact, that is a technology undergoing rapid improvement. Electrical cars are here and will grow by market forces. Even an electrical semi-truck has been announced. Nikola has announced $2.3 billion of preorders for a 2,000 HP semi-truck, 7,000 paid reservations for the $375,000, to be unveiled December 2.

However there seems to be a hard core of machines that will need petroleum. They include earthmovers, farm equipment, and significantly, war machines. They involve huge energy needs and the supporting infrastructure for electricity driven machines is not available everywhere, nor portable.

Large ships, or submarines for under sea travel, where there is no air, now can use nuclear power, perhaps more could be adapted to such power. But small ships, tanks, mobile artillery, armored personnel carriers, overland trucks and the like cannot be easily adapted to electrical power.

In 2016 the U. S. imported 10.1 million barrels of oil a day from about 70 countries. We export 5.19 million barrels, mostly refined products. The net for our use is 4.87 million barrels a day. Do you suppose if we did not need imports, and other nations did not need our exports, we could reduce the military and concentrate our nation’s wealth on infrastructure as well as treating our ill and aged citizens with greater decency? Do you suppose we could do our share to avoid the worst of global warming and have a more civil place for people to live?

>>> Tom Bond is a retired professor of chemistry and resident farmer near Jane Lew in central West Virginia.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate Yoder July 5, 2017 at 1:06 pm

Big Oil is pumping fossil fuel propaganda into classrooms.

From Kate Yoder for “save the children”

A Center for Public Integrity investigation found that the industry is using its clout to get petroleum-friendly messages into K-12 education.

For example, the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board — a state agency funded by oil and gas companies — shelled out $40 million over the past 20 years to get pro-fossil fuel materials into the state’s curricula and programs.

Schools and libraries across Oklahoma received more than 9,000 free copies of the children’s book Petro Pete’s Big Bad Dream. The premise: Little Pete wakes up one morning to find his toothbrush and bike tires have disappeared. Then his school bus doesn’t show. When he finally gets to school, his teacher says, “It sounds like you are missing all of your petroleum by-products today!”

Clunky dialogue aside, the book is part of a larger culture war over climate change with American classrooms as the battlefield. To wit, thousands of teachers received the book Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming in their mailboxes this year courtesy the climate-denying Heartland Institute.

Sinister? Heck yeah. But is it working? According to The New York Times recent story featuring a straight-A, climate-denying Ohio student, the answer appears to be (shudder) yes.



E. Jarry July 5, 2017 at 1:13 pm

French doctor convicted of perjury over ties to oil firm Total

Article by Emmanuel Jarry, Reuters News Service, Paris, July 4, 2017

A French court on Wednesday convicted respected lung doctor Michel Aubier of perjury for lying under oath at a parlimentary hearing on air pollution about his two decade-long ties with oil multinational Total.

Aubier, who often appeared on televisions talk shows as an expert in his field, was paid 75,000 euros ($85,000) per year by Total, a source familiar with the terms of the relationship said.

Total confirmed that he remains on its payroll.

The court handed Aubier, 69, a six-month suspended jail term and imposed a 50,000 euro fine in a verdict that marked the first time in France an individual has been found guilty of perjury for testimony given to a parliamentary commission.

The ruling went beyond the 30,000 euro penalty demanded by the prosecutor, a decision the judge said was due to the “particular seriousness of this false testimony before the representatives of the nation”.

Aubier told a Senate commission in 2015 that he had no ties with the oil industry or other parties that may be concerned by the commission’s investigations.

“I never minimized the effects of pollution on our health,” Aubier told the court, adding that the links between pollution and cancer were weak.

Nevertheless, he acknowledged committing an error, though he pleaded it was made in good faith and was unintentional.

A Total spokesperson told Reuters Aubier would remain a medical adviser to the oil and gas company until the end of 2017, at which point he would turn 70 and retire.


S. Thomas Bond July 5, 2017 at 7:32 pm

If you Google “oil industry propaganda” you will find endless articles on this subject. One of the most interesting attempts they have made is to impersonate Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, a company that makes cars powered by electricity rather than gasoline. Apparently the objective was to gain information to use in criticizing Musk.

The offender Tad Katz, is asking the court to dismiss the suit because the impersonation was not creditable enough to merit the law suit. Quest Integrity fired him after the law suit was filed and he has the gaul to counter sue for $1,000,000 “for lost earnings.” 10 other “John Does” are also listed in the suit. Katz has a long list of oil companies he has been associated with, including BP Chevron and ExxonMobil, and others.


Scott Tong August 2, 2017 at 6:18 am

Why the oil industry may be the most corrupt in the world

>>> From Scott Tong, The Markerplace, July 31, 2017

Two cases of illegal payments and bribery came to light recently.

One is against the oil services company Halliburton in Angola.

The other involves a mining subsidiary of Glencore doing business in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

With government heavily involved and centralizing many so-called extractive industries, drilling and mining are more prone to corruption than, say, farming.

And the U.S., for one, is not increasing transparency requirements for oil and gas company operations doing business abroad under President Trump.

Click the audio player in the Article to hear the full story.



BAKKEN SHALE OIL & GAS August 19, 2017 at 12:27 pm

BAKKEN SHALE — Gas flaring rises despite N.D. regulations

Gas flaring in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale oil field has been creeping back up, blunting the state’s efforts to tame a problem that came to symbolize the excesses of the oil boom.

The volume of gas burned in flares reached 222 million cubic feet a day in June, a 31 percent increase from the same month last year, when the volume was 170 million cubic feet. That’s still far lower than the peak in 2014, but critics said the turnaround shows the limits of North Dakota’s industry-friendly regulations.




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