Once upon a time we celebrated the entrepreneur, the men and women who were willing to risk all they owned and their reputations to build something, in this case, a nation. We even made movies about them, identifying with the hardship they suffered and celebrating with them when their work produced hard-won success.

One such movie made in 1953 was “Thunder Bay” with Jimmy Stewart in the lead as a petroleum engineer convinced that he could find a way to make offshore oil drilling pay. He and his partners risked everything to bring in the first offshore well while extolling the virtues of oil and how it was essential to building a great nation and providing the life-blood that ran the engines of our economy. His protagonist was Gilbert Roland, playing the part of a Louisiana shrimp fisherman angry over the intrusion of a bunch of “roughneck” oil men into his fishing grounds, convinced they would destroy the shrimp beds and likely run off with his girl, (which they did in the latter case.) I won’t tell you the end but was typical of the movies of the era when we celebrated those who risked a lot to build a lot.

There’s a propaganda war going on in America today and the movies being made today vilify modern industry. When was the last time you saw any movie in which the entrepreneur was portrayed in a positive light, especially if it involved anything to do with developing raw materials into a natural resource, or worse, making a profit?

Fossil fuels, especially oil, are particularly hated with lots of fear feeding the flames of discontent. It’s ironic that the protesters don’t fail to take advantage of living in an industrial society, where oil is the lifeblood of our economy. Every single product on every shelf is there today because of oil, used in its transportation to market or in its manufacture, even as a component in virtually everything we wear. Without oil, the food we take for granted to be in a grocery store would likely not be grown or available, with all of us living a life of virtual subsistence. Women’s liberation would be a memory as a six day work week and 12 to 16 hour day would be the norm, hard manual labor replacing that of labor-saving machines. The term “washday” was a reality for our great-grandmothers with laundry taking an entire day or more per week as it was done by hand. Food would be expensive for most, especially high-protein diets; in Britain in 1890, many rural residents subsisted on cabbage and onions with little variety. Oil-based fertilizers and mechanization dramatically improved the quantity of food produced and lowered its price; people began to live longer and healthier lives.

We’ve come a long way and are somewhat spoiled, expecting gas at the pump and the lights to turn on with a flip of a switch. Our water is purified by machines run by oil-produced energy. Third world countries depending upon wind and solar energy envy the reliability of our abundant, reliable and cheap energy. Reliability of lighting is essential during surgery, yet many countries are forced to rely upon generators for back-up power when their unreliable “alternative energy sources” fail, as they frequently do.

A recent letter-writer asserted that the oil rail spur in Nipomo would increase pollution by the use of diesel locomotives pulling oil “bomb trains.” In fact, the locomotives are diesel-electric and use an electric tractor motor as the primary driver of the train; the diesel engine powers the electric generator on board that actually moves the train. If trains are not used, the oil will be transported by truck, approximately 10 tractor-trailers per rail tank car. You do the math and figure out how much more pollution that will generate.

No technology is 100% safe and accidents can occur but a spill of oil is far less hazardous than many of the products already routinely transported through our county via rail and truck. Firefighters are intimately aware of hazards transiting our county and oil is not one that would keep them awake nights. Spectacular incidents like the derailment in Lac-Megantic, Canada in 2013 (47 dead) was an outlier incident in which human stupidity overcame every engineering safeguard. The critic asserted that derailments are increasing but actually have steadily decreased over the last decade. Derailments are expensive and bad for business; dumping a product on the ground isn’t improving a “bottom-line.”

No doubt any defense of oil will raise protest but the use of fossil fuels, especially oil, is a moral choice and imperative to sustaining our economy and quality of life. I’ve more to say in making the case for fossil fuels, but that’s for next time.


Al Fonzi

Atascadero News article June 26, 2015