I had breakfast yesterday morning in a small restaurant nearby, and sat with my back to the wall, as is my custom. I like to watch people. At the table next to me was a couple, obviously not married, as they were conversing. She spoke in a loud voice, self-assured and used to commanding attention. She calmly explained to her partner that the reason for current low gas prices was a plot to put the Bakken producers out of business, so that the United States would not attain energy independence.
As the conversation went on she tossed out some technical jargon, and I realized that she was probably a CPA, or somehow connected to taxes and finance.
She’s part of the best and the brightest, I suppose. I don’t think she has a clue, but she operates on that high level of cluelessness that insulates her from reality, probably reading the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and Forbes. Those are all good publications, of course. They are just not enough of the world.
I spent most of my career on the perimeters of the oil and gas business, among small producers. These are smart and technically gifted people, engineers, land swappers, geophysicists, and yes, even geologists. I started out knowing nothing, of course, and learned a lot from them.
But a man has to be a man, at least once in a while. The adhesive glue that binds those people together is no different from that which binds teachers, Democrats, or the Ku Klux Klan: groupthink.
These men and women, called “independent oil and has producers,” need a huge gift from the public, access to our commons. To approach the public with that idea and to say “we want to do it because we hope to get rich” does not fly. They need a cover story, so they use energy independence.
What a crock. Higher up the line, in the real oil business, the one where they talk about “elephants” instead of the small pockets of hydrocarbons that independents chase, there are no national boundaries. None could care less whether or not the United States makes enough oil and gas to feed itself. There’s no need to let these people onto our lands, building their roads and pads and pipelines. They like to imagine they have no impact, but that is only true in the same sense that the impact of the desk sitting here in my office is measured only by the small footprint the four legs have.
Anyway, I did something both stupid and smart at once … there was a meeting held by the supervisor to the Lewis and Clark National Forest in Billings one night, a woman who stood up against the oil and gas people and was eventually hounded (and personally threatened) out of her job. That night I sat on the side of the room with some fellow Montana Wilderness Association members, and spoke against allowing these people on to the Rocky Mountain Front. I’ll never forget the palpable greed and anger that filled that room, the searing glances … “He spoke against us” said a fellow named Mac the next day. I’d never have a another client in that room, and shortly thereafter took a hefty pay cut from one for whom I did work.
Eventually I would ease out of Billings entirely, make my way to Bozeman, and eventually Colorado. This is not a straight line, a linear progression. I was changing in so many ways, and was unknowingly easing myself out of that business. To that point it was all I knew, but my world was getting bigger by the day. Many things were going on in my life, but from an economic standpoint, having so few ties to the business in Billings certainly helped make it easier to decide to move on.
Some might say I did a stupid thing. In retrospect, I suppose it isn’t that big a deal, and did not make that much difference. I was a well-known progressive anyway, so that my words that night were not a coming-out so much as pure defiance. And, I did OK after, not like I entered a monastery.
But group pressure and financial incentives are a driving force that will eventually destroy everything around us. It can be no other way. Anything that has the potential to produce private wealth, no matter its aesthetic value, will be destroyed by incessant pressure of unrelenting commerce. Roadless lands, wilderness, even national parks will come under pressure, and never a true word will be said about the reason for their destruction – greed. All other supposed motives are window dressing.
The only thing that stands between assets of high non-monetary value and the Philistines of the world of commerce is government. So it should come as no surprise that “gubbmint” is a hated evil, one that industry despises. They will always despise government until they take complete ownership. They are very close to their goal.