I grew up in one of the world’s largest petroleum-processing centers: Port Arthur, Texas. Refineries lined the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Brownsville with heaviest concentrations from Houston to Eastern Louisiana. Important offshore oil wells have been productive for as long as I can remember. The standard of living for all our families up and down the food chain was high per capita, maybe the highest in the nation for almost all of the 20th Century and beyond. The bad news was that you got to smell the skunk cabbage air while brushing your teeth, driving to work, ergo most of your waking hours. But it was not fatal, we were told, and the mind quickly filtered it out of our collective consciousness, we forgot about it, and we worked and prospered and had fun in the sun and Oleanders near the sea.
Port Arthur was unique. On the sea coast of South East Texas, it made for a splendid port. Ships arrived and sailed from all points of the compass as exports of gasoline and imports of crude oil made for heavy traffic in a new multi-billion dollar business of oil and oil products. The perfect seaport for commerce fit hand in glove to the discovery of the Spindletop Oilfield in 1901 just 17 miles north near the present city of Beaumont, Texas. What a bonus, what an opportunity for capital investment.
Spindletop Oilfield Historical Articles (http://www.history.com/topics/spindletop http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/dos03 )
From the ocean at land’s end at Sabine Pass to the mouth of the Neches River to Beaumont made a very convenient waterway to ship crude oil to the seaport of Port Arthur for refining into gasoline and thousands of oil-based products yet to come. Many big oil companies built giant refineries there on the Port Arthur seaport: The Texas Company (Texaco), Exxon (earlier Enco, Esso), and Gulf Oil all had their beginnings there with new refineries to process the large supply of oil in their own backyards, so to speak. The famous Melon family of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania financed and ended up with a controlling share of Gulf Oil Company. Oddly, but not really, Gulf Oil was headquartered in Pittsburg. Everything seems to follow the money, what?
Mass migration from the rural farms brought many families to Gulf Coast of upper Texas. Oilfield and refinery pay was good, the standard of living was high for workers, and jobs were plentiful. A new era had begun. Now an abundant and cheap source of new energy was available to millions. Gasoline and natural gas even drove the generators that made electricity for the home, a new and useful answer to darkness with the advent of the electric light. Many of my ancestors had moved from the country dirt roads and cotton patch to Port Arthur when the refineries mushroomed overnight. They had never seen an electric light. The Texas refineries, in their infancy, used mules as the source of propulsion for wagons necessary to all transport functions within the refinery. My grandfather’s younger brother worked there in the early 1920s. He said that the refinery workers would build huge bonfires at night to ward off the mosquitos. When the fires would die out and the mosquitos returned, the mules would stir the fire up again by hoofing the embers so that the mosquitos would be foiled again, at least temporarily. Smart mules.
In 1940 I was born in Rosebud, Texas to a couple who made a combined salary of $950.00 per year teaching rural school in Central Texas. Well, so much for education opening doors to higher learning and better wages. My father had heard from an uncle who worked at Gulf that they were hiring laborers at $1600.00 to start out. So in 1944 we all moved to Port Arthur and my father got a job at Gulf. Growing up in an oil town seemed desirable. Everyone had a pretty good job in a booming new industry that paid well and allowed your father to buy a work car, thus the 2-car family symbol of prosperity was born. Times were good. We Americans used our own crude oil on American soil. We refined it and made everything from gasoline to plastics, and the rest of the world watched us in envy. Anything made in Japan or (perish the thought) China was cheap and second class to American goods. I remember as a child, I thought that we were very fortunate to have an abundance of things and goods that made our lives more pleasurable, such as nice cars, record players, Elvis, and bubble gum.
But everything changes if enough time passes. Slowly, America began to run out of oil. Or it became cheaper to buy oil from the oil-rich Saudis than to drill here at home. When the Saudis lifted the Arab Embargo, our troubles began. We became dependent upon the most powerful dope-dealer in the history of the world: foreign oil.
The reality of the new scarcity known as peak oil (you got less now than you had yesterday) fell upon us like a giant offshore drilling rig. Some of the oil giants here at home were in deep sh--. What would they do if a source of crude oil could no longer drive the refineries that required millions a day to operate? The Saudis gave us a taste of what a lack of oil and gas lines would be like, not to mention higher prices at the pump. It was a Royal setup.
So the Saudis offered Texaco a deal on their oil for a cut of the Texaco refineries. So right after the Arab Oil Embargo in the early 1970s the new corporation that was to refine Texaco’s oil became Star Enterprises. This was a jointly-owned operation now between Texaco and the Saudis. And the split? Well, the Saudis got half. This silent erosion of American ownership went unseen, without much fanfare. And it continued every year and presently, too, as we are held for ransom to do the bidding of those who have the oil that our country must have or perish from the earth and prove Lincoln wrong.
A new liquid natural gas storage facility was just constructed in Sabine Pass just a few miles from the old oil refineries, at the cost of over $1 Billion dollars. The sign on the gate says Exxon, but the sovereign country of Qatar owns HALF! You know, Qatar, the country that deals in human slave trade and trafficking? A Billion dollars. Wonder how many Americans can put their finger on Qatar on a world map? How many Americans are aware of this unseen takeover of our technology and resources simply because oil is the only game in town when it comes to world energy?
The United States in 2011 is in debt approaching a figure of $15 Trillion (I try to capitalize Billion and Trillion just because it seems appropriate in such times lest we lose touch with the stark reality of where we as a country seem to be heading). Never, in my wildest dreams, did I ever sense that oil would become such a significant and powerful commodity in the lives of all humans on planet earth. I pondered it at times, reflecting on when gasoline was only 17 cents per gallon, and you and your date could buy gas, see a movie, and maybe buy some drive-in burgers, all for $5.00. So why is oil so dire a substance in all our lives now to where we will attack countries, occupy them, fear being blown up by terrorists, and spend Trillions of dollars on the Middle East countries in arms sales and foreign aid? The best answer I know of is that oil was made the standard for energy production. Most all renewable forms of energy have been smothered with lobbyist dollars so that electric cars and wind and solar power for electric power plants are totally retarded by bribes by Big Oil.
Oil is a dirty business in other ways, too. Other than the 100s of thousands of humans slain every year due to oil or oil geography, oil, when burned produces toxic smoke and ash. The internal combustion engine, notwithstanding the idiocy of anti-global warmers such as the Tea Party and much of the GOP dumb-them-downers, has harmful effects on the planet. And the only reason a pseudo-science astro turf company set up by Big Oil, e.g. the Koch Brothers exists is to say that man is NOT the (or even a) cause of global warming. So why would the Koch’s or anybody else want to dumb down the search for truth (the very definition of science, itself)? It’s not that hard when you follow the money. Koch Industries saves Billions a year for every year they can delay modernizing air and water polluting equipment at their refineries. And that money not spent on updating equipment to save the planet and clean up the air we breathe goes directly into the ass pockets of the Koch Brothers and stockholders. Would they do that, though? Really? Take it to the bank. They own that, too. And the Democrats are not without sin, either. Lobbyist dollars to buy votes buys a good deal of those buggers, too. And they all know it.
When I was burning cheap gasoline as a teenager, I had no idea that someday oil would be so crucial to the planet. If you have it, fine, but if you don’t have it, what will it be worth? $5.00 per gallon? $9.50? I fear that we are about to find out.
Next time in Part II we will cover some of the offshoot business of oil, e.g., the sale of arms to protect world oilfields, the Pentagon dollars and lives spent to occupy foreign countries rich in oil, and corporations like Blackwater who Uncle Sam pays billions of dollars per year with our tax dollars.