*In the past I have written in support of oil as an energy source. It’s manufacture and use has been a major factor in the increasing speed of society and globalization of life.
And since the Industrial Revolution we have become more and more dependent on oil.
So the usefulness of oil should not be ignored. But acknowledging the usefulness of oil (positive) and perpetuating our dependency (negative) are two different and somewhat contradictory things. President Obama’s approval of an oil pipeline in the Midwest blurs the line that separates these two perspectives.
The fact of the matter is that Obama is putting his weight behind creating an oil pipeline that will transport oil from Oklahoma to Texas where it can be manufactured. This will undoubtedly create new construction jobs as the pipeline is built and maintained. It may create additional refinery jobs as this new oil is processed. And this pipeline’s success could create a new industry (Midwestern oil transport) if other oil sites are discovered and/or harvested.
Certainly the emergence of a new crop of jobs and careers could only be a positive. In addition developing and growing the American oil industry would lessen our dependence on foreign oil – another positive.
But there is another side of the story.
Any development of any new oil caches does not mean that other energy technologies cannot be developed but it does lessen the likelihood of solar or wind energy being harnessed. This is the parallel the cliché that possession is nine tenths of the law. Oil is already the dominant energy source in this country so by developing a new avenue to this kind of energy means that people are less apt to try something new. Any new oil pipeline will disincentivize an alternative energy from being developed because the new pipeline will help to keep oil a viable option.
Oil being a viable energy source is important because it keeps our focus looking backward. Crude oil is a nineteenth century product that has been employed in various ways as the world became more industrialized. Nevertheless as the energy demands of people around the world continue to increase, oil should not be seen as the only solution. If turning to oil means looking backward then turning to solar and wind for our energy consumption needs means looking forward.
During the 1970s the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) instituted an embargo on oil effectively driving the price of automotive gasoline up. The American government responded by creating the Department of Energy, tasked with taking advantage of alternative forms of energy. Up until that point the American auto industry had been dominated by larger vehicles made by Ford, General Motors and Chrysler. Because of the economic incentive to change to more fuel efficient vehicles, American consumers began buying Japanese cars and American auto companies developed their own smaller automobiles.
The moral of the story is that given an economic incentive private companies will find a way to make wind and solar energy work. This application of the profit motive is critically important. Because even though a new pipeline in the Midwest carries with it the prospect of new jobs (and potentially other pipelines with other jobs), the bottom line is that oil is a natural resource of which there is a finite amount. So there can only be so many pipelines built.
On the contrary there is an unlimited amount of wind and sun. So as these energy sources are developed the jobs associated with them will be found throughout the country. Furthermore these renewable energy sources could replace oil. Ergo we are really looking at the difference between being a backward looking society in this regard, building regional pipelines, and limited economic growth; versus being a forward looking society, building solar panels and wind turbines across the country, and universal economic growth.
Building a pipeline to increase the production and amount of American oil would definitely curtail our dependency on foreign oil, so would the development of renewable energy. In fact there is no positive advantage that a pipeline presents that is not magnified by solar and wind power.
And it is worth keeping in mind that using solar power to power our homes and fuel our vehicles (via electricity) would not damn the American oil industry. There is still a plethora of products that are or use oil. But energy consumption in an increasingly digital age is the number one culprit of our oil dependence. Looking forward in this arena should be a priority and would be a starting point.
Gas prices spike each year as summer approaches because of the increased automotive trips that American families will take. Gas station owners know we need them. The opportunity to change this situation is now.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected]