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Wake Up and Smell the Crude

The oil and gas industry occupies an awkward position in the modern societal and cultural hierarchy. So much of everything on which our domestic and international economies depend and operate is fueled by and made from oil and natural gas, and yet the industry is simultaneously ignored at best and demonized at worst by those who wouldn’t have a microphone and camera to yell into or a computer keyboard on which to pound their rants without it.

How is an industry to respond to such ill-informed outrage? The oil and gas industry’s advertising campaigns have been comically ineffective over the years. Some efforts have been tedious in their factual presentations, failing to recognize the demographics of the target audience. Other efforts have tried the “touchy-feely” approach by demonstrating their love of nature and concern for polar bears. Still, others have embarrassingly confessed their hydrocarbon sins and sworn their allegiance to pursuing more positively-perceived alternative energy sources. For whatever reason, not since the golden age of full-service gas stations, has there been a real, positive and creative advertising campaign telling the profound story of just how essential oil and natural gas has been to the growth and success of our modern world.

Can you imagine a thirty- or sixty-second commercial, showing everyday people doing everyday activities with the ubiquitous fuels, electricity and products brought to you by oil and natural gas? Imagine watching yourself in these commercials, driving a car to work, driving (or driving past) an eighteen-wheeler full of food or manufactured products, navigating a busy airport to board a plane to fly somewhere for business or vacation, turning on the air-conditioner during the summer in West Texas, turning on the heater during the winter in North Dakota, being wheeled into the operating room for surgery and hoping that the lights and computers don’t suddenly blackout, and using the thousands of manufactured products at work, at home, or on the road that are made from oil and natural gas.

Success is always built on solid foundations. We often forget that the modern conveniences and amenities, many of which we would now actually describe as necessities, exist and continue to function because of the solid foundations on which they have been built. Occasionally, when we outrun our skis, we need to be reminded of these fundamentals. When our football team stops playing well, we return to the basics of blocking and tackling. When our companies stop performing well, we jettison those past impulses to diversify and return to the core business practices that made us successful in the first place.

When oil and gas were first discovered and produced in commercial amounts, the typical reaction by those involved was elation, jubilation, a sense of sudden wealth where chronic poverty had seemed inescapable. The standard scene was workers, owners, investors, farmers and anyone in the area dancing in the fountain of “black gold” that was coating them and the ground around them. The terminology was even positive and exciting — a gusher.

Since those early days of seeking, finding and realizing the practical value and utility of oil and gas, society’s attitude has done a 180 and concluded that oil and gas are quite possibly the explanation for everything that’s wrong in the world. That worldview has grown, as energy literacy among our citizens has diminished. It has become the dominant opinion among our elite, as the comforts and conveniences provided by oil and gas have become expected and given no thought at all. A gusher today would hardly be celebrated; the responsible party instead would be fined, indicted and likely sued.

We need to be reminded. We need to return to understanding the fundamentals of what makes our economy run and what makes America strong. We need to acknowledge what life in the United States in 2018 would look like, were we to be without the fuels, electricity and products that oil and natural gas provide.

For many, we need to be reminded. For many more, we need to learn for the first time. In my Oil & Gas Law1 class, I teach second- and third-year law students about the fundamental principles of oil and gas law. But I also tell them about the importance of oil and gas in our lives. Even though these are all intelligent, highly-motivated, educated individuals, they almost all are without the slightest hint of knowledge about oil and gas. And what they do “know” is wrong because they have picked it up over the years from educators, politicians and media outlets with agendas and biases. Almost without exception, these students wrongly believe that we are on the verge of running out of oil and gas. Almost without exception, these students have been told to believe that oil and gas are single-handedly causing global warming, and that, if we would only “keep it in the ground,” we would immediately reverse the adverse effects of global warming they have been taught to fear. Almost without exception, these students have been told to believe that renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, are perfectly capable of replacing every role that oil and gas currently play in our lives.

Those who know better need to be reminded. Those who have never known need to be taught. Oil and natural gas are not the enemy; Ignorance is the enemy. Fear of reprisal by the elite is the enemy. Forgetting what we once knew to be true is the enemy. God only knows what we would be without crude. We need to be glad we’ve got it in our lives.

About the author: Bill Keffer is a contributing columnist to SHALE Oil & Gas Business Magazine. He teaches at the Texas Tech University School of Law and continues to consult. He also served in the Texas Legislature from 2003 to 2007.

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