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The oil industry is a key piece of our modern world. Why are politicians attacking it?

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
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At the start of the twentieth century horse drawn carriages were still the dominant form of transportation for humanity.  Over a few years livery stables were replaced by gasoline stations and with Henry Ford’s assembly lines even the hard-working blue-collar family could afford an automobile.  

By 1915, there were 2 million autos sold in the United States. Five years later there were 8 million registered cars. Over the last 50 years, new car sales in the U.S. have averaged 15 million per year.  All this increase in mobility needed the life blood or fuel to bring it to life.  Petroleum had been extracted through wells since 1859 in Pennsylvania.  Millions of new customers that needed gasoline stimulated a “black gold” rush throughout the country.  

The combination of seemingly unlimited fuel and a middle class that built increasingly faster and more luxurious “chariots” for the common man enabled a level of prosperity and freedom of movement unparalleled in history. This partnership provided jobs for millions of Americans in the form of engineers, welders, electricians, assembly line workers, mechanics, salesmen, parts sales, truck drivers and many more. 

In 2017, a study commissioned by the Western States Petroleum Association showed that nearly 366,000 jobs in California relied on the industry. That’s 1.6% of the total workforce. These workers and their families have been treated by a state government and many of the elected officials as if they were complicit in destroying our planet at the very least. This mistreatment has filtered down to local governments as well, banning everything from new wells to a moratorium on new service stations. Let’s look at life as it was in 1900 and compare it to today and see what progress might never have happened without these hard working and courageous individuals from wildcat drillers to midnight service station clerks in dangerous neighborhoods.   

At the start of the 20th century, the average income for a family in the U.S. was $3000 in today’s dollars. There was no plumbing, no phone and no car.  Average life span was 47 years.  

Today average family income is over $76,000 and nearly every home has indoor plumbing, several phones and more than one car.  Average life span is 77 years.  None of this increase in prosperity and quality of life had much of a chance without the fuel to carry us into the future.  

Yet if you ask a recent graduate from a public school to name anything good about fossil fuels, they have a hard time thinking of any redeeming qualities in history or now. 

In August of 2022, the California Air Resources Board, or CARB, issued a directive stating that all new autos sold in the state by 2035 must have zero tailpipe emissions.  Why would anyone build a new service station if your product was contraband in 12 years?  We already have twice as many cars per station as other states. 

Last September, the attorney general, Rob Bonta sued the five oil companies along with the American Petroleum Institute for knowingly promoting, marketing and selling products that have been destroying the environment and climate for over 50 years.  I suggest everyone read the content of the lawsuit as it paints the executives and all their agents (366,000 employees) as no better than fentanyl dealers wreaking havoc on young lives.

Recently, the legislature passed, and the governor signed a bill that creates a commission to set profits of these same companies to what it thinks is a fair return while taking any “excess” from their obscene markup and returning it to the public. The governor is blaming California’s relative high gas prices on corporate greed instead of smothering taxes, fees and regulation.

The state has made it more than obvious that they want fossil fuels out and it can’t be soon enough.  However, be careful what you wish for.  If all five companies decided to take their products elsewhere and left the state in a short period of time, a true catastrophe would ensue.  It wouldn’t take PhDs at elite universities to see the quick disintegration of our society and standard of living in weeks, not years.  These companies have more leverage than they know and it’s time to quit enabling the state to abuse them this way. 

Jeff Hewitt previously served as a Riverside County supervisor.

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