For Roughnecks, It Ain’t Funny

Instapundit says:

CANDIDATES RUSH TO rescue oil companies: “With the price of petroleum having fallen from almost $150 per barrel last summer to about $81, the campaigns of both Barack Obama and John McCain rushed to outline their respective plans to rescue beleaguered oil companies from nose-diving profits and earnings.” Heh. It’s about time!

No offense to Glenn but the people working in the oil fields aren’t laughing. 

Most people outside the oil states forget that hundreds of thousands of middle-class people work directly in the oil industry, either for big companies or for the multitude of medium and small firms that provide a wide range of services. Millions more depend on the industry indirectly. High oil prices don’t just mean good times for big investors, they means jobs for all the people who turn gloop in the ground into everything from medicine to a road trip down Route 66. 

Everyone who wants to stick it to the oil companies sticks it to the little people as well. In the 1970s, during the heart of the energy crisis, oil profits remained low due first to price controls and then to (Obama’s favorite) windfall-profits taxes. Incredibly, at the same time that OPEC savaged the world economy and oil revenue made the Soviet Union prosperous and aggressive, leftists made it unprofitable to hire Americans to pump oil from American soil. 

When Reagan did away with the windfall-profits tax, the oil fields bloomed and imports declined. For a period of four years, times were sweet. Everyone had a job. Then the free market did its job and broke the OPEC cartel, and within a period of less than 9 months oil dropped 60%. It was morning in America everywhere else, but the oil field states suffered the equivalent of a localized depression. Small towns all but died. Major cities had “ghost malls” — i.e., long strips of completely empty retail space. 80% of oil related businesses in Texas (including President Bush’s company) failed. 

No one at the national level lifted a finger to help or even appeared to notice. Pundits agonized about the rustbelt but roughnecks could just go hang. The oil states gritted their teeth, adapted and by the early ’90s came out stronger and more economically diverse than before. All without help from anyone.

None of this is to say that low energy prices are not a good thing overall. However, the oil industry runs in boom-and-bust cycles. The money that individuals and companies make during boom years tides them over in the bust years. People who only notice the oil industry at the height of booms should remember that. 

3 thoughts on “For Roughnecks, It Ain’t Funny”

  1. George Orwell: “In the metabolism of the Western world the coal miner is second in importance to the man who ploughs the soil. He is a sort of grimy caryatid upon whose shoulders nearly everything that is not grimy is supported.”

    Orwell was a socialist (also an asthmatic) but he understood that energy was necessary for society, even if the form it took was often ugly, and was willing to pay tribute to those who made it possible.

  2. For a while, my business was flush with landmen, huge classes in petroleum engineering, and other customers whose businesses (like mine) were not theoretically dependent upon oil but were doing well because the local economy was. Then bust.

    I’d discourage a son from becoming a rough neck, landman, petroleum engineer. A colleague in history has anecdotes from those years when he was a rough neck and his classes are more interesting than those who’ve never stepped out of the academic track.

    Still I hope enough people like that roller coaster to open up off shore & ANWR. And seeing those years, “windfall profits” don’t seem unfair. Nor did the farmers around here get fabulously rich, just comfortable enough to keep the family farm and make a few improvements.

    Of course, they don’t call it the devil’s excrement for nothing. It brings out some rather unattractive traits – in Chavez, in Putin, and in Congresspeople (was it Maxine Waters?) who talk of nationalizing the industry.

  3. Everything Shannon, David and Ginny write is all too true. Down here in Louisiana, the oil bust had far-reaching consequences that lasted for years. Main offices for oil and oil service companies closed and reduced their New Orleans offices and moved everyone back to Houston to consolidate. South of Lafayette miles and miles of oil service co. yards lay empty and still. One of the best boiled seafood restaurants in Louisiana, let alone Lafayette, “Rocky’s Tails and Shells,” closed it’s doors as did many “four star” restaurants in the area. The same for Lake Charles. It took decades to grow the south Louisiana economy back and then Katrina and Rita came calling. The big plays now are the natural gas deposits found around Shreveport which are reviving an economy which was growing rapidly morbid. Lots of new millionaires. The new finds have been a god-send to that region. Unfortunately we seem to have plenty of hair-shirts around on the left who like to look gift-horses in the mouth.

Comments are closed.