[extropy-chat] Debate on Peak Oil

Hal Finney hal at finney.org
Wed Apr 27 23:04:35 UTC 2005

I have an interesting personal background with respect to the oil
industry.  Unfortunately it does not give me any particular insight or
expertise with regard to the Peak Oil question.

My father, who died about 15 years ago, was in the oil industry his entire
working life.  He worked for only one company, The Union Oil Company of
California, now called Unocal and about to be purchased by ChevronTexaco.
He started off working in the lab, testing oil samples as they were
brought in.  Then he got into management and rose through the ranks.
By the time he retired he had been promoted to vice president in charge
of exploration and production for the western U.S. region, which included
Texas, Wyoming, California and Alaska.

My father's most notorious accomplishment was his involvement in the
infamous 1969 oil spill off the Santa Barbara coast (where I now live,
ironically).  Although he was not the guy who caused it, he was in
the chain of command.  He had to spend about two months living in SB,
supervising the details of dealing with the aftermath.  This event is said
to have been the seed for the formation of the organized environmental
movement in America, and in particular for Earth Day, which was first
celebrated the next year in Santa Barbara.  We still have a nice Earth
Day fair here every year, we had a pleasant day there this past Saturday.

The first summer after I started college, my dad wanted me to work, but I
hadn't found a job, so he got me a job as a roustabout in an oil field.
This is basically an unskilled helper position.  The oil field was
an old one, so I was mostly assisting the maintenance mechanics who
would repair and maintain the oil wells.  I spent many hours climbing
on top of the huge oil wells, loosening bolts or tightening cables.
One week we had to clean out a sort of swimming pool filled with oil
- I have no idea what it was for.  That was terrible, walking around
on the slick surface in boots, squeegie-ing the last bit of oil out,
with the hot Orange County sun reflecting off the walls of the pool.
The smell of oil still takes me back to that summer.

Even 30 years of nostalgia can't erase the memory of how much I hated
that job.  I loved science fiction, computers, math, and I had nothing in
common with these guys working the oil field.  They were all unionized,
and frankly they were the laziest people I've ever known.  If they
had put as much energy into actually doing their jobs as they put into
avoiding doing them, they would have gotten things done that much easier.
It's surprising in retrospect that even though they knew I was the VP's
son, they showed me their expertise in goofing off.  They'd find places
to hide where the management wouldn't spot them, they'd refuse to answer
radio calls, pretending that they had been out of range.  One guy would
buy beer regularly and spend all morning drinking, then tell me stories
about the horrors of the Korean War.  It was a bad experience.

After that I made sure to find myself summer jobs of my own.  The next
summer I worked at JPL and it was great fun.

Unfortunately, as I said my dad died a long time ago so I don't have the
benefit of whatever insights he might have had about future oil production
trends.  But it is an issue that has a certain amount of personal meaning
and poignancy for me, so it's kind of fun to be researching it.


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