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A late phase reflection on global oil

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My basic beef with working in the oil industry has always been the obliviousness of the industry to the fossil fuel issue. I became quite disillusioned and began speaking up here and there in a reckless Clint Eastwood go ahead and make my day kind of way. Speaking up became a pastime. I did it in a boardroom in Lafayette with this young kid who was a bigwig consultant and one of our own senior business development people. Our own executive just dismissed me but the kid and I had more of an exchange. I realised that people who have grown up on oil from the Mexican Gulf were some way behind on sustainability awareness but they were the people running our company, and that the men in senior roles here in New Zealand and Australia were trapped in roles as family providers.

Their whole being was defined by their performance, and they simply had to submit to the KPIs set for them or risk their career trajectory (and entire sense of self).

I came to think that part of the inertia around sustainability is actually happening in these almost trivial exchanges which take place between people inside big business.

Anyway, now we’re full tilt on the sustainability path which is great but it comes because an oil and gas client has required it of us. I see our people relieved to be on the path but I also know that our biggest source of emissions is our jet fuel and that even allowing for biofuels, we will not be able to cut our emissions enough and will need to offset. It’s hard for me to feel okay.

But then I read that although we’d like to stop oil immediately, even the scientists are saying that we will be dependent on it for some decades to come. And that’s just to ensure the basic welfare of the global population.

And then I get slightly tired of the knee-jerk, sanctimonious oil is bad story. Yes, it’s really bad but it’s our collective problem. Until people can say that there is nothing in their life that is carried to them using oil, that none of their food or medicine or habits are in anyway facilitated by oil, until then we really need to own oil as a global problem. And until everyone can access and afford green technologies, I find it distasteful to see anybody feeling righteous about their EV.

Oil is bad. And it’s more complex than we know. There are breadline jobs and unseen human intricacies hanging from its vortex. My work takes me to Ghana, and I see the disparity of oil close up.

1

At the Takoradi airport in Ghana, there is a bow-saw road of dry red dust that loops the northern end of the runway. The ex-pat pilots gallop the old base van too hard across the potholes and the shock absorbers never last as long as they should. Leonard, the base administrator, shakes his head as he drives.

To the side of the dust road, thatches of low grass grow baked and pale, the colour of crème custard. At intervals there are squares cut through the top layer of earth and furrows of loose dirt are sprigged with tufts of green. In one patch, a man in jeans and a red T-shirt skates a wooden handled hoe across the soil as a child clears the weeds left in his wake.

“The airport lets the people use the spare land for food,” Leonard says.

2

On the far side of the runway Leonard stops the car outside the hangar, leaves the motor running as he waits for me and Jamie to climb out. Six airplanes lie bellied on the grass, cast-offs discarded here because the rent is low. Inside the hangar, four gold helicopters sign-written with the corporate logo are parked. Steel frame windows rise two storeys high and a gritty light pollutes the shine of the painted aircraft.

The two helicopters at the back of the space are Sikorsky 76s. They haven’t flown in four years and it will cost $2 million to refurbish each. If I cost the repair into a tender, the aviation company I work for won’t win the work. This means that although the Sikorsky 76s could still fly, they are economically obsolete.

3

The hangar building is old world. There are finely scrolled iron bannisters on the stairs and a shiny fleck in the low tread steps. It looks like something from an art magazine. I imagine kohl-eyed models with their arms wound into the fretwork and legs kicked high across the stairwell, photographers in satin bomber jackets crouching on the landing below and assistants on the periphery, changing music and floating circular silver reflectors. I walk the stairs to the top floor offices and stand in a meeting with Jamie and a group of the engineers. It is a briefing on our company’s plans to train and develop local engineers as a way of investing in the region.

As I listen, I look out of the window and across the tarmac. Fifteen men and one woman are queued beside a helicopter for the afternoon flight to the oil rig. All of them are dressed in jeans and sports shoes with short sleeved shirts. There is a mix of skin colour, most likely a workforce of Ghanaians and ex-pats flying in from Europe or the United States.

4

At home in Nelson, I have sat at my neighbours’ table drinking wine and talking about peak oil and climate. I was conscious that when the Texan oil company Anadarko came to New Zealand to seismically assess the Great South Basin, our aviation company flew for them. My neighbours are members of Greenpeace which protested Anadarko’s presence. Bridget and Rob didn’t seem to have made the connection that my work as an accountant linked me to international oil and I found I couldn’t say. Or perhaps they knew and were ignoring it in a neighbourly way. Speaking to me in sub-text.

“The oil companies need to leave the fossil fuels in the ground.

It’s just corporate greed,” Bridget said.

5

It reminded me of when a senior executive came into my office and leaned on the door, hooking his fingers over the top like a basketball player hanging from the metal hoop after a slam dunk.

“Don’t be too worried about any of this,” he said. “The downturn will end. I’ve worked with the oil companies for a long time. These guys won’t stop until they’ve mined out the earth.”

And then he’d laughed a little, as if he’d suddenly heard himself on replay and wanted to dilute his stance. I had laughed back because it seemed polite and that’s how power structures work. The weak don’t choose the jokes. But I noticed how he ran his palm across the front of his white business shirt as he laughed, sternum to navel. It was a self-soothing gesture I thought, but I also noticed that his palm maintained a distance of two or three centimetres from his torso, that he never actually touched his body or the clothing that encased it.

Later he left the corporate strategy document on my desk and a copy of the World Energy Outlook report. The report was a 10-centimetre stack of pages contained in a white plastic ring binder. I read the executive summary and saw that even if emissions are reduced to reach the Paris targets, the world will still require oil to fulfil its energy needs through to 2050. I read the methodology and saw that the report was prepared annually by a leading panel of scientists from multiple countries and disciplines and that the guiding ethos was human welfare – understanding how to provide for the basic energy needs of the world’s population. I checked these projections against other reputable sources, but the findings were materially the same. Oil has a tail.

6

I watch the people on the tarmac waiting to board the company aircraft, and beyond them the man and child working in the vegetable patch at the head of the runway. In this specific frame, I see only people fronting for wages and scratching the borrowed earth for food.

I think of the concrete building shell on the empty grass lot opposite my hotel room back in the capital Accra. The structure might be an old parking lot or unfinished office block, abandoned so long ago that vines have now crawled across the shingle and reached into the slabs that are stacked five high.

Three nights ago, I sat amidst the diamond spatter of lights on tall glass walls and the sound of jazz and voices like distant night surf in adjoining lobby lounges, drinking wine and eating plantain chips with Jamie and our local Ghanaian partner. Lee’s big voice boomed low and we all tipped our heads back and laughed from the warmth of his humour and the alcohol inside us.

When I returned to my room the curtains had been drawn and the bed turned down. I slid back the curtain and looked down upon the spot lit garden and the high boundary fence at which the driver stopped each evening as I returned, waiting while boys from the entrance booth came with mirrors on poles to check the underside of the car.

7

I peer out into the dim beyond the grounds. In the deep cracks of darkness between the solid storeys of the old car parking building I can see the sheen of light on limbs and faces. By day the building seems deserted but now there are people moving in the space, many people on every level, sitting, standing, passing food. At a long table, two women stand near a camp lantern. One washes dishes in a small tub while the other smooths a tiny baby’s back.

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7 Comments on "A late phase reflection on global oil"

  1. Cloggie on Sun, 10th Oct 2021 3:34 am 

    Oh dear, the wind has stopped blowing, the renewable energy transition has been called-off!!

    https://deepresource.wordpress.com/2021/10/10/global-stilling-and-then-the-wind-stopped-blowing/

    “Global Stilling – and then the Wind Stopped Blowing”

  2. Cloggie on Wed, 13th Oct 2021 7:56 am 

    IEA: peak oil (demand) 2025, but by 2050 still 40% fossil fuel, more effort needed:

    https://edition.cnn.com/2021/10/13/energy/iea-world-energy-outlook-climate/index.html

    “Peak oil is coming. That won’t save the world“

  3. FamousDrScanlon on Wed, 13th Oct 2021 1:37 pm 

    clog the slog somehow got the idea Americans are obsessed with everything that happens in the UK & it’s his duty (self appointed) to keep everyone up to date on the smallest of details..

    clog don’t get Americans & never will.

    Breaking News!! – Boris Johnson just farted!

    Breaking News!! – the Queen took a dump. Film at 11.

    Breaking News!! “Bojo” scratched his ass!

  4. FamousDrScanlon on Wed, 13th Oct 2021 1:38 pm 

    Breaking News!! “Bojo” mouth fucked clog.

  5. FamousDrScanlon on Wed, 13th Oct 2021 1:45 pm 

    Here’s one that proves clog is either a dupe or a shill

    ‘Green’ billionaires behind professional activist network that led suppression of ‘Planet of the Humans’ documentary

    ‘The Michael Moore-produced ‘Planet of the Humans’ faced a coordinated suppression campaign led by professional climate activists backed by the same ‘green’ billionaires, Wall Street investors, industry insiders and family foundations skewered in the film.’

    https://thegrayzone.com/2020/09/07/green-billionaires-planet-of-the-humans/

  6. Biden's hairplug on Wed, 13th Oct 2021 2:24 pm 

    Brexit is the most visible calamity that happened to the US empire and an essential element of its immanent downfall. That’s why I’m fascinated by it. The UK, by abandoning the EU, has unwittingly parked itself into a losing coalition.

    I’m very well aware that Americans don’t give a sh*t about the UK or much else for that matter (despite the special relationship illusion, cultivated by the British, a special relationship that in reality ended in 1776). What I am really here for is documenting the collapse of our overlord, not a minute too early and the rise of a new global order, after WW3.

  7. Biden's hairplug on Wed, 13th Oct 2021 2:44 pm 

    “China has an ‘opportunity’ to seize Taiwan with Joe Biden as POTUS”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hopl9-7dUFk

    Sky News Australia

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