A Mobil Gas Sign

Meditations on the costs and benefits of oil

Chancing across a BBC news report on rebels bombing an oil pipeline in Columbia set us to reflecting on the various costs and benefits oil has created in our lives.

Obviously, the black goop resulting from Carboniferous forests of the ancient past has lifted us from the Industrial Age to one where Technology rules in all its glory. It’s has fueled the American economy, granted us unprecedented personal mobility and conquered the skies and the heavens beyond.

It has given us plastics and everything that means, from disposable cutlery to many of our tools and devices, including the helmets that protect automotive racers.

It helped America to outperform the USSR, ending the Cold War, winning via economic progress rather than military might. Ballistic missiles and MIRV warheads are expensive to maintain and it took a vibrant, dynamic economy to accomplish that.

When the Berlin Wall fell, one Soviet general remarked they would have been lucky if one in ten of their missiles made it out of the silo, and even then had little chance of hitting its target. They could no longer afford to maintain them.

On the other hand, it has given us the Exxon-Valdez, sporadic tanker and oceanic oil well spills, not to mention wars without end. Iran, Iraq and Kuwait are in the top four oil producers of the Middle East. There may have been more reasons involved in our wars in these nations, but oil was certainly part of the equation.


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Afghanistan and Pakistan are a key route to pipelines to the Gulf and Near Asia. Owning Syria would give an open flight path from three directions into Iran, notably from the Mediterranean near Israel, and would mean Jordan would be surrounded as well. Less than 20% (closer to 15%) of the oil used in the United States actually comes from the Middle East. The EIA says that we import about 45% of our oil and more than half of that import is from this hemisphere - mostly Canada and Mexico. When you factor in all of the petroleum-related products imported and exported, the U.S. is actually a net exporter of oil. The wars in the Gulf have little to do with securing oil for ourselves or our national security and a lot more to do with securing the pipelines for the western profiteers.
Let's not mince words. You are right that only a fraction of US oil imports now come from the Middle East, but that was not always so. If the pipeline carries petrol, it's about oil. If the profits of Western capitalists are from petrol, it's about oil. It's all about power and oil plays a huge role in the ongoing global scrimmage.