The Mind of James Donahue

Fuel Crisis

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Remembering A False World As We Thought We Knew It


By James Donahue

Sept. 15, 2005


The bankruptcy filings by both Delta and Northwest Airlines this week are only the tip of an iceberg that floats below the sea of chaos that now surrounds us.


As the realization strikes that the world is running out of oil and that America’s source of natural gas from the earth and gasoline from damaged and shut-down refineries were severely hampered by Hurricane Katrina, fuel costs are rising in proportion to the basic economic law of supply and demand.


A very harsh winter awaits United States homeowners and travelers, and there is little that anybody can do about it. Critics are quick to blame oil companies of price gouging, but that may not be fair.


If fault can be found, it lies in the fact that most of the industries’ eggs were in one basket. Many of the nation’s refineries were located near the Gulf Coast within reach of a single destructive storm. A large percent of our supply of oil and especially our natural gas also came from oil and gas supply platforms standing in vulnerable sites in the gulf. No new refineries have been constructed in the United States for about 30 years, which some say was designed to create a false shortage and thus squeeze the price of fuel oil and gasoline up.


As of this writing, nine major refineries in Louisiana and Mississippi, estimated responsible for about 11 percent of the nation’s refining capacity, remained closed because of the storm. Estimates were that it would take months before they were back up and operating.


The number of offshore oil and gas supply platforms that were knocked out by the storm has been a somewhat guarded secret, at least in the American media.


The Itar-Tas News Service, however, reported within days of the hurricane that Katrina ruined 58 of the U.S. oil production and drilling rigs and at least 30 of them may have been totally destroyed. The Gulf of Mexico was supplying up to 30 percent of all U.S. crude and one-fourth of natural gas to the American market.


And therein lays the crisis facing American consumers as the first nip of autumn brings an evening chill in the air.


Can a nation of people living on reduced, fixed or no income whatsoever survive a winter if the heating bills double or even triple from the high costs experienced last season? How many people can afford to run individual cars to jobs that pay little more than minimal wage with gasoline costs rising above three and possibly four dollars a gallon? 


Can we envision the horror of finding an untold number of elderly citizens frozen in their unheated homes because they could not afford the cost of fuel? And how many people will perish in fires caused by trying to heat their apartments with make-shift wood burning stoves or by turning the gas ranges on full blast?


Expect more gasoline station robberies as desperate people seek the fuel for their vehicles that they cannot afford to pay for.


Our great error was in relying too heavily on oil as our primary energy source. Our error also was in overpopulating the world and recklessly using up our natural resources. Our error was our failure to preserve those precious resources and always giving reverence to the Mother Earth.


What was needed as we multiplied in numbers and built great cities was a mass transit system that supplied the needs of all. We started in that direction when the first railroads were built. We were well on our way when we established bus transit lines that reached into even the rural towns. People could hop a bus and go just about anywhere at a very reasonable price when I was a young man.


This is no longer true.


Instead of building it better, we abandoned trains and dismantled our great railroad system. In recent years we tore up most of the track. The bus services were squeezed almost out of existence by a commercially generated love of the American automobile. Everybody saw the future as a wonderful time when there was “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.”


We all wanted our own individual homes filled with the latest in gadgetry. We were willing to go deep in debt to have these things. We tossed away perfectly good used items because we were enticed by the lure of “buying new and better” things to replace them. Thus we became a throw-away society. We ravaged our planet’s resources. We lost our connection with the Mother Earth. We forgot who we were. We made money our god.


This folly has led us down a road to disaster. The fruits of our great blunder are now upon us. The wonderful dream world that we lived in for the last fifty years is crashed. Now it is time for everyone in America to face reality, and what is real is ugly.


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