Contrary to what you might be thinking, the oil and gas industry is not a gang of sleazy profiteers, artificially manipulating supply to jack up prices and gouge the public for gasoline, home heating oil, etc.
Nope. Maybe you were momentarily confused a few weeks ago, after Hurricane Katrina, when gas prices in some areas shot up 24¢ in one day. That wasn't price gouging. That, said ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond in congressional testimony last week, was a selfless attempt to discourage consumption. And it worked! Exxon Mobil's third-quarter profit was a paltry $10 billion-not even double its third quarter in the boom year of 2004.
Better yet, according to Senate testimony, the profits are being plowed right back into production. Such as the zero new refineries built in the U.S. since 1976. So don't worry about Big Oil. They're watching your back. In fact, in a new image campaign, they've even identified who's to blame and who can fix the problem:
"Now is the time for 295 million Americans to act together," begins one of two newspaper ads from the American Petroleum Institute. "This year's hurricane season has led to severe hardship in many areas of the country. The impact on the nation's energy infrastructure has also been unprecedented.
"If we work together to use energy wisely and efficiently, we can make an important difference in dealing with the aftermath, regardless of where we live. America's oil and natural gas industry is committed to ensuring a reliable supply of energy. Industry and consumers alike can play a vital role by using available supplies wisely.
"What steps can you take?"
Step 1: Keep your tires properly inflated.
Step 2: Turn your thermostat down to 49 degrees.
Step 3: Drill for oil absolutely everywhere, including your spleen.
Step 4: Have your weekly pay direct-deposited to Chevron.
OK, we're paraphrasing, but the actual copy is simply a reiteration of all the familiar conservation tips we've heard before-tips which, if embraced by all 295 million of us, wouldn't amount to diddle. If they were serious about dispensing advice, it would sound more like this:
Step 1: Force your government to adopt a coherent energy policy dependent not only on cheap Arab oil but also on renewable sources, no matter how expensive they are in the short term.
Step 2: Sell the damn SUV, you hog.
But, no. Big Oil doesn't see things that way. It sees our present predicament as an opportunity to roll back environmental laws and regulations for drilling in protected areas to the very last drop.
"According to the latest published estimates," says a second ad, "there are more than 131 million barrels of oil (enough to produce gasoline for 73 million cars and fuel oil for 30 million homes for 60 years) and more than 1027 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. ...
"Unfortunately, federal restrictions and permitting delays put much of these resources off limits, particularly those in the Mountain West and the Continental Shelf offshore."
You get the idea. Put aside the policy issues for a moment and think about the tone of ravenous opportunism. Can these people and their hapless P.R. firm have such tin ears to not realize that these appeals, in the current circumstances, make them look not better but worse?
Americans believe they're being robbed at nozzle-point, for crying out loud. They sure don't need the culprit telling them, "If you'd just stay indoors this wouldn't happen. And, oh, by the way, could you give me a lift to my next stickup?"
Review 1 star
Ad: American Petroleum Institute
Agency: Blue Worldwide