A Few Thoughts About Our Need For Oil – Prompted By The Big Rich By Bryan Burrough, And the Oil Rig Disaster in the Gulf
A few comments about oil… First, my leanings. I think we ought to get off of oil – as soon as we can. I prefer some kind of clean, renewable replacement. No, I do not know what it will be.
But, I was re-visiting The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes this past week, and was reminded of the role of Texas oil in World War II. The Axis Powers (the other guys) used a total of 276 million gallons of oil in all of World War II. Texas alone provided more than 500 million barrels to the Allies – more than 100 million barrels from H. L. Hunt alone.
Here are some lines from the book:
When the war was finally won, American oil was among the heroes. The Allies, it was said, “floated to victory on a sea of oil.”
As Axis leaders acknowledged, they couldn’t compete with the Allies’ supply of aviation fuel and gasoline. “This is a war of engines and octanes,” Joseph Stalin said in a toast to Winston Churchill in Moscow. “I drink to the American auto indusrtry and the American oil industry.”
Now, here’s my big observation. For all of World War II, the entire amount of oil used was less than 1 billion barrels of oil. For all of World War II! On both sides! Today, the entire planet uses 85 million barrels of oil every day. Every 11 days or so, we use as much oil as was used in the entire Second World War. That is why we look for oil everywhere we can find it – under ground, under oceans – we need it all. And we will need it all until we find an alternative. Which we need to find – fast!
When the Exxon Valdez went down, the planet earth used 66 millions barrels of oil a day. 21 years later – today – we are using 85 millions barrels a day – every day. And every teenager in America, and now every teenager in China, and India, and… dreams of having his or her own car. And those cars will need fuel. As Tom Friedman put it in Hot, Flat, and Crowded, the problem is not how much oil America uses. The problem is that there are now “too many Americans.”
As the rest of the world catches up to us, there will be more big cities needing more electricity and more cars and more oil and more…more.
It really is breathtaking to realize that we use as much oil every 11 days as was used in the entire Second World War. And our 85 million barrels a day today will grow to 110 million barrels of oil in the blink of an eye. I was 39 years old when the Exxon Valdez went down. We’ve increased oil usage by 19 million barrels a day since that happened. By the time my son is my age, we will have far surpassed the 110 million barrels a day figure. And why is that figure important? There are plenty of experts who say that 110 million barrels a day is it – the top – the most we can get out of the ground and ocean and use. In other words, when we hit 111 million barrels a day, need exceeds capacity. (And let’s say that the capacity can increase some more. This much we know – the day will come when need does exceed capacity).
And if you know any history at all, when that happens – when need exceeds capacity — with any needed resource, you’ve got real trouble.
The Dallas Morning News has a terrific summer book club blog going about The Big Rich by Bryan Burrough. They published an e-mail I sent, comparing a key finding/observation from Malcolm Galdwell’s Outliers to the life and success of the Big Four tycoons: Cullen, Murchison, Richardson, and Hunt. I speak of the work ethic of the big four, but then talk about the “luck” factor. Check it out here — and read the rest of the posts about and prompted by The Big Rich. It’s a nice and stimulating way to think about a very good book.
The Dallas Morning News Summer Book Club, featuring The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes, begins tomorrow (Sunday, July 26). You can join in on the discussion here.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this comprehensive, educational, fun book. There are a lot of highlights — but I think I laughed the hardest in the chapter “The Golden Years,” about the 1950’s. This was the decade when the big money was thrown around in such excess. Here’s my favorite paragraph:
There was the Houston heiress who always flew to Paris with two extra first-class tickets for her two toy poodles, each of whom traveled with jeweled collars and chinchilla furs — furs being something the ladies of Texas Oil knew lots about. In 1951, when a ranch home owned by the oilman L. M. Josey burned to the ground, the Houston Press reported that Mrs. Josey had fought the fire while wearing her mink stole. Irked, Mrs. Josey had her secretary write the paper. “Your story says Mrs. Josey battled the blazer clad in nightgown, robe and mink stole,” the secretary wrote. “We wish to correct this. Mrs. Josey was wearing her marten furs.” (p. 252)
Yes, Big Oil led the Big Rich to spend in very Big Ways — and to do their part to make sure other people knew just how much they had.
I recently presented a review, to two different audiences, of the terrifc book by Bryan Burrough, The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes. It is a fun read, a real history of the Texas oil boom (and bust), and a look into much of what made Texas Texas over the last 100 years. The key players: Cullen, Murchison, Richardson, and Hunt — with a little McCarthy, Connally, Johnson (as in LBJ) and Howard Hughes thrown in.
Here’s a taste:
“There is a legend in America, about Texas, about the fabulously wealthy oil men there who turned gushers of sweet black crude into raw political power, who cruised their personal jets over ranches measured in Rhode Islands… There is truth behind the legend… If Texas Oil had a Mount Rushmore, their faces would adorn it. A good ol’ boy. A scold. A genius. A bigamist. The Big Four.”
The Dallas Morning News is hosting a Points Summer Book Club, discussing this terrific book, beginning July 26. So read the book, and log onto the Points book club web site and join in the discussion, beginning Sunday the 26th. It will be a fun and educational discussion.
I am presenting a review of the terrific book by Bryan Burrough, The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes, next week at the Park City Club (at their Chautauqua gathering — not for the First Friday Book Synopsis).
Here’s a paragraph that states, clearly and simply, the classical lesson about leadership. You can read this in hundreds of books, but this is as clear as it gets. It is in the section about Texas oil man Roy Cullen. He was, at one time, the richest man in America. He was a true “hands on, get your finger nails dirty” kind of leader. Here’s the paragraph:
“That was one of the many performances of his that have made those who know him admire him,” Lynn Meador said. “He was never a man to tell his employee, ‘You do this.’ When there was a dangerous task to be done, it was ‘Follow me.'”
Burrough writes that Cullen would tackle “this kind of daredevilry time and again, and his crews loved him for it.” In this particular incident (c 1928), there was a day long fight against a dangerous blowout. One spark would lead to an explosion that probably would have killed all who were working on it. “It took all day to maneuver a half-ton cement collar onto the well to cap it, and Cullen stayed through all of it.”
The lesson for leaders is simple, and clear. Don’t ask others to do what you are unwilling to do. Get to work. Do the work yourself. Risk it all — regardless of the danger, if the task demands such risk.
This truly is leadership 101.