Every day an unsuspecting public is presented with distortions, mischaracterizations and misinformation about the oil and gas industry and its impact on the environment. Or so we’re told by the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico’s 2009 “infozine.”
A statement on the infozine’s table of contents indicates the publication is “distributed as a service of IPANM,” which is nice to learn because actually reading it could give you the sense that it’s a bunch of disingenuous propaganda. The whole thing, more of a “petrozine” than an infozine, is 34 pages plus a magazine-style cover, and it’s chock full of less-than-objective “articles” with titles like “Oil: The Master Resource,” “Petroleum Makes the World Go Round” and “Enchanting Petroleum.” My favorite petrozine “headline,” printed with no apparent irony, is “Lest We Forget: Oil and National Defense.”
The goal of the petrozine is to “educate the public about the many positive contributions oil and natural gas make to the everyday lives of all New Mexicans.” For too long, we’re told, stoic oilmen have “simply ignored” the disparaging of their character and their industry, but now it’s time to fight back with the truth. Or something like it.
Not all of the information that petroleum producers are shilling is falsely self-congratulatory. It’s true, for example, that independent New Mexico companies are the backbone of exploration and extraction here, and that the resulting jobs pay good wages. It’s also undeniable that New Mexico as a whole would be significantly more impoverished without the oil and gas industry. Using reliable sources, such as New Mexico Taxation & Revenue Department and the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Businesses and Economic Research, IPANM estimates the oil and gas industry brought approximately $2.9 billion in revenue to the state in fiscal year 2008. Even though that figure includes $600 million in earnings on the Land Grant Permanent Fund and the Severance Tax Permanent Fund, it’s still an astounding level of impact.
One wonders then, why IPANM feels the need to tweak honestly impressive numbers. For example, the back cover of the petrozine proclaims in bold print that the oil and gas industry contributes to public education every minute. In equally bold print, it proclaims that it contributes $45,343.72 every minute of the average school year. In much smaller print, it’s explained that the math is hypothetical and based on the entire $2.9 billion going straight to schools.
Then there’s a long list of outlandish claims, including the suggestion that the only thing more important to our survival than petroleum is oxygen. After all, IPANM argues, how ever would we get food and water without petroleum? Never mind that being dependant on oil to produce and deliver these things is not the boon of oil but the problem with oil.
The petrozine contains an entirely predictable section on renewable energy, titled “Promise and Problems.” The gist is that IPANM loves renewable energy more than you can even believe, but is sad that there just aren’t any good alternatives to fossil fuel consumption. Except for one: These clever petro-dudes are ballsy enough to not only include oil shale in the category of renewable energy, but to call it “one of the most promising alternatives.” But what do you expect from an organization that takes the time to argue that wildlife loves oil drilling equipment. Heck, oil rigs might even be better than trees.
Another article details the history of agricultural production in the US. Without oil, we could never have transitioned from a nation of small farms employing the majority of the country’s workers into an energy-intensive agricultural juggernaut. Oil has made massive monocropping, pesticide resistant bugs, genetically modified seeds and petroleum-based fertilizers possible. Oil has entirely disconnected us from our food supply. Hurray for oil!
Most alarming, however, is the petrozine’s pandering to gross consumerism. It’s one thing to assert the current importance of fossil fuels to energy production, but another entirely to advocate for all the cheap and deadly crap made from petroleum. “What would life be like,” asks the petrozine, “without magic markers, lipstick, panty hose, credit cards, dental floss, toothpaste, baby bottles, telephones, TVs, asphalt, fertilizers, pesticides, glue, computers, soccer balls, paint and synthetic fibers?”
Seriously? That’s the crux of the argument for the oil and gas industry’s value to society? Remove from IPANM’s list those things we don’t actually need oil to make and could make healthier without—like toothpaste, fertilizer, glue, paint and soccer balls—and a world without oil starts to look pretty damn fine, doesn’t it?
Add the petrozine’s incessant moaning about burdensome regulations and the assurances that we shouldn’t worry about areas contaminated by oil spills because oil is “simply an advanced form of compost,” and IPANM becomes the lady who definitely doth protest too much. Anyone who needs to put this kind of energy into pretending to be so universally good has got to be largely bad.
New Mexico has been fortunate to have gas, but when the industry so blatantly pleas for continued preferential treatment over investment in a better, more responsible future, that good fortune starts to feel a lot like indigestion.