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Humanly Possible

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

While Hurricane Sandy exercises her gift for inflicting misery, upstaging the biggest presidential election since at least the last one, it might not come amiss to look on the bright side of the relationship between humans and nature.


The election campaign has dealt only in passing with energy -- the product, if you want to look at it that way, of a joint collaboration between the two worlds we inhabit: one world consisting of rocks and water, the other of flesh and spirit. I say we fill in some gaps here.

We're winning the battle for abundant energy. That's the sum and substance of it. Anybody who sat 40 years ago in a gasoline pump line -- as I did -- waiting to pay prices then viewed as exorbitant (but now cheap-seeming) should appreciate what goes on around here. Everyone else should also, come to think of it.

The humans are winning this time around, despite the attempts of other humans -- including human politicians -- to throw up roadblocks. Oil and gas production are at the highest levels in decades. Consequently, prices are dropping.

In the second presidential debate, President Obama chewed out Mitt Romney for an energy plan that "basically" means we "let the oil companies write the energy policies." The oil companies! Imagine oil people possessing insights into the project of discovering oil! What about the insights of federal planners?

According to the president, natural gas -- newly abundant thanks to the sometimes-maligned process of fracturing ("fracking") tight rock formations -- "isn't just appearing magically. We're encouraging it and working with the industry." What he might mean by "we're encouraging it" is a secret he has yet to share with the electorate. Could he mean, "We're cheering it on?" It might be so, but cheering, to the extent much of that happy, red-cheeked activity goes on among energy bureaucrats committed to government dominion over energy policy, is hardly the same as making things happen. The shale oil phenomenon is an industry show. The president famous for the admonition "You didn't build that" is off and running again. We did it. Except "we" -- construed as "the bureaucracy" didn't do anything of the kind.


Always in America, the entrepreneurial spirit -- the spirit determined to master obstacles -- has driven economic progress. "The government" didn't develop the oil industry. John D. Rockefeller got there first. Down on the Texas Gulf Coast, the fuel oil age commenced with the entirely privately-inspired, privately-managed, privately-funded discovery of Spindletop. New fields proliferated, sometimes through blind luck, more due to the hard, discriminating and discerning work of humans willing to bet they were right.

The petroleum industry continued throughout the 20th century in the same mode -- the ideas, the innovations, the push forward. It was humans pushing, sometimes against other humans -- in government offices, regulating prices, issuing decrees.

By and by, the fracking boom came along. Human minds and energies brought it into being. There was opportunity out there; there were men and women wanting to take advantage of it. According to a brand new study commissioned by the U. S. Chamber of Commerce and several industry-related enterprises, shale oil and gas deals have in the last few years created 1.75 million jobs. By 2035, the figure could reach 3.5 million.

This year, the study says, the shale industry has accounted for $62 billion in tax revenues -- a figure that could top $2.5 trillion between now and 2035. The industry didn't "build this?" Who did, pray tell?


Not always -- look to the East Coast -- is nature amenable to human control. Man is not the measure of all things. We have been rightly advised for a couple of millennia. Yet man, when he makes up his mind to wring an advantage from wind and air and water and rock, is a force to contend with. The government willing to back off a little in such instances to let humans have their way consistent with harmony and good order is the kind of government Americans deserve.

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