March 10, 2011

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Big Oil - Number One then - Number One now.

As gas inches up to (and past in some places like Los Angeles) $4.00 a gallon, I remembered the last time there was a major outcry over prices at the pump. In 1973 the major culprit were the Oil companies and the major culprit now appears to be . . . yep, the oil companies.

Granted, the situation in the Middle East is uneasy at best, but it was in 1973 as well. However, in 1973 we weren't used to it. America enjoyed a seemingly limitless source of energy and oil and the crisis that confronted us then was pretty dramatic. So dramatic that NBC News devoted an entire 3 hours of Primetime programming to covering the story. Something that would never happen today. But in 1973 it was cause for major concern.

So today I'm going to run that entire show, all three hours. It's split up over three players and, even though I doubt you'll want to sit around and listen to it online, you will no doubt be better off downloading it and listening to it over several beers.

The story goes like this with highlights below:

Hour 1:

Frank McGee (NBC News – Talking about Nuclear Power Plants): “If the emergency cooling system failed, if there were a meltdown, some scientists think an area half the size of Pennsylvania might be contaminated, 100,000 people might die.”

Nuclear Power Plant Spokesperson: “There is no industry the world has ever known that has such safety features built into it. And there is no activity, no industry, no technology that has ever been developed that has such stringent rules for operation.”

Public Safety advocate: “There’s a large majority of the reactor experts that the AEC (Atomic Energy Commission) relies on who have the most serious doubts about these safety assurances. We have hundreds of documents that have been suppressed by the AEC whose source was the safety community and these demonstrate very clearly that the controversy over the AEC’s claims is very deep and very serious.”

Bear in mind that six years later we had that episode at Three Mile Island - the Pennsylvania reference by McGee is purely ironic>

Hour 2:

Frank McGee: “On July 9th the Attorney General of Florida filed an ant-Trust suit, alleging that fifteen oil companies had conspired to create a gasoline shortage and to drive up prices. On July 17th the Federal Trade Commission filed a formal complaint, charging the eight biggest oil companies with coordinating their activities over a 23 year period to monopolize the refining of Petroleum products. On July 26th the State of Connecticut brought suit against 20 oil companies, charging them with violating the anti-Trust laws.”

Connecticut Attorney General: “ It is my belief that these twenty major oil companies have enjoyed a virtual stranglehold on gasoline and petroleum products that has long meant inflated prices for the consumer, and more recently a shortage of supply whether real or contrived. Far from serving as an example of the Free Enterprise system at its best, these companies represent a monopoly that controls petroleum production from the moment that exploration activities are commenced until the final product is pumped into the gasoline tanks of our cars.”

Deregulation anyone?

Hour 3:

Frank McGee: “What is alleged is that the big companies control the oil of the world from the well head to the gas pump. That they control the wells, the refineries, the pipelines. That in this way they are able to shut off competition. That they are able to decide how much oil is available and at what price. None of this has been proved, although the Federal Trade Commission and several states are trying to prove. What is undeniable is that the big oil companies are very big, that they deal with very large sums of money, that they work together on joint ventures and often share refining facilities. What is also undeniable is that they have prospered during the oil shortage. In the end, the fact that concerns most of us is that there is a shortage of gas and that the price of gas is going up.”

Like I said, this is something that would never happen today on any of the major networks - and certainly not three hours worth. It's a slog, but worth it when you consider how much of this argument hasn't changed in the 38 years since it was aired and how the problem has changed very little in all this time. Still Big Oil, still politics, still about profits.

Hold on to this and refer to it every once in a while. The story, as you've noticed, really hasn't changed all that much. Even the players are mostly the same.

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