POLITICS AND WORK IN THE OIL BUSINESS

There is political conflict, and there is deliberate divisiveness. The former is tough-minded. The latter is mean-spirited.

Aug 18th, 2000

There is political conflict, and there is deliberate divisiveness. The former is tough-minded. The latter is mean-spirited.

For all their talk about goodness and unity, US Democrats act deliberately divisive. And one of their pet bogey monsters is the oil and gas industry.

This is nothing new. Outside the industry itself, the industry wins few popularity contests.

Inside the industry, people act little bothered by this circumstance. People in the industry seem to know that suspicion flows naturally to anything large and peculiar. To outsiders, their business indeed looks large and peculiar.

When gasoline prices rise above $1.25/gal, suspicion turns into contempt.

It is the fate of people who toil in the oil and gas industry to have to bear up patiently to this scorn when it arises. But they should not have to serve as ready targets of political opportunism.

During the campaign for the US presidency, the oil and gas industry will suffer a lashing from Vice-Pres. Al Gore, the Democratic candidate, and his running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

The Gore camp already disparages the Republican opposition as "the Texaco ticket" because of past work in the oil industry by Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican candidate, and vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney.

In his speech at the Democratic National Convention, Lieberman won applause for allegations of gasoline price-gouging.

And in an otherwise punch-pulling but aggressively populist acceptance speech, the vice-president included "big oil" in his list of "powerful forces" against which Americans supposedly need his protection.

It will get worse. Oil and gas supplies remain tight relative to demand. Prices will probably stay high by recent standards for gasoline and, as the elections approach, heating fuel.

The oil and gas industry will remain the subject of popular scorn. And the Gore campaign will not hesitate to exploit the sentiment.

There might once have been a time when the industry was big enough to take the blows in good-natured silence. But that's no longer so.

The industry is indeed in good financial shape, thanks to elevated prices. But in terms of population, it is not nearly as large as it was before.

In fact, the industry faces a huge recruiting challenge. It must attract new people if it is to meet the demands ahead.

The challenge only gets worse to the extent a major political part succeeds in painting the industry as a price-gouging monolith and work within it as something to which public officials must be held to account.

Gore and his followers are wrong to treat honest people who perform honest and important work this way.

No one needs to apologize for work involving oil-big, little, or anything in between. And the industry should prepare to say so.

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