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The Human Side of Oil

Posted By Administration, Friday, May 11, 2012

I am an energy efficiency advocate. I make my living urging the nation to use products that advance the energy efficiency of buildings. Obviously, the more polyiso used, the better as far as I am concerned. Yet the broader goal is product non-specific, weaning our country from reliance on fossil fuels, the use of which has dramatic environmental, economic, and national security consequences. Politicians see this issue mostly through the prism of one product.


We all have, at one time or another, used the oil industry's size and omnipresence and yes, profits, to express national frustration about our nation's energy destiny. Demonizing the oil industry with harsh rhetoric is a popular political sport. But there is another side to petroleum – the human side.

This past week, 70 PIMA members and I were guests of Conoco-Phillips Corporation at their oil refinery in Borger, Texas. I have been to chemical facilities of various types around the country but the size of this refinery boggled the imagination. It receives approximately 191,000 barrels of crude per day, producing mostly transportation fuels (gasoline, aviation, diesel).

During this tour we were briefed by a wide range of experts including top executives, plant managers and lab researchers. The complexity of the refining process was overseen by a computerized command center that rivals a Star Trek movie set with committed Board Operators working long hours in a windowless environment. We also learned that Conoco Philips is working on cutting edge energy solutions such as biofuels and wind energy storage.

The overwhelming impression I received was one of hard working professionals, committed to the safe 24/7 operation of this critical facility, who surely recognized the critical reliance the country has on their presently produced products. And who are looking for new energy sources for the future.

What's my point? Petroleum is the basis for so many products from pharmaceuticals to insecticides to insulation. Half of refined products go to something other than gasoline, in fact many items that contribute to transportation, manufacturing, and building energy efficiency. As an energy advocate, I am not saying that next time you see an oil company executive you need to give him or her a hug, what I am saying is that we need to appreciate the human element of a very complex industry.

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