Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Black gold, Texas tea. . .

My May 16, 2015, blogpost title included this metaphor for oil, "the black blood of the machine age" (1952 television documentary, Victory at Sea), one of the most appropriate and vivid I know. However, those of us from the US baby boomer generation may have first heard other oil nicknames in the early 1960's from the opening theme song of the TV show, The Beverly Hillbillies: "black gold, Texas tea" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvE9zJgm8OY)*.

I googled around looking for other colorful oil monikers, more dramatic than just fossil fuel, earth oil, fossil oil. I found Devil's tar, flowing gold, Devil's tears, and liquid sunlight, very appropriate since the energy stored in petroleum originated as solar energy used by plant photosynthesis. A sorrowful reference is to the oil slowly leaking from the USS Arizona, sunk during the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and entombing most of its crew: the black tears of the Arizona.

The terms black gold and flowing gold make me think of the first day of Petroleum Geology, a class of about 40 students, winter quarter, November 1978, at Michigan Tech (I, an undergraduate history major, was taking various geology and science courses so I could apply for geology grad school). The professor began class by passing around a plastic quart lab bottle of crude oil asking, "What does it smell like?" After we all had a whiff, he told us. . . "It smells like MONEY".

“The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power” is the subtitle of The Prize, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Daniel Yergin. The Prize (1991) covers the history of the petroleum industry from its beginnings to the late 1980’s (the “sequel”, The Quest (2011), continues from the First Gulf War). The title itself may come from a quote in the Prologue from Winston Churchill, regarding the pre-World War I transition of the British Navy from a coal-fueled to a faster, more efficient oil-fueled armada: “Mastery itself was the prize of the venture.” (Italics mine)

Admittedly, there are political and social concerns about fossil fuel business practices, anthropogenic global warming, pollution, energy security, and dwindling recoverable resources. However, any transition from liquid or gaseous (or solid) fossil fuel must be balanced concomitantly with finding suitable replacements for the myriad products (not just transportation and electrical generation fuel) from petroleum (http://elsegundo.chevron.com/home/abouttherefinery/whatwedo/what_is_in_a_barrel_of_oil.aspx) in order to maintain current quality of life.

Regrettably, there is one "Fossil Fuel" that has already ceased production that, I confess, I desperately hope reappears: 

* This is a fun rap cover of the Beverly Hillbillies theme by actor John Goodman during closing credits of an episode of Roseanne.