Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rep. Joe Barton Stands Up For Big Oil in Hearing

The interest of his district is deeply seated in the oil patch
Somebody knows something; high time we found it out, too

Now cast as a member of the loyal opposition, Joe Barton, a
Republican of District 6, expressed his shame last week at
what he termed a "shake down" of British Petroleum by the
Obama Administration in remarks before the House Energy and
Commerce Committee.

The source of his outrage - the establishment of an escrow
fund of $20 billion to compensate the fishermen and property
owners of the Gulf Coast - follows the worst drilling mishap
in the history of the petroleum industry.

Though he apologized almost immediately for his remarks, Mr.
Barton was not so hasty as to have forgotten his roots in
politics, which are deeply seated in the petroleum industry.

A Waco native with an undergraduate degree in industrial
engineering he earned from A&M in 1972, he went on to be
conferred a Master of Science in Industrial Administration
from Purdue University.

After a brief career as a White House Fellow under Secretary
of Energy James B. Edwards in 1981, he began consulting for
the last of the great wildcatters, Atlantic Richfield Oil &
Gas Co., the outfit that brought in the North Slope
"elephant" in the early seventies.

He won his seat in Congress by defeating Dan Kubiak with 56
percent of the vote in a first and successful run to fill
the seat vacated by A&M Professor turned U.S. Rep. Phil
Gramm when he ran for the Senate in 1984.

Subsequent campaigns have been even more successful. He
received 88 percent of the vote in 2000 and 71 percent in
2002. In 2004, he defeated Democratic challenger Morris
Meyer by getting 66 percent of the vote.

Clearly, the voting public of his district of 650,000 people
of District 6 have no shame when it comes to Mr. Barton's
sentiments toward business in general and his loyalties to
the petroleum industry in particular.

The district consists of a sprawling area that runs from the
southeast corner of Tarrant County through Ellis and Navarro
Counties, and parts of Limestone, Freestone, Leon, Houston
and Trinity Counties.

It was at Corsicana in Navarro County that petroleum was
first discovered in Texas when the cotton kings of that east
Texas community contracted with drillers to find more water
and struck oil instead. Some of the wells in that field are
still pumping crude more than a century later.

Glory days came later with the advent of the Spindletop
Field near Beaumont and Kilgore, Mexia, Longview, thence to
West Texas and offshore.

"I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday,"
said Rep. Joe Barton during a hearing on Thursday morning
with BP's CEO Tony Hayward.

"I think it is a tragedy in the first proportion that a
private corporation can be subjected to what I would
characterize as a shakedown -- in this case a $20 billion
shakedown -- with the attorney general of the United States,
who is legitimately conducting a criminal investigation and
has every right to do so to protect the American people,
participating in what amounts to a $20 billion slush fund
that's unprecedented in our nation's history, which has no
legal standing, which I think sets a terrible precedent for
our nation's future.

"I'm only speaking for myself. I'm not speaking for anyone
else, but I apologize," Barton added. "I do not want to live
in a country where anytime a citizen or a corporation does
something that is legitimately wrong, [it is] subject to
some sort of political pressure that, again, in my words,
amounts to a shakedown."

It's an interesting by play in this continuing drama, the
conflict between the oil industry and the environmentalists,
one in which the voters of District 6 have spoken time and

On the one hand, environmental lobbying organizations such
as the ultra-liberal Natural Resources Defense Council point
out that government estimates show 60 percent of the
untapped economically recoverable oil and 80 percent of the
untapped economically recoverable natural gas reserves on
the Outer Continental Shelf are located in areas that are
currently open to the oil industry.

In their view, there is no need for greater environmental
risks in the eastern Gulf of Mexico near Florida and

On the other hand, extremely conservative swash bucklers in
the petroleum industry, men who will wager millions upon
millions on the chance they can increase their
organization's net worth by discovering huge new reserves
under the ground they control, are hell bent on taking
greater and ever greater risks to exploit the nation's pool
of crude, no matter where it may be.

The pressure is enormous on both sides.

Certainly, Mr. Barton is entirely representative of that
creed peculiar to the corporate boardrooms of the investment
banks and independent oil operators of the southwest, that
the worth of the proven reserves on hand is the stock in
trade, the most important part of any oil company's balance

It was the guiding principle of the founder of
Antlantic Richfield, Robert O. Anderson, a man who took
breathtaking chances in his drive to fill the "energy gap"
created by the Libyn coup and theArab oil embargo and battled
the environmentalists for many years to bring his Prudhoe Bay
crude to market at the other end of the Alaska Pipeline.
Even more important, Mr. Barton has accepted some $1.4
million in campaign contributions from the oil industry,
according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

No surprises here.

You might say he is entirely representative of the interests
of one of the great OPEC nations, Texas.

It was the NRDC that went as far in the federal court system
as the Supreme Court to force the Bush Administration to
release documents regarding its "secret" energy policies
worked out by Vice President Dick Cheney with industry
giants looking to maintain their competitive edge by
increasing reserves reserves of petroleum, natural gas and

Though heavily redacted, the documents clearly show that the
conservative Texan in the White House was ready and willing
to call off the government's watchdogs in the oil fields,
the refineries and the mines if that would lead to an
increase in domestic reserves of non-renewable energy

Texans may rest assured that their wishes will be stewarded
with alacrity by oil men serving in the halls of Congress.
The conflict rages on.

As one pundit so aptly boiled the issues down to a concise
sound bite just the other day:

The Gulf Coast consists of two industries - fishing and
petroleum - and one of them just killed the other.

Was BP negligent in its risky venture a mile beneath the
surface of the Gulf, or was the government remiss in not
insisting on absolute safety in case of a mishap?

That argument will continue for decades while the people of
the bayous and beaches struggle for a new way to make ends
meet in the face of econimic ruin.

The question remains, will the government kill the survivor
and its dependent professional and blue collar employees?

On the world stage, it would be a shame if it did.

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