Is T. Boone selling you shinola, or something else?
Posted August 25, 2008 in Moving Beyond Oil
I grew up in Houston, Texas. Maybe that made me more susceptible than most to the romanticized idea of being a Texas oil man. At the age of 18, the same summer I graduated high school, I went to work for a family friend selling oil field supplies to oil companies in West Texas and Mexico. It was a dream job for me. I met some very wealthy men and heard stories about growing up dirt poor and making a fortune by pulling oil from otherwise worthless ground. Every year I went to the famed Offshore Technology Conference (OTC), where they would erect an offshore drilling rig in the parking lot of the Astrodome. The oil rig was just the start though, because oil companies offered helicopter rides onto the rig. Spending time with these men meant eating $80 steaks, wearing $300 Stetson cowboy hats, and in the case of the oil men from Mexico, riding in Suburbans retrofitted with bullet proof glass. In those formative years I jumped at the opportunity to sit with the Bush family at the ballpark to watch the Houston Astros, although I don’t think we ever exchanged a word other than hello.
No offense to my alma matter American University where I later earned my undergraduate degree, but I learned more in the 4 years working with oil men than I ever learned anywhere else in my life. I learned how to shake a man’s hand and look him in the eye. I learned how to make an honorable deal, and how to break that deal without losing an ounce of respect. I learned that for many business men, after family, money is the most important thing. I learned that you always have to listen very carefully to hear everything an oil man is telling you. And finally, I learned how to tell when someone is trying to sell you something other than the shinola you agreed to buy.
Very recently a west Texas oil man, T. Boone Pickens, has paid his way into the spot light. He is the very picture of the American oil man I imagined when I was younger. The accent and the cadence of his speech capture his audience instantly. The environmental community was captivated by Mr. Pickens when he said, in his first commercial regarding the oil crisis, “we can’t drill our way out.” Now, in Denver, during one of the most historic events of my lifetime, I am surrounded by some of the best environmental bloggers in the country. We bloggers pride ourselves in our independence and aversion to being co-opted by anyone, but guess who is a major sponsor here at the Big Tent? Mr. Pickens, has certainly made his presence known.
A couple of days ago, Mr. Pickens released his latest video and in opening lines he says, “I say drill, drill, drill.” The commercial has caused some buzz for sure, and the conversations about the value of the rest of the ad are varied. But here is what it boils down to – Mr. Pickens is a business man. His investments in the oil market are volatile, wind and natural gas are less susceptible to global market influences. Listen closely to his ads, he doesn’t want to get America off oil, just foreign oil. That’s it. Don’t let the pretty images of wind turbines fool you, and "clean natural gas" isn't as clean as you may think. Mr. Pickens is looking out for Mr. Pickens.
So while I admire Mr. Pickens for being a maverick all of his life, I know shinola from what he is actually selling. I just hope everyone else does too.