An Open Letter to our friends and neighbors in the oil patch

Ian F. Darwin
Oct 16, 2018 · 3 min read

“Nothing’s quite as sure as change”, goes an old song by the Mamas and the Papas. This is as true in technology as it is in affairs of the heart. While the oil patch may seem timeless and immutable — something you grew up with — it has only been with us for a century and a bit. Now you may forget this, but every job in the oil patch originally came at the cost of a job in the stables or the field. People who worked as long and as hard as you do, forging horseshoes and shodding horses, shoveling horse puckey, fixing cart wheels, hauling bags of feed, breaking horses, and so on. Some of these people probably liked or were content with their jobs (maybe not the shovelling one), made a living wage for their day, and were sorry to see those jobs done in by the new-fangled horseless carriage.

It’s also worth remembering that the first horseless carriages were predominantly all-electric vehicles (EVs). Because the batteries that people knew how to make in those days were so limited, the early EVs in turn fell to the gasoline-powered car, and your industry was born. Many of us with a longer perspective knew that the wheel was still in spin, and that EVs would one day re-take the crown from the internal combustion engine. That time is nigh: EVs from several manufacturers (including Chevy) now have a range of 300 miles / 500 km, which is enough, not just for a long daily commute but also for road trips. And the range is getting better every day. Driving on electricity is already way cheaper per mile than driving on gasoline or diesel, and that’s before you figure in the lower maintenance cost of their much simpler mechanisms. EVs now make up several per cent of car sales world-wide, and Tesla’s new Model 3 has become the best-selling sedan in the US. All major car makers are selling or soon will sell all-electric cars. Some including Jaguar, Porsche, and Mercedes’ Smart line are going or considering going exclusively electric in the short term. Brands from Audi to VW are bringing out solid all-electric offerings, both cars and SUVs. A dozen companies are starting to build electric pickups and delivery trucks, and several are building all-electric semi tractors. There will be failures and false starts, but this transition is happening.

Our use of oil will never go to zero. There are, for comparison, still many people who ride horses, some for enjoyment/competition and some for practical reasons. Likewise, we will probably always need some oil for certain long-distance travel (rail, air, marine), for heating older homes, and for making plastic. But I have to warn you, the glory days of the oil patch are behind us. It’s not the fault of politicians, or lack of pipelines; it’s a result of the same economic progress that made the fossil fuel industry in the first place, an economy that is constantly seeking improvement. So a lot of that oil is not going to be surfaced in your lifetime, but will be left in the ground for future generations to make into plastic bags, simply for economic reasons. I urge you to start thinking about, and possibly training for, a new career.

Because, as it was for the people who used to shovel horse manure, “these jobs are going, boys, and they ain’t coming back.”

For more on EVs, see:

For more on alternative energy, see:

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