The New York Times article this weekend on refinery problems will probably not change any minds about what is happening in the oil industry. Those, like the junior senator from Washington State, who are convinced that it is all a big conspiracy and that refinery problems are just one more way the three-piece suited slobs in smoke filled rooms have figured out how to gouge us all, will see in this confirmation of their views. Others will see glimmers of hope that the real issues of no new refineries, billions spent on environmental regulations, burden-some boutique fuel requirements, etc., are emerging and will become part of the national debate about the price of fuel.
What is most bothersome to me about this important issue of fuel prices, fuel supplies and energy policy is how one-sided the debate is. Most seem to believe that anyone with any ties to big oil has no right to speak because clearly all they care about is obscene profits. Meanwhile, those ignorant of the situation along with the populists looking to boost activist or political careers, have the field of public debate to themselves. So we have a national debate going on with only one perspective being heard. Sure, the media has a role to play in this (which is why the balance in this NYT report is so welcome), but more important, the industry has a role to play. They have sat on the sidelines and kept quiet for far too long. Yes, I know it is because a CEO of the Giant wanted it that way, but he was wrong and he is gone. Time to speak up, loud, long, sustainably. The national debate about our energy future is too important to muzzle anyone–even if the muzzling is self-inflicted.