Wednesday, March 30, 2011

From the nozzle to the Bonny Sweet Crude

I live in the Crossroads District of Kansas City Missouri, just south of the Power&Light District. Our city characterizes its areas with the word district. The light from the Power&Light District illuminates the city at night. Power makes it that way; cheerful and attractive.

As you fill your automobile with fuel today, or soon, as the pump pumps, take a moment to ponder and picture in reverse motion, the path from the nozzle to the offshore or onshore production platform in a place like…Nigeria, Africa. My last column suggested we learn more about that country. If you’re a scientist or one interested in geology, your images may continue beneath the platform to the earth below.

The points between the nozzle and the production platform are complex, and intersect aspects of so many human endeavors. Think about it. One aspect that helps place our military power in perspective is our incredibly sophisticated and competent US Navy. We don’t read that much about the Navy. It’s a boring place for journalists. Life is routine for good reason. Life at sea is focused, technical, and process-driven.

Our Navy is large for many reasons. One reason is to protect the sea lanes of trade, to ensure commodities move freely, to protect the safe-passage of ships carrying oil and LNG for instance, and all the trade that supports the exploration and production of energy resources. We have this power, this sea supremacy, in order to power places like the Power&Light District and your car.

Our foreign policy is real and elegantly pragmatic at its core. I know that this movement of materials across the sea and this Navy that protects it may seem like an oversimplification of life on this planet. But it explains a great deal, perhaps not justifying, but realistically placing events and decisions, conflicts and their confusing resolutions into perspective. From the gas pump to the "Bonny Sweet Crude".

I think about this long conceptual pipe from the gas station to the production platform and all the places in-between. I grew up near an oil refinery. My Dad worked there as a draftsman. He walked me around the grounds. I remember watching the tankers off-load their treasures in Marcus Hook, PA, anchored in the Delaware River. I went to sleep at night with the flare of the cat cracker illuminating my bedroom with an orange glow. And later in life, I used to climb to the roof of our office building at Port Harcourt and look east, inland, to see the flaring on the horizon, and then west out to sea to see a similar glow offshore. During my military career, I spent more than my Army share of time around ships, on them, at sea, and around the amazing people who operate and lead them. Awesome is not a word strong enough to describe the power and scope of our US Navy. The people who make it their life are incredible, yet humble, quiet because it's so hard to explain to landlubbers like me.

People call for intelligent sustainable energy policies. People criticize our projections of military power. I think that before we craft a vision for what could be, it helps to understand what is. For me, it’s that long conceptual pipe from the gas station around the corner to Port Harcourt Nigeria, that refinery in Marcus Hook, the US Navy whose ships I could watch as kid, from my bedroom window, sail up and down the Delaware, and that cat cracker flare, my bedroom night-light.

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