Hydrocarbon Energy is the ‘Gift That Keeps On Giving’

by | Sep 22, 2021 |

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In a little more than a century, we went from discovering how to commercially produce oil in the 1850s to using that fuel to launch men to the moon 100 years later. We no longer had to spend most of our time simply surviving. Now we could spend a lot more time thinking, innovating, and creating. It was hydrocarbon energy that allowed us to do those things. Consider that a gallon of gasoline has the energy equivalent of eight days of manual labor. It is a super-condensed energy source we use to compensate for our physical limitations and is how we built modern societies complete with magnificent structures.

Mark Mathis of Clear Energy Alliance spent three years making the movie spOILed and another year taking it around the country to show it nearly 200 times in theaters. He was trying to undo the damage done by President George W. Bush’s unfortunate comment in 2006 that America was “addicted to oil.” In spOILed Mathis, an outstanding science and technology communicator based in Houston, explained that America is not addicted to oil, but in fact is spoiled by the countless benefits provided by petroleum. Oil, and its cousins, natural gas and coal, are arguably the greatest natural gifts bestowed on humanity, providing the foundation of the modern world. Mathis made a compelling argument, but his message has had a difficult time finding its way to the common man. Politicians, the mainstream media, and activist groups continually propagandize the public about the supposed evils of oil, natural gas, and coal.

In addition to fighting mass propaganda, Mathis was also faced with the damage done by the colleague and mentor of the senior author of this piece, Dr. M. King Hubert of the U.S. Geological Survey. Hubert popularized the term “Peak Oil” in 1967, warning us that the day was coming when the world would demand more oil than the industry could provide, and that the volume of oil would decline every year thereafter. 

Unfortunately, this otherwise fine film was victimized by poor analysis by supposed energy experts. When Mathis was conducting interviews in 2009 and 2010, all of the most prominent energy analytics organizations (EIA, IEA, BP Statistical Review) were declaring that the age of “Peak Oil” had arrived. The prominent oil experts Mathis interviewed agreed with Hubert. As we now know, they were wrong.

Hubert was a talented engineer. However, he (and many other experts) did not appreciate man’s capacity for technological innovation. The senior author was fortunate to learn to recognize man’s incredible abilities from the brilliant Dr. Julian Simon. Simon famously humbled doomsayer, Dr. Paul Ehrlich, by winning a bet that nearly all mineral resources would become less expensive over time as exploration and refining methods improved.

Mathis’ obsession with oil and the advent of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling led him to produce a second film, FRACTURED, in 2016. That film, in our opinion, is the finest educational documentary available in the energy field.

Previously, the film explains, we divided man’s time on earth into ages, the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. However, we were also always in the carbohydrate age. It was primarily the food we grew or animals we captured that produced the energy that allowed us to do work. We burned wood to keep us warm and we utilized wood and other carbohydrate materials to create shelters.

Then came the biggest of game-changers. Humans figured out how to exploit hydrocarbon energy to do work. This shift exponentially advanced man’s capabilities. So, it can certainly be said that we are now in the Hydrocarbon Age. It is the golden age of human history, an age the political Left is trying to bring to an abrupt halt. These self-proclaimed haters of fossil fuels imagine a better future created by harnessing the diffuse and unreliable power provided by sunshine and breezes.

Merely two centuries ago most people lived short, labor-intensive lives in abject poverty. Only a tiny percentage of humanity lived even remotely close to the enjoyable lives we lead today. Hydrocarbon energy has been the most egalitarian creation humankind has ever experienced, improving the quality of life for a majority of the world’s population. A king 300 years ago would have envied the capabilities of men and women on the lowest economic rung of any developed nation today. Yet, a billion people on our planet still live without electricity.

The Left wants to keep it that way by withholding the use of natural gas, oil, and coal from those who don’t enjoy every modern convenience that many of us take for granted. 

A second key element of the modern world is transportation. Once people were able to move quickly, frequently, and inexpensively, their lives improved in ways their ancestors could not have even imagined. Transportation, again driven by hydrocarbons, led to increased educational and employment opportunities for everyone. The positive impact has been greatest for women and minorities.

Since the Hydrocarbon Era has begun, the infant and maternal mortality rate has plunged. Dying at birth is almost unheard of today in the western world.   


Per capita incomes have increased seven-fold just since 1900, corrected for inflation. Drought-related deaths have plunged. Dying at 30 years old had long been an expectation. The advances brought on by the use of hydrocarbon energy have extended that expectation by an additional half-century! The list goes on and on and on. We are now living better, longer, safer, and more comfortably than ever before.

The Left has this idea of better times before hydrocarbon energy. It is a ridiculous and dangerous fantasy. The number one tool of a doctor in the civil war was a saw. The number one tool of a dentist at that time was a pair of pliers. These are the realities that we forget about when humans lived in that carbohydrate age. Our view of nature is distorted because of the comfort afforded us by fossil fuels.

If we could live the life of the typical person of 1800 for only a week, virtually all of us would want to get back to the here and now as soon as possible.

When people talk about nature, they call it Mother Nature. That gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling about the nature world around us. Mother is caring, nurturing, wonderful, one of the most positively charged words in our language. That word should not be used when describing nature. Blizzards, tornadoes, wildfires, earthquakes, tsunamis, avalanches, disease, and wild animals… are just some of the ways that nature can kill you. Moreover, the right color for nature is not green. It is red. Red with blood! Nature is vicious. It is mean. Much of nature wants you dead. It wants to eat you, make you sick, or boil or freeze you. But that doesn’t happen often today because we use hydrocarbon energy to protect ourselves from nature’s wrath. 

Even though the energy bubble we live in continually protects us from natural threats, it is largely invisible to most people who don’t appreciate it because most of us always have it. As Mark Mathis explained in his film, we are spOILed! We are so spoiled that we have allowed politicians, the news media, and activists to constantly disparage the energy resources that make our modern world possible. The most ignorant and/or cynical among us believe it’s time to end the amazing hydrocarbon age. If the Left achieves its goal, even partially, we’ll quickly get a sense of how spoiled we truly are.

NOTE: Portions of this essay were excerpted from a transcript of the 90-minute documentary FRACTURED, with the permission of its producer Mark Mathis.


Dr. Jay Lehr is a Senior Policy Analyst with the International Climate Science Coalition and former Science Director of The Heartland Institute. He is an internationally renowned scientist, author, and speaker who has testified before Congress on dozens of occasions on environmental issues and consulted with nearly every agency of the national government and many foreign countries. After graduating from Princeton University at the age of 20 with a degree in Geological Engineering, he received the nation’s first Ph.D. in Groundwater Hydrology from the University of Arizona. He later became executive director of the National Association of Groundwater Scientists and Engineers.

Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition, and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute. He has 40 years experience as a mechanical engineer/project manager, science and technology communications professional, technical trainer, and S&T advisor to a former Opposition Senior Environment Critic in Canada’s Parliament.

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