Black gold, Texas tea

Im indebted to Wall Street Journal columnist Mary Anastasia OGrady for publicizing a set of correlations I wasnt perceptive enough to see for myself, without adult direction and supervision. In her June 16 column, she points out that, in nations where the shareholders of private-sector companies own the oil and gas businesses and the profits they generate, their efforts are made ever more difficult at every turn by various cohorts of environmentalists and NIMBYists who use their substantial political skills to prevent hydrocarbon extraction (think U.S. and U.K.). Bit in nations where government owns the drilling rigs and the profits from their use, exploration and extraction proceeds without protest (think Mexico, Cuba, and now Brazil). Theres a lesson here for Vermont. Golden Dome (G.D.) folks already own some ex-private sector means-of-production (think railroad tracks), partially own a lot more (think subsidized housing), and aspire to own and operate such additional sectors as health care (think Catamount and its corollaries), and now food distribution (think the Symingtons gubernatorial campaign platform). Indeed, the G.D. politicians have already laid statewide claim to underground mineral rights in the form of subsurface water. Heres my suggestion: why not have the G.D. politicians lay claim to subterranean oil and gas, too? Theres likely enough of these combustibles deep under the Eastern Overthrustthat range of hills and ridges running along Vermonts westside, and extending from Pawlet to St. Albansthat those of us owning land in that corridor could sell drilling rights to such private sector entities as the Cambrian Corporation, just like back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Vermont petroleum exploration in the 70s and 80s was never consummated. Earth Goddess Gaia was never violated. Thus, the states hydrocarbon resources remain untouched. Why were these resources never developed? When oil futures were in the teens-of-dollars, it didnt pay and opposition didnt make corporate exploration worth the effort. Just think how much more smoothly it might have gone if Montpelier had been the owner of a government energy industryparticularly now that oil and gas futures are a dozen times in value compared to what they were in the 70s and 80s. Yes, indeed, let Mexicos Pemex and Brazils Petrobras be the models for Vermonts own further foray into government ownership and operation of a major industrial sector. Surely a drilling rig adorned with the state seal would deserve cheers and approbation from such as VNRC and the Sierra Club, not the criticism and contempt richly deserved by, say, the private-sector Cambrian Corporation. Montpelier could then sell homegrown Texas tea to Vermonts local-vore contingent, that highly vocal activist group which wants all foods raised east of Lake Champlain and logically would simply love to have energy extracted locally as well. And, of course, theres the follow-the-money principle: as OGrady writes in her WSJ column, Environmentalists dont seem to mind state profits. Indeed, when it comes to more-money-going-to-Montpelier, whats not to love? Their constantly professed concern for affordability aside, the G.D. politicians could sell oil and gas to the same folks it collects taxes from, and at market rates, to boot. In the interest of cosmic fairness, it might even charge high-income resident more per therm of energy than the less fortunate, and, of course, free (at the expense of other taxpayers, that is) for the most deserving. And what about those pesky land-owners on whose acreage the drill rigs sit? That issue was decided by the Supreme Court of the U.S. decades ago in Pennsylvania Coal Company v. Mahon, when it ruled that the coal company owned all the coal in fee simple and could extract as much as it wanted from under above-ground landowner Mahon, who enjoyed surface rights only. Penn Coal was required only to leave enough coal in place so that Mahons house wouldnt fall into the hole. Vermonts new Agency of Petrochemical Exploration (APE) wouldnt let that happen by removing too much oil from any single sitethen the Division of Property Valuation would complain about not be able to collect taxes on a house in a hole. Columnist Martin Harris, a former Vermonter, lives in Tennessee.

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