This morning I received an email from SoCal Gas titled, “A SoCal Gas Advisory is in effect.” The email went on to ask that we (customers) take certain steps to conserve gas.
I’m presently in Spain and hadn’t received any previous news or warning about this, so I googled. There were some news stories, from press releases no doubt, about a potential natural gas shortage because of the (self-inflicted) problems at their Aliso Canyon storage facility.
OK, I’m for conserving, and logically it would make sense to reduce usage entering the winter peak demand season. As well as forever, supporting the changes to eliminate carbon based energy. But…
DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN?
In the early 1969-73 we had a small business in Phoenix, Arizona as a “Commission Tank Truck Distributor for a major oil company. We delivered gas to commercial and retail accounts. The business ended abruptly, and not by our choice.
One morning when I ordered our daily gas for delivery the dispatcher told me they couldn’t supply us.
“Haven’t you heard about the impending gas shortage?”
“Well, did it show up suddenly today?” I said sarcastically, though I knew he was only following orders.
This was the initial phase of the 1973 “Oil Crisis.” Anyone who lived through the period will remember the long, long lines at gas stations, and fears and rumors that caused shortages of other items which then disappeared off store shelves. The funniest, I thought, was a shortage of toilet paper. Now there’s a powerful fear about a terrifying result—a world with no toilet paper!
We were concerned. Our business livelihood was threatened (not by lack of toilet paper). I was able to find temporary supply from an independent refiner who had Libyan sources. The independent refiner was an old-timer who took me under his wing and helped me as long as he could (only a couple months and then we had to close the doors).
Our offices were at the oil company’s “Tank Farm” (storage tank facility). The Old-timer took me out the office door and asked, “What do you see?”
“Storage tanks.” I said, stating the obvious.
“Writing and numbers painted on the tanks.” I said, looking for something I was missing. I felt like I was being called on in a classroom, afraid of being laughed at for a wrong answer.
“A ladder wrapping around the outside of the tanks and up to the top, and horizontal ladders at the top.”
“Yes, you see ladders on top!” he cried out emphatically. “Do you know what that means?”
“No.” I admitted.
“It means the tanks are full. The tanks have floating domes and the ladders are used to get inside for maintenance when the tank is empty. If you can see the ladders horizontal that means the tanks are full.”
He went on to explain that the numbers were tank ID and capacity. We walked around adding up all the numbers to calculate how many gallons of gas were sitting there in storage.
My office was adjacent to the oil company’s office. We snooped around, asked questions and were told the approximate gallons per month they sold. Divide the gallons presently in storage by their monthly sales and we calculated there were 3 – 6 months of gas available on the day they told me there were none.
I filed a law suit against our supplier, one of the world’s largest oil companies. In addition to the evidence about the supply contract violation, I had documentation that proved a Robinson-Patman price discrimination violation. This is serious because it’s no longer one little business affected, it’s a large class of businesses that are affected.
I found an attorney who took our case on a contingency fee basis (I didn’t have any money left). He didn’t get paid unless we won. He had previously won the largest award ever against an oil company. My eyeballs were turning into slot machine reels.
Here's the short part of the long story—After two years of attorneys filing papers, sending letters, requesting interrogatories, and taking depositions it seemed nothing was happening. I thought there must be someone in the oil company who could, and would, make a decision. Ah, the President of the company.
I traveled to the oil company’s international headquarters, took the elevator to the top floor, walked past his gatekeeper’s (assistant’s) desk and into the President’s office unannounced and asked for 15 minutes of his time--David confronting Goliath. I was sure that when he heard my story and saw the evidence I had that he would settle. He listened politely. When I finished he stood and said, "Follow me." He walked over to the elevator, entered and punched 19. I followed, not a word said. The doors opened at the 19th floor. He asked, "What do you see here?"
“A large room without walls, about 50 paper-piled desks with people working away at them. “
"Right." he said.
Then he punched 18. Same scene and same question and answer on floor 18. Then he said, "That is our legal department. They are paid whether or not there is any work to do. We can last a long, long time. How long can you last?" He turned and walked away. I walked away too. Mad and determined to show him. I was right, after all!!
Well, after three years and no results I surrendered, tired of having that focus and energy dominate my life. We settled for a little more than my attorney's fees.
I graduated from another expensive life school. The best lessons I learned weren't in the classrooms of my formal education for sure.
And by the way...
There was no real oil shortage in 1972-73 (I had proof of that too). The oil companies wanted
· to get the independent retailers share of the market reduced,
· the (controversial) oil pipeline across Alaska built,
· environmental restrictions on refineries reduced,
· and the price of gas up (so they could make more money).
All of this was accomplished with the artificial shortage and fear generated.
So, regarding the SoCal Gas Advisory, I’m skeptical, and cynical, especially in light of the recent attention, support and victory regarding the pipeline at Standing Rock.