By Dick Martin
In 1976, I entered the oil business, working for my uncle, buying oil and gas leases in the Catskills of New York. Fast forward 42 years until today and, for health reasons, I believe I have finally retired; although people in the oil business don’t really ever retire. The next deal may be just around the corner. The oil industry has a rich history of boom and bust cycles. It is full of characters such as John D Rockefeller, Henri Dieterding, Walter Teagle, H L Hunt, Dad Joiner, and more recently, Harold Ham, Aubrey McClendon, and George Mitchell. They all had one thing in common: They were willing to risk it all on an idea they believed in, no matter how risky it was. I call all of them CBs. I will let the viewer guess what that is an abbreviation for. I believe these last three people are responsible for America’s energy independence, something I did not believe we would ever see.
If one is interested in the history of the oil industry there are two books that are must reads: “The Prize” by Daniel Yergen and “The Frackers” by Gregory Zuckerman. I have read ”The Frackers” twice and am reading “The Prize” for the second time. The Prize covers the oil industry from the beginning until 1970 and “The Frackers” (has nothing to do with the fracking controversy) covers the industry from 1970 to a few years ago.
I just finished the section of “The Prize” that covers WWII. Up until I read this section again, I had no idea how much of Hitler’s war efforts and overall plans depended on the production of natural or synthetic oil. Its military plans were influenced primarily by securing existing petroleum reserves in France and Russia and capturing the production in Ploesti or the Caucuses oil fields in Russia and Rumania. Germany’s best general, Irwin Rommel, was stopped cold in North Africa and Hitler’s counter-attack in the Battle of the Bulge was stopped just short of its goal of Antwerp, Belgium, both because its tanks ran out of fuel. In Russia, Hitler’s generals could not escape encirclement and annihilation because of lost mobility due to a lack of petroleum. In 1940 Germany produced 72,000 barrels of synthetic oil a day, and in 1943, at Hitler’s peak, Germany was producing 124,000 barrels a day. From 1943 till the end of the war in 1945, due to Allied bombing, its production declined precipitously along with its military successes. By the end of the war, Germany was producing only a few thousand barrels of oil a day. It had planes and tanks stranded all over Europe due to a shortage of oil. If there had not been a shortage of oil to fuel the Luftwaffe, tanks and the rest of Hitler’s war machine, WWII probably would not have ended in 1945. I don’t believe historians have given oil its rightful place in the major reasons Hitler did not realize his dreams of an Aryan World.
The Japanese faced the same situation in the Pacific that the Germans faced in Europe, ie their shortage of oil prevented military successes. Due to the industrial might of the United States, it is generally agreed that Germany’s and Japan’s fate was sealed the first day of the war. It can be more specifically concluded that their inability to satisfy their demand for oil to fuel their military might doomed them from the beginning.
For a more thorough discussion of the lack of oil dilemma faced by Hitler and his Wehrmacht, please check out “The Prize” by Daniel Yergen, pages 328 to 350. Next, I will summarize and discuss the Japanese dilemma in the Pacific in fueling their war machine.