"The Power of Oil: Conservationist, Oilmen Clash at Conference"

by Tom Brown, Daily News Staff Writer

Anchorage Daily News, August 26, 1969, p.1

College — A prominent critic of the "brotherhood of oil merchants" said Monday it would be "utter folly" to lose key decisions affecting Alaska’s future to oilmen and clashed with industry supporters.

The speaker was Dr. Robert Engler, professor of political science at City University of New York and Sarah Lawrence College and author of the controversial book, "The Politics of Oil." He appeared at a panel discussion at the 20th Alaska Science Conference.

"There is not a single agency of government where oil has a stake that is not eventually permeated by the industry," Engler charged.

As a result, he said, there is a direct correlation between the interests of oil companies and the decisions of government on every level from local to foreign policy. These decisions often are not in line with the best interests of the majority, he contended.

Engler said that what is needed for government officials is a "coherent social philosophy because public servants who operate without a social philosophy are susceptible to the prevailing winds —which usually are in the direction of corporate profit."

The professor said, "I think it is utter folly to leave your judgments . . . to oilmen or to a vacuum of power.

"The challenge is to develop a new experiment in democratic planning which will respect the delicate balance inherent in nature and view resources as treasures for mankind rather than as private booty for individuals . . .

"The related challenge is to search for ways to civilize technology before the emerging industrial process integrates all of human behavior into corporate and bureaucratic ends.

"If Alaska could develop such planning and a body of citizens and public servants could support the wise control of the environment, it might then create rich opportunities for meaningful individual freedom and a social system to which people could feel committed," Engler said. "In place of the tragic American record of loot and litter, Alaska might offer a new frontier or social organization from which we all might learn and take heart."

Engler spoke after Prof. Victor Fischer, chairman of the conference, who said the purpose of the panel discussion was not "confrontation for confrontation’s sake," but rather to get diverse views on the industry and the problems associated with oil development.

But it was clear that the other panel members would not let Engler’s remarks pass unchallenged.

F. Geoffrey Larminie, the Alaska manager of BP Oil Corp., told the several hundred persons who had gathered in the University of Alaska’s Patty Gymnasium for the discussion:

"I thought I worked in the international petroleum industry, but as he (Engler) carried on with his list of original sins I began to think I was in some Mafia-like organization."

Then Larminie said, he realized that what Professor Engler had enumerated was a simple, pessimistic, cynical view of man.

Engler contended that most public servants in government agencies have a deal with the oil industry, are either recruited from the industry, or planned eventually to move into it and thus might be influenced by industry desires.

Alaska’s Commissioner of Natural Resources, Thomas E. Kelly, himself a former oilman, replied:

"I find it inconceivable to say that a man entrusted with mining policy should not be a mining engineer or geologist . . . if you’re sick you go to a doctor; if you are in legal trouble, you go to a lawyer."

Prof. A.R. Thompson of the University of British Columbia, who delivered a paper comparing Alaskan and Canadian regulation of the oil industry, said Engler’s talks appeared to be "an attack on the basic system in the U.S. and Canada."

Engler readily conceded that, "It’s no secret that I’m questioning the system."

But he obviously was stung by what he considered the personal nature of some of the replies to his indictment of the oil industry. He asked that those who differed with his views ask specific questions rather than questioning his motives by innuendo.


[Alaskool Home]