A Sound Off contributor wrote, “the many, many items we use in our daily lives that are made using petroleum products ... Perhaps there is someone in your reading audience who can provide a list of the consumer items that would be lost if, indeed, the industry was shut down,” and Robert Price’s elegant reply was “Great idea. Anyone?” To quote Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday “I’m your Huckleberry” (“SOUND OFF: Why we paid attention to our ‘ignorant’ governor’s thoughts about oil,” Aug. 17).
Let’s have some fun while doing this and imagine we are the editor of The Bakersfield Californian. I will be making assumptions here, but hopefully accepted in the good nature they are intended.
My work, as editor, revolves around my computer as it is how modern journalists transfer their ideas to words. A laptop computer is comprised of roughly 20 percent plastic. And as we all know plastic is made from petroleum products. This includes items such as the computer case, keyboards, screen, trays and plastic coated wires. USB dongles, CD-DVD discs, mice, external speakers and other accessories are largely plastic. As I look over my desk, most of my pens have plastic housings and even my pencils are coated with colored paint which is largely made from petroleum. Other items at my desk, such as my stapler, tape dispenser and telephone are largely made of plastic. The nearby copy machine is closer to 40 percent plastic. The paint on the walls and the occasional varnish on wood panels are all petroleum-based.
As I walk on the industrial synthetic carpet to the coffee room it too is made from petrochemicals. The fluorescent lights overhead have plastic lens covers and many of the space saving open top cubicles are largely made of plastic as are the electrical outlets and light switches. As I step into the coffee room onto the linoleum (plastic) floor and insert a Keurig pod (plastic) of coffee into the machine (more than 60 percent plastic), I notice that I have to refill the water dispenser with a large plastic bottle of water. They certainly are lighter than the old glass ones, but enough about work, it’s time to go home.
I jump in my Tesla/Prius/other Earth-friendly car. The door handle is plastic, as is the steering wheel. The fenders, tires, belts, hoses, plastic coating on wires including battery wires in addition to the headlight lens, dashboard, instrument cluster, air conditioning vents and ducts, much of the interior kick panels, door panels, carpet, air bag components, visors, windshield wiper blades and rear view mirrors are all made of plastic. The power steering fluid, brake fluid, automatic transmission fluid, antifreeze and engine oil on my electric engine are all petroleum-based. I will avoid talking about which Third World countries the metals for the 1,200-pound battery were strip mined from and what acids were used to separate and manufacture and transport said metals and also where the Tesla battery will eventually be safely disposed to not pollute our water supply. In any case, I disconnect the plastic-coated charging wire and drive out of the parking structure.
Upon exiting the driveway my petroleum-based tires immediately touch asphalt. Not just a little asphalt, but most of my drive home is on this most unpleasant petroleum-based substance. It is impossible to get away from it any direction I go. As I travel home, I can’t help but notice that most of the internal combustion cars around me have about the same percentage of plastic in their manufacture as does my Tesla. It certainly looks like most of the power and phone lines along the way are coated in plastic. And the new construction water mains being installed are plastic.
At least I can escape the petroleum-based world as I enter my home. I open my wooden front door (coated in petroleum-based urethane) and step onto my tiled entryway treated with petroleum based wax. I take off my sneakers (made almost entirely of petroleum-based products) and head to the refrigerator (30-40 percent plastic parts). I look in the refrigerator and notice that most of my items are either in plastic bottles or jars, zip-lock bags or plastic-based Tupperware. Some of the used food is wrapped in saran wrap (yes, plastic). I start to feel a little hypocritical about all the petroleum-based things around me so I go into my bathroom for some aspirin — it is in a plastic bottle along with most all of my other medicine cabinet items. I brush my teeth with my plastic handle toothbrush and petroleum-based bristles and darn if even my toothpaste doesn’t contain petroleum products. All the water in my newer house and yard flows through PVC pipe, which is obviously made from petroleum.
This is too much — I need some recreation to escape this evil petro-world. I grab my tennis racquet, which is almost 100 percent petroleum-based as are the synthetic strings. Even the rubberized parts of tennis balls and the fuzz is petroleum-based. And again, my tennis shoes are predominantly made of plastics. My performance material clothes also use petroleum-based fibers. No problem; it’s time to go surfing. I grab my board made of fiberglass, wrapped around synthetic foam core (both petroleum-based) and brightly colored with petroleum based dyes and paints. Rats! The rubber leash and Velcro ankle strap are all synthetic and petroleum based and my wetsuit is all synthetic and petroleum based. OK, no surfing.
It is easy to go on and on. You all should try it as you think about every routine you have in your daily life. The oil exhibit at the Kern County Museum shows many other products we all use that come from petroleum. Bakersfield and the rest of the state and country will be using petroleum products for many generations to come.
Jeff Vaughan is an independent petroleum geologist who was born and worked in Bakersfield his entire career.