Industry plants in South Louisiana have been targeted and portrayed as villains for many years, probably dating back to the discovery of oil, which occurred in 1859 in Pennsylvania.
Its discovery made kerosene a much cheaper and more available resource to heat and light homes and brought on the demise of the whale oil industry, previously used for those purposes.
Roughly 40 years later in 1901, oil was discovered in Louisiana and then the first refinery was started up in 1909. During this time span the uses of oil and its co-conspirator, natural gas, have changed Louisiana and the world in so many ways.
Changes due to the discovery of oil and natural gas as medical, energy, and useful materials include a litany of positives despite the constant vilification.
We are now living much longer than in 1909 when the average life span was 52 years of age. Today’s life expectancy in the U.S. is about 79 years. Advances in medicine have contributed largely to this increased life expectancy as well as ease of access to food.
When taking a closer look at the improvements in medicine, two of the most key advances were the ability to do surgery using anesthetics and the discovery of penicillin to kill harmful bacteria. Petrochemicals are used in the direct manufacture of anesthetics and penicillin, as well as aspirin and other drugs that use organic molecules such as cumene, phenol and benzene as building blocks.
Ease of access to food has improved dramatically through improved transportation, which is totally intertwined with our food supply.
In addition, fossil fuels make modern farming possible, from fertilizers and pesticides to the energy used to power farm equipment. There are so many other positives that have come about for society from harnessing fossil fuels. Improved materials for clothing, housing, construction, transportation, safety, and more things have come to be. Even Smartphones rely on fossil fuels.
A vast supermajority of people the world over create the demand for the products, clamoring to buy the incredible goods that fossil fuels are made into and help deliver to market. People are also desperate to get the medical benefits of sanitation, disposability, and medicines made possible by fossil fuels.
Graduates from almost every kind of education program can also get good paying jobs in the industry, from skilled technical workers, office professionals, engineers and marketing and media people to information technology workers.
Petrochemical manufacturing companies contribute to the communities where they locate with donations to charitable organizations, employee volunteers in schools, community festivals and much more.
Employees who work inside Louisiana plants are exposed to everything the community is exposed to and it has been proven that overall they live long, healthy lives and achieve better health outcomes and lower deaths than the general population.
My father, a retired chemist of the industry, is turning 95 years old this year, and he still drives between New Jersey and Baton Rouge twice every year and enjoys a great quality of life.
During the last 111 years in Louisiana there was much to learn in the industry, but industry has and continues to learn. Granted, there were mistakes, misunderstandings and messes made out of ignorance and greed.
Every industry has its challenges. From corrupt Louisiana politicians, unscrupulous financial companies, dishonest reporters and assassins, our state has had its share of people who ruin things for everyone else.
However, those instances are few and far between in all of these industries and the petrochemical industry is no different. Our citizens and industries have responded to each situation and improved.
In 2020, a mere 161 years after the discovery of oil, so much has changed … for the good. Distorting reality to vilify industrial manufacturers is not helping anyone.
Recent news series using purported “research” that attempts to use half-truths and reminders of bygone mistakes serves only those doing the reporting.
Industry employees are the most passionate about caring about our earth and the people who live in it, so if activists seek change, and if newspapers seek revenue from sensational headlines that just bore people and turn them off, then propose solutions that industry and its employees will gladly work together to solve to make some news that’s actually exciting.
For example, here are a few headlines that might be exciting: “St. Gabriel Industrial Plants Struggle to Give Away Scholarships to Local Residents” or “Baton Rouge Industrial Plant Interviews Thousands to Find Only 20 Qualified Candidates.”
Help industry solve these issues, which in turn will actually help communities instead of wasting time on headlines people don’t believe anyway.
Connie Fabre is the executive director of the Greater Baton Rouge Industry Alliance.