I am a lifelong Catholic and my faith is very important to me. I am also a petroleum engineer and proud of the fact I have been able to prudently develop oil and gas reserves that serve our country with low cost energy. Fossil fuels have been instrumental in making the USA into the greatest country in the world. So when I hear that Catholic churches and parishioners around the world are being bombarded by environmental groups who claim Catholics should be demanding their government divest itself from fossil fuels because the Pope's environmental teachings, I find it troubling.
Of course, we all want a clean and healthy environment. In Montana, we are blessed with one of the most beautiful environments anywhere in the world. Yet we have had oil, gas, and other fossil fuel development for over a century. It has helped provide low-cost energy, infrastructure and huge tax benefits to our citizens. To divest ourselves of these valuable energy resources is not practical or moral. In fact, I would say it contradicts our call as Catholics to serve the poor.
I have worked in the oil and gas business for almost 40 years. A partner and I owned and developed small oil and gas fields in northern Montana. Nothing about our properties were "Big Oil”. I have also been highly involved in the Catholic community, Catholic school projects, right to life groups, Knights of Columbus, holiday food baskets for the poor and advocated for ending the death penalty — all Catholic priorities. What people often don’t realize is that having access to affordable energy plays a crucial role in lifting people out of poverty.
One of my favorite books is "The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels" by Alex Epstein. He grew up with a preconception that fossil fuels were bad and should be stopped. After Alex graduated from college in philosophy, he decide to test his anti-fossil fuel beliefs and soon came to the realization that our use of fossil fuels has significantly increased the standard of living across the globe – in terms of health care, education and reduction of poverty. As he points out in the book and his presentations around the world, we have increased our use of oil, gas and coal by over 80 percent since 1980, and during that time, the average global life expectancy has gone up by seven years. On top of that, the largest growth in life expectancy is seen in developing nations.
Fossil fuels have had a profound impact on our environment as well, but not in the way it has been characterized by activists or the media. The United States has recently become the No. 1 producer of oil and gas in the world. At the same time, it has the lowest death rates from air pollution in the world. From 2005 to 2015, while we had a boom in oil and gas production, emissions of pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, fine particulate matter, and nitrogen oxides went down 66 percent, 34 percent and 20 percent, respectively. The U.S. is the only country in the world to significantly decrease its greenhouse gas emissions, thanks again to our increased use of natural gas.
That leads to the question: Why are environmental activists trying to stop the progress that’s being made in reducing poverty and improving our environment (thanks in large part to fossil fuels)?
If the Catholic Church actually does divest from fossil fuels, the church itself, and its charities that serve the poor, will have a lot less money to fulfill that mandate. It makes no sense.
Montana – and our entire country – is blessed with abundant natural resources, and we have the advanced technology to develop these resources in clean and efficient ways that won’t hurt the environment. In fact, our increased use of these fuels has overwhelmingly improved our planet and lifted people out of poverty.
When it comes to poverty, there’s still a lot of work to be done. We should do everything possible to ensure low income families have access to affordable energy, instead of trying to eradicate the very fuels that provide so many economic and environmental benefits.