A love song to undiscovered country

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When I was in 10th grade, I gave a passionate speech about SUVs.

Who needs all that horsepower, I asked. Think of the waste, think of the environment. I printed out a satellite image of Hurricane Katrina and asked my classmates, who must’ve barely had their learner’s permits at the time, if this was the price they were willing to pay to keep driving their brash symbols of Americana.

If 10th grade Alma could see me now, she’d be shocked and betrayed to learn that I work in oil and gas. And that I love it. And that I’m writing songs about it.

But even 10th grade Alma might appreciate that the biggest shift this last decade wasn’t my journey from Blue to Red or from music major to oilfield entrepreneur: it was from city kid to…well, still a city kid, but one who has a whole lot more friends in rural America.

I fell into this industry by total accident. When an unexpected job loss left me reeling after college, a friend gave me a gig managing oilfield compliance around work I’d never heard of: roustabout, directional drilling, water hauling, site preparation, hydrovac—it was all Greek to me. I didn’t know the difference between an oil derrick and a cell phone tower.

But little by little, I fell in love with the industry, building unlikely friendships and realizing that many of my preconceptions about oil and gas were unfounded. I learned that not all fossil fuels are alike: coal generates 42% more CO2 than petroleum and petroleum 18% more than natural gas. I learned just how many everyday objects, from our fertilizer to our electronics to our COVID vaccines, are made directly from petrochemicals. And, since compliance is my job, I learned that America’s safety and environmental regulations are actually really strict, even if there’s tons of room for improvement.

These lightbulb moments taught me something valuable that I try to keep in mind when thinking about any industry, policy, or people group: the world is complicated. It’s wonderful to have opinions, but we must have the humility to recognize that the boots-on-the-ground reality of any issue won’t match the hype we see on Twitter or on TV. Things look a little different up close.

I wrote the song “5000 Candles” to give you an up-close taste of the place and industry I call home. The faces you see in the video (most of them bearded, because that’s how we do it up here!) belong to oilfield clients, friends, and colleagues who have changed my life by welcoming me into their community as a total outsider. The oil and gas economy is built on the backs of tens of thousands of small businesses just like theirs.

I encourage rigorous debate around resource management, and I appreciate the sincere efforts of those working through entrepreneurship, advocacy, and personal sacrifice to build a cleaner world.

I don’t need you to stop believing in climate change or to reverse your views on energy policy. You certainly don’t need to start driving an SUV—I prefer to ride a bicycle, myself! But with this song, I invite you to meet the real, actual humans powering the world as you know it. I am grateful to them, and I am one of them.

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