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The Golden State's Black Gold Supply Chain
I. “Polar” Opposites
By definition, "antipode" is a point on the earth diametrically opposite from another.
- Dr. Heather Heying1 in Antipode: Seasons With The Extraordinary Wildlife and the Culture of Madagascar.
Dig enough in the schoolyard sandbox, lore according to a young child goes, and you’ll eventually end up in China. At least that’s what millions of American schoolchildren were told. This allegedly started from none other than Henry David Thoreau in Walden where he wrote, “As for your high towers and monuments, there was a crazy fellow in town who undertook to dig through to China, and he got so far that, as he said, he heard the Chinese pots and kettles rattle; but I think that I shall not go out of my way to admire the hole which he made.” Later in 1872, the reference came up again but overseas in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal in a fictional work about beavers - the quintessential engineers of the animal kingdom. Just as the 19th century was turning to a close, it was referenced again in a religious song called, “The Three Little Miners.” Then, in the 20th century it was well engrained in popular culture being featured in Sesame Street television special featuring none other then Big Bird on the Great Wall. It also came up in the drama film Digging to China featuring Kevin Bacon and debuting Evan Rachel Wood.
American children do as all children do - grow up - and many presumably find out that if they were to dig straight down from the USA, they’d end up in the middle of the Indian Ocean - not China. It’s only those fortunate enough to be in parts of Chile and Argentina2 who’d end up in China or vice versa.
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II. Setting Sail
Sea Hope is a ship which sails under the Hong Kong flag and also registered in said former freedom citadel since lost to the CCP and whose tragic downfall was ignored by most the Western Corporate Press. She was constructed in 2009 and has a gross tonnage of 60,598 T (metric), a deadweight (how much a ship can carry3) of 108,701 T, is 243m long, and beam (max ship width) is 42m. As far as ships go, she’s not terribly large,
although too large to use the Panama Canal , which on its own only can fit ships with a beam of 29m (correction: she could fit in the canal post 2018 expansions to the locks) and she’d barely be able to pass through the Suez Canal.
On Sunday December 4th, at 18:48 local time Sea Hope set sail from the anchorage off the coast of Esmeraldas, Ecuador. But where Sea Hope is going, at least right now, there is no need for traversing any canals. She will slither more or less parallel to the western coast of the Americas northwest and in approximately ten days she will arrive off the coast of El Segundo, California which is located in the Santa Monica Bay, a stone’s throw from LAX airport.
Sea Hope is a crude oil tanker, one of hundreds if not thousands of ships carrying the black gold that visit California’s ports each year. Since California is an oil importer, it’s safe to assume she’s on-route to the Golden State full of black gold and not leaving with it.
Unlike the nearby ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach with their skylines of cranes, Jenga-like towers of shipping containers, hundreds of warehouses, and intricate webs of both surface roads and railroads, the “port” of El Segundo is hardly even noticeable to the thousands of nearby beachgoers or those in the multi-million dollar homes overlooking the beaches. Instead El Segundo is an offshore terminal where ships moor a few miles off the shoreline, connect to a network of pipes and transport their liquid goods onshore. These terminals are not even visible on Google Earth.
What is profoundly noticeable however is the nearby Chevron El Segundo Refinery - the destination of the crude oil offloaded from ships such as Sea Hope and Lillesand. Chocking in at a production capacity of 269,000 barrels per day, the Chevron El Segundo Refinery is the second largest in the state - only eclipsed by the nearby Marathon Refinery in Carson with a production capacity of 363,000 barrels per day. Chevron El Segundo comprises of approximately 15 percent of California’s total refining capacity producing CARB gasoline, CARB diesel, jet fuel (and supposedly has a direct pipeline to LAX) and other petroleum products.
As covered in our piece The Island of California, the state rich in oil itself but whose unproductive, corrupt, abusive PRI Party cosplayers who “run” the state choose to intentionally hamper it’s in-state oil industry out of existence. At the same time, members and supporters of this regime brag that California is the WoRlD’s
5tH 4tH lArGeSt EcOnOmY. But running any economy, let alone a mammoth such as California requires energy based on physics, not magical thinking. California has been forced to rely heavily on imports. Even though California is a part of the oil behemoth, the good ‘ol United States, there aren’t pipelines that connect the Golden State to the rest of the country. The majority of non-CA, US oil arrives by tanker from Alaska and that amount has been declining over the years. The rest of the oil comes from abroad.
This is where the origin port of Sea Hope gets interesting.
Ecuador happens to be California’s largest source of foreign oil and California happens to be the largest buyer of Ecuador’s oil having imported 52 million barrels of her crude last year or approximately 144,000 per day.
II. Fern Gully / The Middle Ground
The South American continent is a land of extremes and superlatives. From one of the longest and tallest mountain ranges on earth, to some of the wettest and driest locations, both immense biodiversity and mineral wealth to some of the most fascinating cultures, many who remain virtually uncontacted. The small country of Ecuador is almost a miniature version of the continent’s immense diversity. Such statement stands on it’s own even if excluding the Galapagos Islands, which are also a part of the nation’s territory.
As the name implies, Ecuador located smack dab on the equator. Ecuador’s highest peak, Chimborazo, is located just one degree below the equator. At 6,263 m (20,548 ft) she’s certainly taller by a long shot than virtually mountains in the rest of the world sans peaks in the Himalayas and in the remainder of the Andean Range. She ranks just number 39 in the Andes but what makes her especially interesting is that she’s a volcano inside a volcano, is snow capped with glaciers, and due to the earth’s bulge at the equator her summit is the closest point on earth to the sun despite being significantly shorter than Mt. Everest. Chimborazo is just one of several volcanoes, let alone mountain peaks that compose of the spine of the country.
Chimborazo is also featured on the Coat of Arms of Ecuador along with the Andean Condor, a symbol present all over the Andean region of the continent. Also shown in the seal is a river, specifically the Rio Guayas. Featured too is a small steam ship. The Rio Guayas is the largest river on the continent that does not drain into the Atlantic. Its headwaters begin at Chimborazo and terminate in the Pacific Ocean at the Gulf of Guayaquil, home to the delta of several other rivers, along with Ecuador’s second largest city of the same name (Guayaquil) and its largest port.
On the other side of Chimorazo and the Andes lies several tributaries that drain the opposite direction which ultimately form the continent’s most prominent river - the Amazon. Also featured in the region are the homes of dozens of Indigenous groups and lush, highly diverse tropical rainforest.
Oh and oil.
Lots and lots of oil.
The symbolism in Ecuador’s Coat of Arms extends further for our story. These colors, yellow, blue, and red, were originally featured on the flag of Gran Colombia - a ex-country that once made up the modern nations of Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, parts of Brasil, and Guyana. The red is purported to represent blood spilled by those who defended their country - not terribly surprising. The blue is meant to represent both water and sky - both clean and pristine. The yellow, which on the Ecuadorean flag itself tales up a greater proportion than the other two colors, represents crops and soil fertility.
Yellow - by sheer coincidence - is also the color of ripened bananas. Bananas and Latin America are synonymous with the concept of a Banana Republic. While Ecuador is indeed a large exporter of bananas, it’s not often thought of as a Banana Republic. Such a term is usually associated with nations in Central America and the Caribbean.
But Ecuador’s oil story mimics much of the Banana Republic narrative - a resource-rich nation run by a politically unstable or corrupt governments who often relies on foreign governments or multinational corporations to do to much of the dirty work. And for longtime readers of GLF, this is far from the first time we’ve written about a Latin American country with vast resources falling prey to the something akin to the Banana Republic effect.
III. Upstream Effects
The breakup of Gran Colombia and the formation of the modern borders of this region of the continent took well over a century. What began in 1821 as a result of the breakup of Gran Colombia, the border dispute between Ecuador and Peru for the territory making up the upper Amazon basin wasn’t settled until 1998 long after the fighting sizzled down. It remains the longest duration territorial dispute in the Americas.
Under permission from the Ecuadorean Government at the time, American oil company Texaco was given permission in the early 1960s to explore and develop the oil resources in this somewhat newly captured territory by Ecuador. Developing, and (trigger warning!) colonizing the area would be viewed as further “legitimizing” the area as belonging to Ecuador, not Peru. The Ecuadorean Government by law owns all minerals including oil, even on private property, so they too jointly explored and developed with Texaco.
By the late 1960s, oil was struck in the area known today as the Lago Agrio oilfield and Ecuador was on the cusp of becoming a major player in the Latin American oil markets. Ecuador joined OPEC in 1973, left in 1992, and returned back in 2007 before finally leaving again in 2020.
As typical with many oil plays, the substance itself is far from anywhere its refined, let alone used. Ecuadorean oil is no different. Esmeraldas, where our ship Sea Hope began her journey is located nowhere near Ecuador’s oilfields. The Trans-Ecuadorean Pipeline (SOTE), a 500 km pipeline that crosses over the Andes, skirts just south of Quito, and eventually to Esmeraldas was completed in 1972. TEP originally carried 250,000 bpd of oil but was later expanded to its current capacity of 360,000 bpd. A second pipeline, the Oleoducto de Crudos Pesados (OCP) pipeline runs roughly the same course to Esmeraldas crossing over the Andres but instead passes Quito on the north. The OCP was completed in 2003 and carries approximately 450,000 bpd.
The exploration and development in Lago Agrio - Ecuador’s primary oilfield - and the neighboring regions involved clearcutting of virgin rainforest - which was also being exploited at the time for lumber and agriculture along with the displacement of the area’s indigenous peoples. Ecuador had also seen a large amount of foreign investment from what Saifadean Ammous best describes as The Misery Industry in his book The Fiat Standard: The Debt Slavery Alternative to Human Civilization. Organizations such as International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and Chas T. Main - the organization made famous in John Perkins’ gripping auto-biography, Confessions of an Economic Hitman did the bidding, duping both locals and foreigners abroad of their apparent good will.
These organizations did what they did best - convince the leaders of developing nations to take on large loans, almost always in incredibly unfavorable terms in exchange for development projects such as hydroelectric dams, transmission and distribution lines, and roads. These projects were typically constructed by firms such as Chas T. Main instead of with local labor, and the natural resources were removed and exported to the developed world often with poor or no compensation to the locals sans members of the local elite - particularly the bureaucrats and their cronies. The Misery Industry’s efforts to suck countries dry of their wealth went into overdrive after the abandonment of the gold standard in 1971 - something we briefly touched on in Fossil Fool Part II.
Very Banana Republic, indeed.
By 1978 Jaime Roldós Aguilera, an Ecuadorean lawyer, had enough. Roldós Aguilera ran for president campaigning on pushing back against the misery industry. His platform leaned heavily on both populism and nationalism but unlike many Latin American politicians at the time, he did not dive off the deep end in the extreme wannabe USSR satellite-state left or the US CIA-backed Cold War fighter right. He seeked to remove the government portion from the three-legged stool (government-international corporations-international banks) that composed the misery industry. Roldós Aguilera won the election in 1978 and was cited as the first president in a long time to be elected democratically and not installed via election shenanigans or dictatorship common in Latin America at the time. Roldós Aguilera died in a plane crash in 1982 and didn’t achieve much in terms of clamping down on the oil industry nor the rest of the misery industry. By this time however, Petroecuador, the state oil company had effectively had far more control of the country’s oil industry than Texaco or other multinationals though.
Ecuador’s oil industry has been laden with accusations of environmental destruction and the displacement of indigenous peoples to the point where a class action lawsuit began in 1993 against Texaco in search for compensation for damage to both the environment and to the health of the local population. Texaco was even accused by environmentalists of commiting genocide, although evidence remains missing. In the Internet Archive, the former website for Texaco (they were purchased by Chevron in 2003) maintains a narrative in their point of view of their activities in Ecuador. Both the SOTE and OCP pipelines are also not immune from issues either. Earthquakes, landslides, and construction accidents have led to several ruptures of both pipelines spilling oil into the surrounding environment. Gem.wiki has records of dozens of incidents that have hit both pipelines over the years.
IV. The Deal With the Panda
Now, substitute the mouth of the Rio Guayas in the Coat of Arms for the port of Esmeraldas, the Rio Guayas herself for an oil pipeline and draw the pipeline going over Chimborazo. Replace the steamship with an oil tanker.
Change that deep blue to a brown but leave the red.
Scrap the Andean Condor too, but not for a bald eagle but for a bear. But California killed theirs off, so I suggest a panda. And to top it off, change that deep blue to a brown but leave the red.
While this is an obvious desecration of the national seal of a sovereign nation, such a redesign of the Ecuador’s national seal would certainly be ESG-approved.
But back up a bit why a panda bear?
In 2008 Ecuador defaulted on some of its sovereign debt leaving it unable to secure new loans from the traditional Misery Industry. The President at the time, democratic socialist Rafael Correa elected in 2007 as part of Latin America’s “Pink Tide” (an era where multiple LATAM nations saw elections of left-leaning leaders) asserted the debt was “illegitimate” and labeled the bondholders as “real monsters.” He was highly hostile to both the IMF and World Bank, and rightfully so as the repayment of loans to these organizations sucked over 1/3 of the Ecuadorean Government’s revenues enslaving Ecuador to her creditors. Correa instead insisted the money be spent internally on Ecuador and its people.
But Correa swapped out one Misery Industry for another. One, let’s just say, with Chinese Characteristics.
Ecuador, under Correa’s leadership, began receiving development loans from the Chinese in deals similar to what previous Ecuadorean administrations negotiated with the “real monsters.” And of course, many of the people he pandered to as part of his lefty / wokeish social agendas suffered the most. Perhaps the most egregious example is that Correa’s government in 2013 hit the indigenous people residing in the Yasuni Nature Preserve the hardest when it was announced his government would auction off million of acres of this part of the Amazon Rainforest to Petrochina for oil production. The deal included China getting to obtain this oil at a discount, and to be able to sell it to anyone they want. This was part of how the Ecuadoreans would pay back the development loans. Nowadays, Ecuador essentially allows Chinese state-owned oil companies to run most of the show.
To this day China has loaned Ecuador more than $20 billion USD all for the supposed purpose of building , roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, and of course - dams. The most prominent dam is the Coca Codo Sinclair, a run-of-the-river dam located on the Rio Coca under the shadow of the active Reventador volcano and adjacent to several fault lines the latter of which caused carnage of their own on the areas’ oil infrastructure in the late 1980s.
Known for its shoddy construction quality resulting in cracking in the structure itself, Coca Codo Sinclair’s impact on the local water system was either poorly studied or obscured. The erosion due to the change in the flow of the river itself is believed to have been the cause of the 2020 disappearance of San Rafael Falls, the largest waterfall in Ecuador. To add insult to injury, the nearby sinkhole that formed as a result caused ruptures in the SOTE pipeline resulting in none other than a massive oil spill into a major tributary to the Amazon.
V. The Arrival of Inconvenient Facts
When Sea Hope arrives in El Segundo, she’ll contain approximately 775,000 barrels of Amazonian crude4. She’ll likely be moored for several days burning heavy fuel oil contributing to the pollution the LA basin is famous for. The people who live in what’s known as Asthma Alley, adjacent to the Ports of LA and Long Beach will continue to cough as Green Elites insist that small oil wells in the same area or natural gas stoves are somehow the problem. Neither produce anywhere nor a noticeable amount of pollution as poorly-extracted oil using questionable labor practices. Such are inconvenient facts for the Green (and Woke) Elite, who like Correa, rug pull the same people they claim to want to save.
Sea Hope’s Amazonian crude will be refined into the gasoline that drives our cars, the diesel that harvests our fields and delivers our goods, the jet fuel that whisks us to vacation, and the hundreds of other oil-derived products, will have likely come at a great cost to the one of the most pristine and biodiverse regions of the world, with several native populations long neglected and marginalized by their governments. It’s only to add insult to injury that said oil is likely extracted following next to no modern environmental laws, worker safety laws, and of course must essentially pass through one of the most oppressive entities on earth - the Chinese government whose operating on someone else’s sovereign territory thousands of miles away from their mainland.
California itself consumes about 1.8 million bpd and with that, Sea Hope likely contains just under half a day’s worth of California’s daily oil consumption. This doesn’t just produce fuels for transportation - it produces much of what everyone takes for granted and much to the disappointment of the Green Elites, it’s going nowhere.
California’s in-state production comes in at around 460,000 bpd (roughly two days capacity at Chevron El Segundo) yet has the largest known reserves of all fifty states. It’s just that strict environmental laws and the state’s infamous NIMBY disease keep most of it in the ground along with the Elite Green regime’s desire to eliminate the use of all fossil fuels.
The State could get this oil locally, produced by local workers under the state’s strict environmental regulations. This oil could be providing billions in tax revenue to cash-strapped local governments and the the state government itself. This oil could come from someone such as Mike Umbro, featured below, whose been trying to get production going on his property in Kern County for years now. Mike has arguably done far more to bring awareness of Ecuador’s Amazon oil issues more than any of the state’s notoriously infamous environmental groups let along Green Elites whether they be Woke or not.
Also take note of the shirt he’s wearing. Look familiar?
Californians pay dearly to import oil from places such as Ecuador and California remains that nation’s largest buyer of her oil. Californians not only are supporting the destruction of the Amazon and local residents but are also funding in part the Chinese government’s Misery Industry.
If abusers like Gavin Newsom really want to attack “Big Oil” at their core, then maybe he’d start by backing off on the strict regulations that keep small-scale producers in his own state from operating. Or perhaps he’d realize that the owners of Chevron El Segundo, a soon to be formerly based California company are also the owners of Texaco - one of the original parties involved in Amazonian oil since the 1960s.
Perhaps Gavin Newsom should travel down to Ecuador herself, specifically to these oilfields, pick up a shovel, (Protip: wear real work boots instead of Hush Puppies) and dig until he ends up on the other side of the planet.
Stay tuned for Part II where we’ll pick up in a different location.
If you want to learn more about Mike Umbro’s background and work, have a listen to the Tales from the Crypt podcast episode.
Dr. Heying is also the author of the Substack, co-hosts the Dark Horse Podcast with her husband Dr. Bret Weinstein and co-authored the book A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century: Evolution and the Challenges of Modern Life.
In March of 2021, someone extremely close to Argentina’s antipode could have taken a rare, record-setting longest non-stop commercial flight close enough to qualify as a trip between antipodes. An ex-Aeromexico 787-9 now belonging to Comlux, a charter airline flew between Incheon airport in Seoul to Buenos Aires. The flight lasted 20 hours, 19 minutes nd traveled a total distance of 10,520 nautical miles.
Depends in factors such as season, fuel mandates, etc. See:
Based on her deadweight of 105k T and the approximate weight of one barrel of oil being 136 kg.