I grew up in Pennsylvania, but there’s a lot I don’t know about the commonwealth. (I do know that it’s a commonwealth rather than a state.) My parents weren’t educated—neither one finished high school—so I didn’t have a lot to go on at home. I recently learned that it is the second largest energy producing state in this somewhat tenuous union. Texas is, of course, first. I suspect this is because the Keystone State is old. Not because it was one of the original thirteen colonies (which it was), but because the Appalachians around here are ancient and abundant in coal, oil, and natural gas. And speaking of natural gas, the state houses of congress are dominated by Republicans. The state motto should probably be “Burn, baby, burn.” Given the number of Republicans, it is also one of the most corrupt states.
Even in the rural parts where I grew up, it was clear that energy was a huge part of our history. The petroleum industry began in Pennsylvania. Col. Edwin Drake’s well at Titusville is still producing. The oil fields here are shallow (speaking of the GOP), however, and the interest shifted to Texas where, well, everything’s bigger. Growing up, refineries were a familiar sight. One of my vivid childhood memories is witnessing a refinery fire. I was too young to really understand. My brothers and I were outside playing when it started to snow in the summer. It wasn’t really snow, it was hot ashes falling from the sky from a refinery fire about five miles away. We later drove out to see the huge vats melted like wax, charred and rusted under what had been an industrial paint facade. Petroleum companies are like that.
My second hometown of Rouseville lived under constant threat of a refinery fire. The small town of about 800 was completely dominated by a Pennzoil refinery that took up much of the valley. We trembled whenever the refinery sirens went off. My life may have been shortened by breathing in all those toxic fumes. Big petroleum comes with massive costs. We know that alternative sources of energy are available, but we have very rich people who stand to lose some of their vast fortunes if we move away from fossil fuels. There’s much about Pennsylvania that I don’t know. I’ve lived here longer than in any other state. And I, for one, would like to see this fascinating commonwealth work for the betterment of the world it inhabits instead of rewarding the bad behavior of the wealthy.