January 13, 2004

THIS PIECE BY JOE CONASON may be the dumbest bit of oil-based conspiracy-theory yet. First he recycles the already-debunked Paul O'Neill Iraq oil-memo story, but then he suggests that Bush's Mars plan is all about Halliburton getting oil from Mars, an idea that could only occur to someone utterly ignorant of the laws of physics:

Yes, the firm once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney -- fabled beneficiary of no-bid multibillion-dollar military contracts and high-priced provider of Kuwaiti oil -- is determined to drill on Mars and the moon. Surely this scheme has nothing to do with the Bush space initiative. But somehow, no matter what worthy motivations lie behind the president's policies, he and Cheney always appear to be shilling for their corporate clientele. . . .

Dreams about drilling on Mars date back several years at least. In 1998, a handful of top firms, including Halliburton, Shell and Schlumberger, showed up for a NASA "workshop" at Los Alamos, N.M., to discuss the prospects. Research seems to have intensified since 2001, with Halliburton and other firms engaged in proprietary research on such advanced technologies as laser-powered drills.

Maybe this is just a brilliant send-up of the left's increasingly absurd "it's all about OILLLL!" arguments. Er, well, intentionally or unintentionally, it is!

UPDATE: Oliver Willis emails that Conason isn't talking about oil. Well, read the column yourself -- it sure seems like it to me, and a whole bunch of readers who emailed with the link. Meanwhile, reader Mark Curtin writes:

This is no secret at all. I have a friend at Johnson Space Center, Houston, who is working on the drill. Not only for Mars, but for future comet missions as well. The purpose of the drill is to take a core sample at some depth, and returning that core back to Earth for analysis. Now if you need to drill into geological formations, you know the surface mineralogy and geology from past exploration missions and you're based in Houston, who do you consult? Obviously you go to the drilling companies, including Halliburton and Baker Hughes for bit technology as well as drilling technology in general. These guys have already tested the drill in Spain and the Arctic (right mineral makeup of the surface layers, right temperatures and composition if planning a Mars polar mission).

If Joe had any economic sense he, well, why bother....

Come on, Mark. Next you'll be saying we should have hired a Halliburton subsidiary with lots of oil-well fire experience to fight oil-well fires in Iraq!

UPDATE: Reader Matt Laflin emails:

Oliver Willis doesn't think Conason is implying that Halliburton is somehow angling about Martian oil? The article Conason quoted is from *Petroleum* Times. What else would he be implying?

Yeah. Maybe the constant everything-is-about-oil whining has gotten to me, but it didn't occur to me that it was about anything else, and I think this is more O'Neillesque backpedaling. But hey -- maybe Conason's trying to have it both ways, or maybe he's just a miserably unclear writer. Your call..

Astrono-blogger Jay Manifold has made his call, anyway:

It'd be really scary if Conason were on the level, but he also recycles the already-debunked "scandal" about the "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts" document. So the column is reassuringly inaccurate throughout.

And note Conason's scare quotes around "workshop." Anyway, in response to Jay's post's title, I'd like to believe that I'm at least halfway between the gutter and the stars. . . .

MORE: Here's an interesting article on Mars drilling.

STILL MORE: Reader Nathan Okerlund emails:

I guess it's just barely possible that Mr. Conason is talking about Halliburton making a killing selling equipment to NASA, but if that were the case surely he would focus less on the drilling and exploration of Mars per se and more on the sale of equipment to NASA?

Then why all the oil and petroleum references? Unless he was trying to put an oleaginous spin on the story?

ONE MORE UPDATE: Sean O'Hara writes: "I emailed Conason about his Mars piece and he responded that it is indeed a joke, and he expected people to read the Petroleum Times article and figure that out."

Sadly, the lefty hysteria about Halliburton is -- like so many things today -- beyond parody.