Obama on the Record: Earth Day

Thank you all so much for that welcome. It’s a pleasure to be back in Newton and a privilege to be here at Trinity Structural Towers. I just had a terrific tour of this facility led by several of the workers who operate this plant.

It wasn’t too long ago that Maytag closed its operations in Newton. Hundreds of jobs were lost. To have walked these floors then would have been to walk along empty corridors. The only signs of a once-thriving enterprise would have been the markings on cement in the shape of equipment that was boxed up and carted away.

Today, this facility is alive again with new industry. This community continues to struggle, and not everyone has been so fortunate as to be rehired, but more than one hundred people will now be employed at this plant, many the same folks who had lost their jobs when Maytag shut its doors.

Now you’re using the materials behind me to build towers to support some of the most advanced wind turbines in the world. When completed, these structures will hold aloft blades that can generate as much as 2.5 megawatts of electricity – enough energy to power hundreds of homes.

At Trinity, you are helping to lead the next energy revolution. And you are heirs to the last energy revolution.

Roughly a century and a half ago, in the late 1850s, the Seneca Oil Company hired an unemployed train conductor named Edwin Drake to investigate the oil springs of Titusville, Pennsylvania. Around this time, oil was literally bubbling up from the ground – but it had limited economic value and often did little more than ruin crops and pollute drinking water.

Even as some were refining oil for use as a fuel, collecting oil remained time-consuming, back-breaking, and costly, as workers harvested what they could find in the shallow ground. But Edwin Drake had a plan. He purchased a steam engine, built a derrick, and began to drill.

Months passed. Progress was slow. The team managed to drill into the bedrock just a few feet each day. Crowds gathered to mock the hopeful, foolish diggers. The well even earned the nickname, “Drake’s Folly.” But Drake wouldn’t give up. He had an advantage: total desperation.

It just had to work. Then, finally, it did.

One morning, the team returned to the creek to see crude oil rising up from beneath the surface. Soon, Drake’s well was producing a then-astonishing amount of oil – perhaps ten, twenty barrels each day. Speculators followed, building similar rigs as far as the eye could see. In the next decade, the area would produce tens of millions of barrels of oil. And as the industry grew, so too did the ingenuity of those who sought to profit from it, as competitors developed new techniques to drill and transport oil to drive down costs and gain an edge in the marketplace.

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