Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
As an internationally renowned scholar and expert on energy markets and geopolitics, Daniel Fine helped shape the thoughts and decisions of policy makers and industry leaders over decades in Washington, D.C., and in New Mexico.
A lifelong Harvard fellow and research associate with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Fine had a direct influence on government affairs, frequently providing expert guidance on energy issues and international relations among the top echelons of public and private agencies.
And, for nearly two decades, Fine devoted his attention to New Mexico through the Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, first as head of the university’s Center for Energy Policy, and then as a research associate who led conferences, projects and initiatives across the state.
Fine, 88, died in Miami on Sept. 26, following complications from surgery.
To those who knew him, Fine was a brilliant, outgoing scholar who dedicated his life to public service, readily sharing his knowledge and experience with everyone. But above all, he was always a true “gentleman,” said former New Mexico Tech President Dan Lopez.
“He was a prince of a man, always cordial and never intrusive,” Lopez told the Journal. “He was gentle, thoughtful, knowledgeable and very kind. I’ll miss him.”
Since 2004, when Fine moved to New Mexico with Helen, his wife of 65 years, the scholar left an indelible mark.
Fine helped coordinate a statewide initiative under former Gov. Susana Martinez to forge a new, strategic plan for energy development. He organized public meetings and conferences across the state to gather input on the potential for everything from oil and gas to solar and wind, analyzing opportunities, challenges and public policies that could assist local communities, said T. Greg Merrion of Merrion Oil and Gas in Farmington.
“He traveled around the state and met with all kinds of people from many different sectors,” Merrion said.
He worked for years with local leaders in the state’s northwest region, helping to organize a San Juan Basin Energy Conference there. And he frequently presented to Four Corners Economic Development on energy issues and world affairs.
“He would talk about everything, from the war in Ukraine to oil and gas prices and elections,” Merrion said. “He was actually scheduled to speak in late September, but he died suddenly and very unexpectedly.”
Fine provided expert analysis as well for New Mexico legislators, offering insight on the local impact of world oil and gas prices, said former Democratic state Sen. John Sapien.
“His analysis was always right on the money,” Sapien told the Journal. “He opened our eyes to how fragile the state budget is based on oil and gas.”
But while Fine’s local influence is broadly recognized, his national impact is less known, largely reflecting the scholar’s humble manner.
“He led an incredible life, but he was very modest,” son William Fine told the Journal. “He didn’t go around telling people about all the things he did.”
Born in Newark, New Jersey, Fine lived most of his life on the East Coast.
As a young man, he fought in the civil rights movement, organizing protest events in southern states, first as a doctoral student in political science at the University of Florida, and then as a professor there.
“He organized black Freedom Riders in Florida,” William said. “He and my mom frequently demonstrated and were jailed. At one point, the KKK threatened to kill him.”
Fine knew both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
“He met and coordinated with them,” William said.
He also had a passion for African studies, which he taught for years. In fact, he took his family – including William, wife Helen, and daughter Sharon – to Kenya for two years in the 1970s under a Ford Foundation research grant.
But 1975 marked a sharp turning point for Fine. He refocused on energy issues and geopolitics following the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ world oil embargo.
Fine remained in academia as an MIT research associate. But he started working directly with industry and government, providing expert advice and guidance to public and private leaders and agencies.
He co-edited a landmark 1980 book – “The Resource War in 3-D: Dependency, Diplomacy, Defense” – that included insight from national experts on U.S. dependency on imported natural resources. It had a significant impact on public thought and policy under former President Ronald Reagan, leading to congressional testimony by Fine, and sought-after advice from senior policy advisers in government and Washington think tanks.
He also had private sit downs with former presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, according to William.
In addition, he advised on U.S. relations with the former Soviet Union, having traveled to Russia more than 30 times. And he was a frequent contributor to Business Week, the Engineering and Mining Journal, and the Washington Times, among other publications.
“He did a lot of things for this country at high levels of government, but he always maintained a low profile,” William said. “Some of the stuff he did was top secret during the Cold War.”
Apart from his son and daughter, William and Sharon, Fine is survived by younger brother Jim, 83. Fine’s wife, Helen, died of cancer on March 1, 2022.