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Big Oil and Our Relentless Reliance

Matt Cowley about 5 months ago

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Heavily oiled Brown Pelicans captured at Grand Isle, Louisiana on Thursday, June 3, 2010 wait to be cleaned of Gulf spill crude at The Fort Jackson Wildlife Care Center in Buras, LA.


photo by Flickr/International Bird Rescue Research Center

Big Oil and Our Relentless Reliance

by Amy Beeman

You’ve probably heard by now, BP is green-lighted to get back to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. For those of us who grew up on the Gulf, or those of us who just love her calm inviting green-blue waters, this news may be disheartening. We still hold a grudge.

2010 doesn’t seem that long ago. It’s easy to remember the helpless feeling, the anger and frustration as we watched (on TV) for 87 days as nearly 200 million gallons of crude oil poured out from under the earth into the Gulf after British Petroleum’s oil rig, The Deepwater Horizon, exploded. The company cut corners on safety precautions and emergency procedures. Eleven people were killed. The livelihoods of many on the entire Gulf Coast were greatly jeopardized. In the six months after the spill, over 8,000 marine mammals, birds and sea turtles were found dead, and the environmental impact is still being measured today, nearly four years later.

Now the moratorium on drilling at depths of more than 500 feet that was enacted six months after the the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe has been lifted, settlements were made, and it’s back to drilling for not only BP, but big oil companies like Exxon, Mobil and Chevron, who are also planning to get in on the action in a bigger way.

According to an article in the Dallas News, soon companies will have more active drilling rigs operating in the Gulf than they did before the Deepwater Horizon accident. But they’re just getting back to where they were planning to have been before all that happened, spending billions to explore deep-water fields that they expect to deliver twice the amount of oil that is currently being extracted.

Kevin Wetherington, vice president for the Gulf of Mexico at Baker Hughes, which is among the largest offshore drilling contractors in the world told the Dallas News,

“We’re projecting out to 2020, and our clients are saying as long as we have $80, $90 oil, it’s full steam ahead. These are some very productive reserves they’re looking to tap into.”

Clearly these folks are driven by profit and power, but we, the consumers, are not without some responsibility. Crude oil and all its metamorphoses are such an integral part of so much in our life that it would be impossible to continue our current way of life with out it, even as scientists warn us that the extraction and burning of fossil fuels is driving climate change, which is expected to create conditions humans have never lived in, we can’t get away from it.

Crude oil, transformed to some sort of petroleum product is how we get Alaskan King Crab legs on our plate. It’s how we drive our beloved cars, or fly to amazing destinations. It’s necessary to power our war machines, and therefore to our world power. Turned into plastic, it’s in our pens, toys, sunscreen bottles, medical supplies, and too many other things to name. It’s used for all sorts of components, like those in our washing machines, phones, refrigerators, cameras, fans. It’s used to build our computers.

Crude oil is pretty dang indispensable for the things we’ve become accustomed to today, things we like and don’t want to be with out. We may not like the risk drilling poses to our waters and all that lives within them, and we may want to stop burning so many fossil fuels, but we all want the comforts and nifty gadgets that the oil allows. So are we hypocrites? Maybe.

We are to crude oil what Jesse Pinkman is to Walter White. We don’t like it and know we need to leave it alone, but we’re too immersed and can’t see a way out. Like Jesse, we like the product, and like Walter White, oil companies just can’t get enough money.

It’s no secret that big oil is relentless in its pursuit of pulling more and more of this useful/harmful substance from the earth, but that they seem to have no regard for the ramifications is baffling. The people who run the companies live on earth too. They need the planet to be healthy as much as any of the poorest humans. Granted, they’ll have money so theoretically they would last longer in situations of food and water scarcity, but how will they operate with out all the people who work for them, and no one left to buy their oil?

If Rob Lorei’s recent guest on Radioactivity, Guy McPherson, is to be believed, humans are headed for extinction in the next few decades regardless of what we do now. McPherson, an Ecological Biology professor emeritus at Arizona University, says the instability and diminishment of habitat, meaning our habitat, caused by climate change, which is largely helped along by the burning of fossil fuels, will cause us all to perish in the near future. Not cool. Hopefully he’s way off base.

Either way, there has to be some solution that will keep us alive as a species. If it means slowing down big oil though, it ain’t looking good in the near term.

According to the Energy Information Administration,“Petroleum products include transportation fuels, fuel oils for heating and electricity generation, asphalt and road oil, and the feedstocks used to make chemicals, plastics, and synthetic materials found in nearly everything we use today. About 75% of the 6.79 billion barrels of petroleum that we used in 2012 were gasoline, heating oil/diesel fuel, and jet fuel.”

We will always need some oil, some plastics, of course, but less would be better. It seems like any type of sustainable, clean energy source is thus far an inadequate substitute to our need for fossil fuels. We need a big shift, fast, which is unlikely because big oil has lots of money and power, and they’ve been the status-quo for a while, which also gives them a leg up.

As far as a possible bright spot on the re-opening of the drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the allowance was made with the agreement of much tighter regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency. An article in the New York Times says that BP must pass “muster on ethics, corporate governance and safety procedures outlined by the agency. There will be risk assessments, a code of conduct for officers, guidance for employees and “zero tolerance” for retaliation against employees or contractors who raise safety concerns.”

What’s more, an annual review will be conducted by an independent auditor of the EPA’s choosing to make sure BP is staying compliant with the new standards and regulations. If they’re not, the EPA will be able to take some sort of corrective action.

So, we wait and watch, and hope for the best. Or we get involved and make changes in our lives that would be beneficial to our planet’s health. Or, if Dr. McPherson is right, it makes no difference at this point. So maybe it’s just, smoke em if ya got em.

Let’s hope not.

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