BP. sympathy, blame and planning

June 14, 2010

Some readers were incensed by my comments in last week’s News about the Gulf Oil Spill.

Dennis Conroy, retired USAID executive in California, wrote: “Your Hawkhill News of June 7 was incredulous and disgusting. No mention of the eleven men who died.  No concern for the tens of thousands of fishermen, shrimpers and other watermen with no job and the loss of their way of life. And no pity for those who depend on tourism along the coast for a living. The impact on the gulf and on these people and sea life will be felt for years.”

Robert Baxter, a Canadian librarian and teacher, wrote: “So, according to you, we can forgive the disaster, as well as other similar types of environmental pollution (Alberta Tar Sands, for one) and wars over oil in the Middle East because we don’t want to live like they did in the Middle Ages. Is that supposed to be some kind of an argument, justification or comparison? … Please stop sending me these messages, and remove me from your list of contacts. Thank you. Have a nice day.”

On the other hand I did get some compliments.

Pete Cerar, real estate agent in Dayton, Ohio wrote: “Right on Bill. By stopping drilling we depend more on foreign oil which has to be shipped to us. The spills from tankers far out weigh the spills from oil rigs by about 10 times. Again, we do things for the wrong reasons.”

And Kerry Swift, university administrator in South Africa wrote: “Well spoken Sir! There is, of course, another side to this whole debacle which has been picked up by the Spectator (UK not US version). In a recent editorial they find the constant harping on BP as ‘British Petroleum’ with heavy emphasis on the ‘British’ distasteful as it is being done to deflect responsibility away from those U.S. players, like the company that built the defective platform and in a much broader sense the US consumer’s insatiable demand for oil for lifestyle wants rather than human needs. The Spectator points out that BP has been a global player for many years and its British roots are lost in the distant past. It suggests that the Federal Government should also take the rap for this disaster. It is a kind of U.S. jingoism that is making the Brits really mad and which damages the ’special relationship’. I think it is also showing up Obama in a poor light but that’s a personal view! I never really liked the Chicago activist’s mafia moving in on the White House anyway. As you say, it’s not as if BP planned this horror show!”

I replied to critics Conroy and Baxter that I have a lot of sympathy for all of the people harmed by the Oil Spill (including BP employees, shareholders and customers). Sympathy is cheap. Planning for the future is more difficult. BP promises (we’ll see if they live up to the promises) to pay for all legitimate claims from families of the men killed in the explosion, of fishermen, shrimpers, tourist losses and any other people harmed by the spill. They are also paying right now to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars for ships, equipment and workers to clean up the beaches, keep oil out of the marshes, and in general mitigate as best they can the environmental damages to the ecosystem of the Gulf and the Gulf states.

BP has the major liability for this tragedy. They are accepting the responsibility. Our federal government has responsibility too, but so far it has not distinguished itself. The governor of Louisiana, the state most affected, has begged the feds to respond more promptly to his calls for more equipment, more workers, and more help in building berms to contain the oil and keep it off the beaches and marshes. I understand that many high-tech ships from other countries that have special gear to help in oil clean-up operations are ready to help but apparently they cannot be used because of a 1920s law in the U.S. that forbids foreign ships from working in U.S. waters. This Jones Act was waived by Bush in the Katrina disaster, but presumably because of his ties to unions, Obama lets these ships remain idle. Bush was excoriated unmercifully for his supposed tardiness in responding to the Katrina hurricane damage. Obama’s response to this tragedy has, if anything, been slower and less effective.

More important than sympathy or blame or even cleaning up as best we can, is the future of oil and gas exploration in this country. That was my main point last week and I repeat it this week. My example of medieval life in the castle may have been a bit of a stretch, but I really think many people today do not understand the desperate importance of fossil fuel energy and material in our world-wide modern civilization. Not only do we depend on fossil fuels for transportation, electricity, agriculture and other energy-rich activities, they are also the base for our modern material culture from medicines to shampoo, from computers to furniture, from books to condos, iPads and baseball mitts.

Some of us older folks remember the bitter anger and the long gas lines in Jimmy Carter’s days. Those times will be a picnic compared to the future time when gas will sell for thirty dollars a gallon, our factories come to a screeching halt because they can’t get enough electricity, food quadruples in price because fertilizer becomes too expensive and unemployment hits 50% rather than 10%. Recycling, eating organic, biking to work or driving a Prius might help. But not much.

Even on a less apocalyptic note if we continue to support moratoriums on drilling in the gulf and Alaska, the immediate result will be increased imports from unfriendly nations, more support for terrorists, and risks of tanker spills worse than risks of new oil spills from drilling. The other immediate and inevitable result will be the removal of drilling rigs that presently supply a third of the crude oil produced domestically and with the removal the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. Many of them permanently. This will be even more of a disaster for the Gulf States and a huge increase in the already bloated unemployment rolls. To compound all this damage I just heard last week that the administration falsely claimed that a scientific panel endorsed the moratorium. Falsification of a scientific report like that is inexcusable.

Just about everyone including me is in favor of developing alternative energy sources as fast as possible. But not everyone seems to realize how long it will take for any alternative to fossil fuels to make a substantial difference. As I said in my blog, the most optimistic forecasts I have seen from experts would be two or three decades. Twenty or thirty years! That’s a long time to be unemployed. What are we going to do in the meantime? All the invective and criminal prosecution in the world against BP (and other oil-companies) is not going to help. But it might make things worse.

Let me hear from you.

Bill Stonebarger, Hawkhill Owner/President

P.S. Again I urge you to consider some of our own Hawkhill programs that address different aspects of these very real national problems that in one way or another all involved the crossroads of science and society. Even if you do not want to buy the complete video or DVD programs, you might want to read the scripts (at no cost) that are also published on our web site. www.hawkhill.com.

Relevant programs to this discussion are: Energy and Society, Ecosystems, Toxic Wastes, Ecosystem Cycles, Resources Populations and Climate Change and Capitalism and Democracy.

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