Tag Archives: Energy policy

The Oil Disaster

16 Jun

I’ve spent a lot of time consuming information, updates and coverage of the BP oil disaster.  I haven’t written about it because I’ve had trouble synthesizing all of the information while trying to establish a perspective on what it all means.  It’s easy to politicize the disaster by blaming Cheney, Bush, or Obama.  It’s our natural reaction to demand that the President “show more emotion” or to advocate for the cockamamie solution of the day (like big vacuums or Russian nukes) or to just get angry.  After all, none of us know shit about how to stop the leak, comprehend the physics involved with capping a spewing wellhead 5,000 feet under the ocean, understand the implications of putting BP into temporary receivership, or know whether or not any of the solutions proffered by political pundits on panel shows merit serious consideration.

Instead, like many of you, I’m left feeling an impotent kind of rage, a constant horrible feeling of sad resignation that our country will never again be quite the same.

I keep thinking that this event should be a clarion call for us to realize the cost of our lifestyles, public policy, and the danger of our corporatist government.  It is troubling to watch a President and a nation humbled at the feet of British Petroleum.  We’ve ceded control of both the immediate fix to the continual stream of oil into our waters and the cleanup operation to a foreign corporation.  The failure of our response is predicated on the choices we’ve made as a people, the things we value, the way we live…not because the President is too deliberative or indecisive.  He’s struggling to respond because we’ve limited his set of choices.

Every component of the BP response is done with an eye on limiting their long term liability, protecting their shareholders, managing their public image and their ultimate corporate survival.  This isn’t news, BP is a corporation and the job of the CEO and Board of Directors is to do just that.  I’m sure if they had a fix, they would implement it as that would certainly help their efforts to protect shareholder value.  Unfortunately, they have created a disaster that may be remembered on the same level as Chernobyl or Bhopal and it will be incredibly difficult for them to ever return to their previous status.

The part I think we’re leaving out of the equation in our national discussion of this disaster is our ownership of it.  It’s also in the interest of our government to help BP limit their liability and protect their shareholders; maybe that’s the tough truth we’re all having so much trouble coming to terms with.

We need oil and we need a lot of it.  We need it cheap, we need it now and we need it to subsidize the past 50 years of sprawl and our demand for cheap products and convenience.  Oil companies know that they have the upper hand in this relationship, they know that we’re smack addicts who need their product in order to function. It’s why we deregulate their operations and only provide limited oversight of their operations, it’s why we’ve let them subsidize the risk of their drilling operations while maximizing their profit, why we let them increase the risk and drill further and further from shore without preparing tested contingency plans for disaster.

We’re not prepared for a future without cheap oil and our foreign policy agenda, national economic priorities, energy policy, and domestic policy choices are based on maintaining access to it.  BP is a global corporate powerhouse with drilling rigs, refineries and distribution points in nearly every nation of interest on the planet.  They provide gas and oil to our military and their fuel powers the ships which bring us the food and goods we buy everyday.  Their oil goes into the plastics we use and powers the machines in our own factories.  Every single step of our production and consumption cycle is influenced by the availability and price of oil.  BP (and the other major oil companies) hold significant power with our allies and enemies alike, they are essentially treated with the gravitas of an actual country.  Upsetting the global balance of oil can have long term ramifications on our ability to borrow, negotiate, or leverage relationships in our continual two front war and the maintenance of our empire.

Faced with that knowledge and an understanding that there is a limited number of oil companies which have the ability to deliver us this most basic societal and economic necessity, it’s in the best interest of the President to be measured in his response to the crisis.  As a nation we are limited in how we can respond, the greatest nation the world has ever known, humbled and subservient to our own need for oil and the companies which provide it.

This, this is what saddens me the most.