May 25, 2010

BP, As In Big Problem

Can I just take a minute to talk about the oil spill?

I grew up in Houston, arguably the most influential oil town in the US. A couple of times each summer, my family would load up the car and head to Bolivar Peninsula, a sandy stretch of beach just off Galveston. In doing so, we'd find ourselves driving through Texas City. If you don't know, Texas City is where 90% of the refineries are in Texas. When we started to see the refineries - easy since it looked like some really ugly sci-fi mothership had landed - we'd roll up the windows if they were open, turn off the air conditioning if it was on, and close all the vents. Because Texas City was horrendous to drive through. And it was immediately obvious to anyone driving through that the process of harvesting and refining fossil fuels was treacherous, dirty and fucking up the planet.

When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in '89, I'd just gotten my driver's license. Among the many rules my parents laid down - wear your seatbelt, be home by midnight, don't drink and drive - was don't buy your gas from Exxon. So I didn't. And I recall my superior, idealistic 16 year-old self shooting dirty looks at the folks pulling out of the local Exxon stations. But, of course, that kind of boycott - which was, actually, fairly popular back in '89 - did little to impact Exxon or send any kind of message. Why? Exxon and all the other oil companies have a captive audience.

What this all comes down to are the many questions I have rolling around in my brain to which I have no obvious answer. Why, with all the technology we possess, can we be able to drill a well deep into the earth but be absolutely unable to plug is? Why aren't better safeguards in place? Why would we ever think it a good idea to allow the oil companies to police themselves? Would we give Whitney Houston a pile of crack and a pipe and say we expect you not to smoke this but if you do, please drive yourself to rehab immediately and get yourself clean?

We can't abandon fossil fuels entirely. That's whack (thanks Whitney) and we're not anywhere near ready. We're years, even decades, away from finding reliable cost-effective solutions. But I don't think it's a stretch to ask the people who are tasked with finding fossil fuels to please not dramatically fuck up the earth while doing so, to be careful, to stop being a profit-hungry group of asshats.

I ask you -

- What will it take to find some alternatives to fossil fuels?
- What do we do in the short term to let BP and others know this is unacceptable?

Posted by Chris at May 25, 2010 6:00 AM

Oh crap. I'm the first one! Now I can't ride the slippery slope after someone else.
This is a big problem and as long as no one is doing anything to seriously develop an alternative fuel, or design cars that actually work without oil or electricity (I mean, come on, plug it in? Where does the electricity come from anyway?), then we will all be screwed and held captive by the Oil Man!

Posted by: Maribeth at May 25, 2010 8:05 AM

I wish I had any idea at all how to fix this problem!

Posted by: Heather at May 25, 2010 8:09 AM

Boycotting your local BP station is not only worthless, it is counter productive. BP doesn't own any gas stations. Gas stations are usually locally owned small businesses. The only connection to BP is that the owner signed a contract with BP to sell their products in exchange for the sign on the station. Shutting down the local business via boycott and throwing its employees out of work doesn't hurt BP.

I think we need a 1960ish NASA Race for the Moon style government program to make any sort of critical breakthrough with non petroleum based energy. As long as oil is the most profitable source of energy it is the one the corporate world will focus on.

Posted by: COD at May 25, 2010 8:56 AM

I agree about this and have thought about this million times the past month. Wait, they built it but they made no fail safe, no off fucking valve and seriously we can make a missle that can destroy the earth and send people into outer space but we have no flipping clue how to stop a leak that we "created" in the ocean...

I still go to BP. The problem with boycotting BP is that you would need to stop buying gas. BP has its main "stores" if you will but they also sell gas to smaller companies and so all of those OTHER places are likely buying gas/oil from BP and so you are not really boycotting anything. You would need to stop driving. If I recall from Exxon it was the same deal.

Also, oil is used to create many things (plastics for instance) so therefore we would all need to stop using almost every product out there and SO we are screwed in terms of sending a message. This oil/gas situation was an issue long before it started spewing out into the ocean but no one really thinks about it until something BIG happens. And sadly that is mostly the problem in that we are complacent as humans in that until something bad happens we pretend it is not happening at all. I know I sound jaded and mad and I guess I am because it is so out of my control unless of course I go back to living life like a pioneer and that will likely not happen so I guess I am frustrated in general, you know?

Posted by: Christina at May 25, 2010 9:23 AM

1. $4.00 gas.
2. A tax on BP for every barrel they sell, that pays for fixing their mess and fines them until they have a fail-safe solution to preventing this in the future.

Whether we're talking about the American people or a multi-billion corporation, money talks and bullshit wal.... floats at the top of the ocean.

Posted by: Brad at May 25, 2010 10:28 AM

I agree with Brad. If gas is more expensive, people tend to carpool more, drive less, ride their bike more. All of that. As gas prices decrease, people just go back to their big gas guzzler cars and gun their engines at every light.

Posted by: Kris at May 25, 2010 11:23 AM

Raising the price on gas will just ultimately help BP ( as well as hurt the common man ), as will applying a tax, because they will just pass the cost on to consumers.

This is the end result of a law that should make sense, but doesn't play well with corporations:
In the post Valdez era, federal law was enacted that says a corporation is responsible for cleaning up it's oil spills. So BP is on the hook ( which is why the feds haven't stepped in from day one ). But BP is a corporation, which means that it is bound by the laws governing it, which state that if BP were to dive in, spend whatever it took to fix the problem, and spend again to make sure it never happened again, then BP could be sued by it's shareholders for wasting money. BP must spend just the right amount, not more, to clean up the problem. Couple that with a "contain the information" policy to keep the stock price from tanking, and BP is delivering exactly what you would expect it to: spending as little as possible while spinning it as best it can.

When the feds do step in, we'll still be stuck with a massive clean up price tag as tax payers, because BP will certainly find a way to meet their "contractual obligations" well short of hosing off every bird and rock.

Ironically, the real culprit here is not BP ( who owned the rig ), but Haliburton, who was paid by BP to put the seal in place that failed. A similar accident happened recently in Australia, again with Haliburton, in that the concrete used to plug the hole was not applied properly, causing an explosion.

To prevent it from happening again, as much as it is considered "big government", you gotta put regulations in place, with enforcement, to make sure that these things get done right. The FAA crawls up the butt of every airline, and we have remarkably few crashes compared to the amount of traffic. If an inspector was onsite to guarantee that the concrete was sealed properly ( it was apparently leaking black ooze ), then this probably wouldn't have happened.

Posted by: metawizard at May 25, 2010 2:28 PM

I wish I had all of the answers, but I don't. I don't know what to do. I know we try in our household to be as gentle on the environment as we can, and use as little gas as we can, (hubby take the train to work instead of driving the 40 miles each way, we don't drive big engined cars, we grow some of our own food, and buy as locally as possible,) I think that these companies have to be held responsible. From what I understand, Exxon still hasn't really cleaned up or paid for the mess from 89.

And don't even get me started on other things like coal, hubby was watching a show the other day about what the coal mines are doing to the communities they are in. It's sad, and it all makes me angry. But I still don't know how to fix it. I wish I did.

Posted by: Steph at May 25, 2010 2:40 PM

What will it take? If gas/heating oil were as expensive as they are in Europe, people would be looking harder for alternatives.

The oil industry is heavily subsidized by the U.S. government -- maybe we could stop doing that? Divert this money to develop wind power? After all, Texas is a windy state. There wouldn't even necessarily be job loss, just transfer to an industry that makes more sustainable fuel. I am having a hard time imagining a windmill disaster that could kill dozens of workers and harm the environment like this oil spill has.

Last, We can take away BP's billions in federal government contracts. Give them to an American company.

Posted by: Laura Gato at May 25, 2010 3:59 PM

The world is turning away from oil. It started in the late 80s with the Valdez and it has taken 20 years to get to the point we are now. It will take another 20 years to move a bit more away and then....boom the technology with move at such a rapid pace we will be donating money "all those poor people who got laid off at the refineries."

It is evolution.

I am not against drilling anywhere. I am not a tree hugger or enviromentalist. But I would liekt o see the change.

Posted by: William at May 25, 2010 4:19 PM

Hi Chris, hope you and the family are well, sorry I have been MIA, I have been buried in office work and oil paint.

But I didn't spill any oil!

Posted by: miabean at May 25, 2010 9:45 PM

wouldn't we be set if we knew the answers to your questions?! i wish i knew...

the situation in the gulf is truly awful :(

Posted by: kati at May 26, 2010 12:42 AM

A question similar to these came up in conversation over the weekend...How do we become more green and lower our need for oil? Hard question to answer...even those who are smarter than us can't even answer that question. I wish I had the answer.

I still don't buy Exxon gas...even if I'm on empty and I might risk running out by getting to the next station (believe me, have done it!). I have used their convenience stores, knowing they are local business owners who happen to sell Exxon's gas for them. I just don't buy the gas. I'm bitter, I know. I won't buy gas from BP now either.

If you get the chance and can find it, watch the 60 minutes that was on 5/9 (I believe that's the date)...they interviewed the last man off the platform as it went up in flames. There were so many warnings that this was going to happen in just the WEEK before it happened. The blowout valve that is supposed to protect against what we are seeing now in the gulf was damaged just the week before the explosion and was not fixed. That is why we have what we have now. It's not that they don't have the technology to protect against this, they just broke it and they didn't fix it! I blame BP for the push to drill - the greed is just disgusting.

Posted by: cyndy at May 26, 2010 9:23 AM

I used to sell the diverter valves that are used in a blow out preventer. Believe me, there are at least 4 layers of safeguards in place on a drilling rig. Drilling is the most dangerous part of the oil process, once you switch to production, things are much settled down.

The oil business has always been a labor intensive, dangerous job. Look at coal miners! Not a lot different but 11 or more can get killed and it doesn't f'up the environment.

Believe it or not, BP does not want this happening. The regulations that are in place were followed. Why did all 4 layers of safety fail? Thats the million dollar question. Our business is so safety oriented, its crazy. You can't go offshore without training. They run drills all the time in case something like this happens. The horrible part about a blow out is its unpredictability. Were mistakes made in this case? No doubt. It comes down to the people who enforce the safety rules....a company culture can play into that but the bottom line is you are only as safe as the guy who is welding, supervising, etc out there.

Until we pay more for gasoline (which is a commodity item - the price IS NOT SET BY THE OIL COMPANIES) people will not do anything different. We need to make alternative energy more affordable. We live in the Walmart age and no one wants to pay a penny more for anything.

Posted by: Debbie at May 26, 2010 10:43 AM

I would love to stop driving as much. My commute is about 40 miles round trip, not at all mass-transit or bike-friendly, and I could work from home at least 3 days a week. If I did that, I could use a hybrid car because I wouldn't be on the freeway as much, or even bike around for my errands. But despite my workplace's commitment to greenness and the purported lack of office space (and parking), I am not allowed to work from home because people start sniping about how THEY're not allowed to work from home. Progress: foiled by whiners.

Posted by: Brooke at May 26, 2010 12:05 PM

Most of the world pays much more for gas. Europe and Asia come to mind as high. What works there is that many people don't have cars. They depend on public transportation. When we go to Europe, we never rent a car and it's easy and convenient.

How will we ever change here? Personally, I don't see it happening. There doesn't seem the willpower or the demand. We have little to show for the wicked gas prices from the 1970s when we should have vamped up our efforts to change forever to expand fossil fuels and cut back on oil.

Even if I wanted too, I can't add solar to my roof. It is against my HOA rules. I would have to fight to change them to live the way I hope too someday or move.

I'd personally love to see high-speed trains like Europe and Asia have. If they were safe and dependable, I would utilize them vs. flying or driving.

Posted by: One Mom's Opinion at May 26, 2010 1:57 PM

Even if people stopped using petroleum tomorrow, there's still the plastics and other chemicals to get rid of. It's a tall order.

Mind you, in the 1940s Henry Ford came up with a prototype car that was entirely based on *hemp* oil. Even the plastic in the dashboard was made from hemp.

So if Henry could come up with that stuff over 60 years ago, I think a large part of "why can't we get there" is.... we don't have enough belief that we can. I like the idea of a moon-shot style endeavour, though.

Posted by: Kat at May 26, 2010 8:36 PM