Blame and the BP Oil Spill

Like most observers, I suspect, I find myself so enraged by the  BP oil spill I don’t even know where to direct my anger.  Obviously, BP should be at the top — Dan was appropriately eloquent in his word choice by calling the company’s series of errors and negligent acts a cluster%#@*.   And the federal government, particularly the Mineral Management Service, was simply the handmaiden of the oil companies, requiring virtually nothing of them despite environmental statutes on the books and despite ample warnings from other agencies that a major spill could wreak havoc.  Even worse are reports that  some MMS employees were on the take from oil companies, receiving free trips, rigging contracts, letting oil companies fill out their own inspection reports and behaving, as one MMS supervisor explained, as if they were “part of the oil industry,” not regulators of it.  Though Obama doesn’t get all the blame for the MMS culture of corruption, he certainly doesn’t get any accolades for allowing the agency to continue to run amok well into his presidency.  I also think Obama is missing a huge opportunity to push hard for climate and energy legislation in the wake of the disaster — what better proof do we need that it’s time to reduce our reliance on oil and shift to alternative fuels?  And then there’s Congress, giving massive tax and royalty breaks to the oil industry to induce the kind of risky drilling in the Gulf that led to the accident even when the price of oil made such incentives unnecessary. Indeed, as the L.A. Times reports, the U.S. earns less in royalties from drilling on public lands (including in the Gulf) than virtually any other oil-producing country.

But there’s one other big culprit in all of this.  It’s all of us.  Americans love their cars and their cheap gas and turn the other cheek to the environmental risks inevitable in the search for ever more oil, even in environmentally sensitive and hard to access spots like the deep sea location of the BP blowout.  We do little to support legislation that could reduce our dependence on oil.  Support for taxing gasoline to get consumers to internalize the harms that fuel consumption creates is considered political suicide.  And so, perhaps the only silver lining in this very, very dark cloud is what Andrew Leonard hopes will happen: that the worse the spill gets, the greater the chance that the politics in favor of climate and energy legislation improve.  I share his hope but what an awful price to pay to get us to see the error of our ways.

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Reader Comments

6 Replies to “Blame and the BP Oil Spill”

  1. This passage from John Keeble’s afterword to the tenth anniversary edition of Out of the Channel, his book on the Exxon Valdez spill, seems fitting:

    “In what does a company such as Exxon find the faith to perpetuate its half-truths and outright lies? The answer, perhaps, is in the reluctance of much of the American population to penetrate the loop of power, its preference for living in a fog, and its willing acceptance of almost anything in return for the opportunity to keep its gas tanks topped off. We are Exxon.”

    “The American consumer, as we have allowed ourselves to be called, is a dangerous influence — dangerous in the sense that our insatiable appetite for raw materials causes continuous and often destructive change in the world. We seem unable to attend to the affects of our habits. … We insist upon action only fleetingly, and only when faced with calamity. Then, as the incident in Prince William Sound would suggest, the nation flagellates itselfs itself, the press and broadcast news feed our frenzy with half-assimiliated information, and we fasten on symbols in order to allay our disturbing sense of ignorance and guilt.”

  2. This spill demonstrates that the oil industry must improve its technology and safety procedures and reduce the possibility of future spills. Oil exploration will continue and increase because the benefits to humanity far outweigh the still unproven and highly speculative concerns about possible future climate impacts. The magnitude of this spill demonstrates that there are huge reservoirs of oil which will serve the needs of humanity for many years to come, and for this we should be thankful.

  3. ” It’s all of us. Americans love their cars and their cheap gas and turn the other cheek to the environmental risks inevitable in the search for ever more oil, even in environmentally sensitive and hard to access spots like the deep sea location of the BP blowout. ”

    Exact, you are answering to your own question, who is to blame? Not Bp Bp is there because of the thirst for petroleum of americans so for crying out loud, where will you get the petroleum needed for FOrd trucks, a GM pickups, any Huge VUS that are sold and bought systematically in the US and their imitators, the Us showing the path, even after a major crisis like last year where these companies on the edge of bankruptcy were rescued for job’s? And they are now markrting there trucks again by paying the new customer the gasoline it needs to run for two years !! Come on , what is the cost in gasoline to keep running fighters and war boats all over the world? America is losing credibility…sadly.

  4. The slow-motion disaster unfolding in the Gulf is not a clusterf_ck; it’s criminal.

    There is a lot of oil still out there. A lot of oil. The easily exploited fossil fuels are disappearing, but fossil fuels are not running out, not by a long shot. Their very abundance presents humanity with an existential choice, we stop consuming the toxic fruit or destroy the garden.

    I think we know ourselves (indeed, it’s already been written) well enough to predict the outcome.

  5. It is interesting to observe, as a Brit, the furious outpouring of bile towards BP which is only matched by the size of the leak. Obama and many Americans are caught in the knowledge of their terrible dependence on oil from people that hate them and the consequences of trying to reduce this by finding the stuff in ever more difficult places nearer home. That British Petroleum is the culprit this time is a godsend and a lightning conductor for the impotent fury of the President and the people – I think the psychiatrists call this displacement activity.

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About Ann

Ann Carlson is currently on leave from UCLA School of Law. She is the Shirley Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law and was the founding Faculty Director of the Emmett I…

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