Thursday, June 10, 2010

Go ahead and boycott BP, your government, and yourself over gulf oil spill

Facebook (as much of a time-suck as it is) can be wonderfully inspirational.

A little while ago I read a ('nother) post encouraging folks to boycott BP by not buying gas at BP stations. This is shortly on the tail of news reports about a picket outside a local BP station.

Before joining the picket lines or demonizing private industry, or the oil industry in particular, it's worth asking, "Why are we drilling in 5000' of water in the first place?"

Charles Krauthammer writes:
"As production from the shallower Gulf of Mexico wells declines, we go deep (1,000 feet and more) and ultra deep (5,000 feet and more), in part because environmentalists have succeeded in rendering the Pacific and nearly all the Atlantic coast off-limits to oil production. (President Obama's tentative, selective opening of some Atlantic and offshore Alaska sites is now dead.) And of course, in the safest of all places, on land, we've had a 30-year ban on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

"... why have we pushed the drilling from the barren to the populated, from the remote wilderness to a center of fishing, shipping, tourism and recreation?"
In addition to environmentalist and bad energy and natural resources policy, we have ourselves to blame.
"We want gasoline to be as reliable as electricity, and we don’t want to give any thought to where it comes from."
In fact, BP is drilling in 5000' of water for the same reason we invaded Iraq, because we want them to.

For a long time law enforcement has known that the best way to stop drug violence is for people to stop using drugs. Our irrational behavior and dual dependence on both oil and spineless public policy is worthy of Lindsay Lohan reality show.

When we're ready to stop oil spills, correct our middle-east policy, and stop sprawl, we'll check-ourselves in to rehab.


  1. I'm not sure who this "we" you and Mr. Krauthammer are talking about, but it surely doesn't include conservation-minded people like me.

    To say that environmentalists have pushed oil production to deepwater locations is a more than a little disingenuous; I'd wager that many people that support the protection of ANWR would also love to see all offshore production a thing of the past as well. I really don't see a viable tradeoff in drilling in ANWR to save the gulf in the future - as Mr. Krauthammer even says in his piece, "There will always be catastrophic oil spills." Is the arctic fishery less valuable than the GOM (let's not forget that all that oil on the Valdez was drilled on land)? Is it okay to have a mega spill from the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in pristine wilderness just because fewer people go there on vacation than go to Gulf Shores?

    This argument should not be about where oil production should or shouldn't be - I am a realist and know that despite all my efforts to reduce my consumption of petroleum, this country will need oil to sustain commerce and comfort. What this argument should be about is how to make sure things like this don't ever happen again. We don't need watershed events like the Valdez or Deepwater horizon to think through the consequences of carelessness, we need a vigilant and effective preventive regulatory agency that is able and willing to stop production immediately if corners are cut. The FDA has the authority and mandate to shut down pharmaceutical facilities if Good Manufacturing Practices are not being followed - for something as simple as poor records management a billion dollar drug facility can be shut down instantly. If the MMS had such a mandate and authority, we might not be talking about this today.

  2. Jim,

    "We" is a generalization, and as you point out, inaccurate. To be logically correct, it would be better put as "most people" or "the majority of people."

    I don't agree the argument is disingenuous at all. Folks that want to protect ANWR and eliminate all offshore production are grossly inconsiderate of their fellow human beings. Under the pretense of protecting pristine tundra and caribou they would deny other human beings the privileges of civilized living while not risking it themselves--and civilization is more than just energy, think plastics too.

    I think it may be disingenuous to say one can be both "a realist" and believe we ".. can make sure things like this don't ever happen again." The statement ignores the fact that humans are fallible, as are their creations--both engineering and institutional. To be an actual realist, it would be more believably (and honestly) written, ".. to minimize the impact when things like this happen again." Otherwise the schizophrenia is both dangerous and Pollyannish.

    Again, both articles take a practical and more realistic perspective; these incidents are infrequent, catastrophic spills even less so, there are safer places to drill, and we should strive to make spills both less frequent and safer. Pretending they can be eliminated is the basis of bad public policy.

    On a side note, I'm comfortable with the over-generalization of "we" as I believe the generalization (all of us) is probably closer to the truth than "most of us" because I believe very few of us (and I don't include myself) actually appreciate how dependent we've become on oil, including both plastics and transportation. The most recent statistic I remember reading (but can't find now) is that approximately 30% of oil is used for fuel and the rest is used as raw materials for "civilized" living, including plastics, medicines, and Vaseline.

    Lastly, the comparison between the the pharmaceutical and petroleum industries is interesting, except the consequences of impurities in their products don't have similar consequences. Furthermore, drilling and mining are intrinsically dangerous activities, and their dangers can't be wholly eliminated. While our economy can live without some medicines it can not sustain itself without energy. Closing production for one affects far fewer people (and voters) than another. And I doubt we'd send our military into harm's way to protect our nations dependence on Viagra generics.

    So in the meantime many of us prefer our politicians act outraged at BP and impatient with our struggles against terrorism because without being honest with ourselves, why should we expect our politicians to tell us the truth?

  3. I think there's an old Lone Ranger joke somewhere in the whole "we" discussion...

    At any rate, I'm not much into 'discussion via blog' (plus I should be working); suffice it to say that I do have a lot of history and passion about energy policy and it doesn't take much to get me going on this stuff. I'll talk your ear off about it someday in person. (I'm a reformed petroleum industry engineer.)

    Just FYI, here's a typical breakdown of what comes from a barrel of crude:
    It does of course vary somewhat by crude source and refinery configuration, but fuels do represent the largest fraction of refined products obtained from feedstock.

  4. You have a regulatory agency where employees were partying, drinking, using drugs and sleeping with people from the industry they were regulating.

    Much like how the myriad of shows I watched on Discovery channel about how eventually a hurricane would put New Orleans under water left me unsurprised when it happened, this disaster was inevitable.

    I'm not willing to listen to anybody argue which pristine wilderness we should be drilling in, when the people making sure it's safe are rolling around in bed high and drunk together.

    Until this is truly and properly addressed, the argument of where we should be drilling is just the question of where would you like the next eco disaster to occur.