*It’s THE conversation these days: “Damn shame what’s going on down in the Gulf”… “Did you hear what the CEO of BP said today? Insensitive bastard”… “All those gallons of oil gushing out everyday–those folks’ jobs are gone”… “My God, the poor wildlife….”
During the national dialogue that angrily castrates oil Goliath BP wherever it takes place–on the street, in bars, during relentless, rabid media commentary–seldom is there mention of BP’s ultimate silent partner in crime. That would be us.
I know. It’s an unpopular stance. There is absolutely nothing sexy about the notion that an American public is also to blame for what’s going on in the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. BP, a global conglomerate with all the grace and persona of your garden variety Evil Empire, is, after all, the perfect punching bag.
The company has a majority stake in the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workmen and subsequently causing the mother of all American offshore oil spills (leased by BP, the rig is owned and operated by Transocean Ltd.). Someone might say that to imply we, as a society, have Gulf of Mexico oil on our hands, is like blaming the victim for the deeds of the assailant.
Remarkably, we are both. In 2008, when it obtained rights to drill in the U.S. region of the Gulf, not only did BP understand America’s ravenous, insatiable appetite for oil; in its haste to get production underway, it counted on our addiction to supersede any concerted interest by governing authorities to insure that crisis-averting back up measures were truly in place.
And now that the unthinkable has occurred, in a stunning exhibition of social dysfunction, we point our collective finger at BP and associates–blaming and cursing them, as if our oil-guzzling culture didn’t somehow play an integral role in the debacle.
The reaction, though striking, is typical. We responded in a similar fashion to the nation’s economic crisis, condemning Wall Street, Big Business, the housing industry, banking, government, Jean, Joan and who knows who, for the deep doo-doo the country continues to work its way out of.
Few of us looked in the mirror and considered our part in the chaos. While the aforementioned were certainly guilty (some even blamed President Obama, who had just come into office), these organizations and people had our tacit approval, either because we ourselves were participating in a variety of fiscal ways or because we sat mute while the pillaging took place.
As a country, we know the price of our dependence on oil, both literally and figuratively, but we don’t care. Individuals and companies have been using electric, solar and wind power for years, yet most of the nation view these as an alternative rather than possible primary sources of fuel.
Our classic response to skyrocketing gas prices is to stand at the pump and whine to news cameras that oil companies are sticking it to us–as we refill our gargantuan, gas-eating SUVs, a giant gas-guzzling boat hitched to its bumper. We’ve shown the oil companies that no matter how high they systematically raise the prices, we’ll keep paying. And as long as we keep paying, they’ll keep raising the price of our fix.
In our minds, the empty, dry well is somewhere in the distant future, when we’re all dead and gone. Depending on your age, that could be true. However, in the meantime, to feed our voracious habit, we are willing to go to war for oil and/or risk situations such as the tragedy in the Gulf–which is what happens when we’re so bent on the golden result of drilling that we don’t demand entities like BP do everything it can to prevent calamities like Deepwater Horizon from happening in the first place.
Nevertheless, even as oil-coated birds and sea creatures wash upon oily shores; as fishermen and others dependent on the waters stand by helplessly as their livelihoods float out of the Gulf on globs of crude, there are those who call for more drilling. These voices reason that just as one plane crash doesn’t stop aviation, one of the biggest oil spills ever shouldn’t deter drilling. These people apparently don’t grasp just what is happening in the Gulf.
Unlike a plane crash, the Deepwater Horizon event will have far-reaching consequences on humans and marine life for many years to come. And no matter the proposed remedies, damage won’t be confined to the Gulf. Either directly or indirectly, we’ll all feel the result of this horrific incident.
I’m not naive. I know we won’t abandon oil as our main energy source anytime soon. However, before calling for more drilling, how about first insisting on developing better ways to insure that if the worst does occur, we are able to deal with it quickly and effectively? In attempting to stop the gushing in the Gulf, BP looks like an absolute amateur–or perhaps more precisely, an organization that never gave serious thought to the question, “What if….”
Some forty days into the quandary, sharing the island of a 76 station on the corner of Sixth and LaBrea, I mentioned BP’s incompetence to the middle aged stranger in a Radiohead T-shirt. He shook his graying head and said something about the oil company being “full of shit.”
Overhearing our gripe from the island across from us, a 30-something woman in a pink business suit and heels chimed in. When this is over, she remarked with a certain mirth, BP might be bankrupt. She sure hoped so, anyway.
Satisfied with our camaraderie and having fed our habit yet again, we returned the nozzles to their pumps. Back in our vehicles, one by one we steered ourselves out into L.A.’s burgeoning early evening traffic, junkies, all.
Steven Ivory is a journalist/author who has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected]