Steven Ivory

*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]