Oil Spill in New Orleans- A Structural Problem

Isn’t it an outrage what BP has produced here? It is their conscious action that has caused the massive oil spill, with sources varying about how much oil actually gets leaked each day. BP says it is 5,000 barrel, whereas the government says it’s more like 100,000 barrel oil per day.1 What is the reason for this oil spill? “New disclosures Wednesday revealed a complicated cascade of deep-sea equipment failures and procedural problems in the oil rig explosion and massive spill that is still fouling the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and threatening industries and wildlife near the coast and on shore. ” 2

It appears to be clear that BP’s irresponsibility has to be paid for. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Salazar released a letter to BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward asking him for a clear understanding of the company’s commitment to pay for damages from the spill. 3 Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York wants to eliminate a $75-million cap on legal liability for energy firms whose oil rigs damage the environment and impose economic losses on the United States. 4 Schumer continues on with indignation. “Congress needs to continue investigating the rig explosion and leak, particularly the role of the oil companies. Obviously, something failed dramatically here,” Schumer said. 5

In the mean time, federal regulators approved the underwater use of chemicals, which act like a detergent to break the oil into small globules and allow it to disperse more quickly into the water or air before it comes ashore. This causes anger among state offcials and fishermen, who complain about the adverse effects on fish and environment. 6 BP PLC successfully inserted a tube into the broken pipe leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico early Sunday and siphoned off some of the spilling oil to a vessel on the water’s surface, increasing the chances that the company will be able to siphon off much of the oil now gushing into the sea. 7 The perpetrators dig out the dirt, and we can’t even trust them for over a month to resolve this crisis (the pipe leaks since April 20). And then the news media hopefully clings onto this straw so that we can hail those “saviors”.

What all this teaches us is that the oil companies and many of those big corporations can not be trusted. They have spent billions of dollars in creating new pipes and devices to drill for more oil, and little in safety to prevent another spill from happening. It is questionable whether offshore oil drilling can ever be made safe. At least there is a direct pay off for BP that reported $6.08 billion in profits for the first quarter of 2010. 8As it reads in the article, “They are not so much against a clean and safe planet; it’s just that they’re so unequivocally for the massive profits their dirty business puts in their pockets, regardless of the price to everyone else.” 9 Oh yes, destroying the livelihoods of the fishermen in the regional economy, destroying wildlife in the seas, and polluting the environment. It proves the fallibility of mankind, in that a few (wealthy) people control the lever of production, and can gain short-term benefits by exploiting the environment, and hoping that such a path can continue with due dilligence, until a major oil spill occurs. It’s not the first time, as the Exxon Valdez incident of 1989 demonstrates. 

What is absolutlely unacknowledged or not obvious in the news media reporting is that BP has committed a crime against the earth, that has lent us its surface to live and dwell on. Merely to demand payments from BP for the oil spill is extremely shallow and irresponsible. It’s like the burglar that stole all your belongings and vandalized your home, and hereafter returns $100 back to you for the $100,000 he stole off from you in the first place. Can we be content by taking off a miniscule amount off their exorbitant profits? Even if it costs them over $10 billion in damages, it won’t hurt them by much, because as long as they can freely tap the Gulf’s oil reserves they will make that amount up within half a year.

And, boy, the demand for oil is high. Total U.S. consumption for liquid fuels was 20 million barrel per day in 2008, and will likely increase to 22 million in 2035. 10 The very U.S. dependence on oil reinforces the impression that oil companies will receive a boon for the remaining decades ahead, where oil reserves still exist. This is the perpetuation of the worst excesses of this oil-based economy, that will increase the international political tension implicated by oil (e.g. extensively tapping foreign oil reserves like in Angola or Nigeria, or seeing more of those oil spills).

And we don’t need to be dreamers at all about the possibility of another oil spill. It is absolutely nonsensical to dwell in undue optimism about preventing future oil spills. The recent statements of former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin (“We are in need of more drilling and if we don’t drill, then we’re going to be reliant on financial aid from foreign countries.”) 11 shows the apocalyptic lunacy that is closely linked with the idea of promoting off shore oil drilling. Only renewable energy that is in accordance with human nature like solar, wind, or water power will be sustainable energy sources, and we have to see government working more forcefully toward it.

The crime committed by BP also shows the capitalist inequality. We can see that a rich man’s crime is treated differently from the poor man’s crime. In order to explain this, let me bring back the burglar as an example. One can expect that the burglar is a poor man, trying to fill up his stomach one way or another, so instead of working his minimum wage job, he decides to steal money and belongings from his neighbors. (Belongings can be sold in the black market, self-evidently.) Note also that the poor man will steal from his poor neighbors, and unlikely venture into well-guarded, wealthy neighborhoods far away, so the rich folks don’t need to fear much burglary from the poor people. What’s the society’s reaction? Outrage. Anger. Intolerance. Rejection. Opposition. This poor man did something evil, and the bible teaches us never to steal anything. This guy deserves to be put in jail and locked away forever. And, of course, it is the middle class people that will carry out this flame of indignation, and this “sincere concern that the community expresses about the burglary incidents in our neighborhoods.” The rich folks couldn’t care less about what’s going on among middle class people, and they will encourage the media- that they control- to keep posting this stuff, so that the middle class people will find grounds to ally themselves against the poor, petty criminals. 

In the mean time, the oil companies can skim off billions of dollars in revenues, because the global market dictates high gas prices.12 And once they are confronted with massive oil leakage they can always bail themselves out. Their pledge to pay for the damage is a drop in the bucket for their bottom lines. It is a miniscule fee necessary to placate the general public, and help them return to business as usual. 

It is just like the legal system that is rigged with inequalities. If a rich man is guilty of murder, he will hire the best lawyers on earth to exonerate himself. If the poor man commits murder, he will be forced to content himself with the worst public lawyer in America, who have not made it to any better places in the U.S. legal system. So the rich man gets off for a little damage to the victim’s family that he can more than easily afford. The poor man will be sent to jail forever, unless he receives the death penalty, which luckily lasts for years and decades to resolve. With the same intensity do we deal with a poor man’s crime that is glaringly obvious, and inherently detestable, whereas the rich man’s crime, the exorbitant oil spill, is getting covered up (BP reported lower quantities of oil released) and is left undescribed, leaving it up to the individual person to analyze the real crime that the oil companies thrust onto the general population. Remember the taxdollars spent for the National Guard measures (that will not be paid for by BP). Remember the loss of revenues for the U.S. economy especially the economy in the Gulf region. Remember the contaminated water and the loss of habitat for fishes. But we can get over it, as long as it is a crime committed by people, who have money and influence to buy their way out.
That is not to say that all poor people will steal. I don’t want to go too deep into stereotypes, but I want to prove to you what it means to commit a blue collar crime (stealing) and a white-collar crime (“negligence” in sustaining oil pipelines).

Our policy choices will matter in terms of restoring confidence in the way America is doing business. We can do better by ending the criminal corporate welfare that pervades almost every aspect of U.S policies. Unless we can separate the public interest from the private interest- that is permitted to be malicious, destructive, and short-sighted- and enforce ways to let the former one prevail, we will never be able to resolve the permanent state of crisis called upon from time to time, that serve as an ardent wake-up call, just as the oil spill in the Gulf coast.

Notes

1 Baltimore, Chris, and Steve Gorman. “BP Marks First Success in Containing Oil Spill.” Calgary Herald. Reuters, 16 May 2010. Web. 16 May 2010. <http://www.calgaryherald.com/business/energy-resources/marks+first+success+containing+spill/3035191/story.html>.
2 CBS/AP. “Gulf Oil Rig Plagued by Problems, Probe Finds.” CBS News. 12 May 2010. Web. 16 May 2010. <http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/05/12/national/main6476337.shtml>.
3 Chazan, Guy, Mark Peters, and Jeffrey Ball. “Some Success in Removing Leaking Gulf Oil.” Wall Street Journal. 16 May 2010. Web. 16 May 2010. <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704614204575245810666495600.html?mod=WSJ_hp_mostpop_read>.
4 Bowman, Michael. “Gulf Oil Spill Prompts Debate on Liability.” Voice of America News. 16 May 2010. Web. 16 May 2010. <http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/usa/Gulf-Oil-Spill-Prompts-Debate-on-Liability-93890429.html>.
5 Jackson, David. “Sunday’s Best: Elections, the Oil Spill and the Supreme Court.” USA Today. 16 May 2010. Web. 16 May 2010. <http://content.usatoday.com/communities/theoval/post/2010/05/sundays-best-/1>
6 Msnbc.com News Services. “BP: Tube Is Siphoning Oil from Leak.” MSNBC. 16 May 2010. Web. 16 May 2010. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/37177037/ns/gulf_oil_spill/>.
7 see 3
8 Brune, Michael. “Halt U.S. Offshore Drilling After BP Oil Spill: Michael Brune.” Bloomberg Businessweek. 05 May 2010. Web. 16 May 2010. <http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-05-05/halt-u-s-offshore-drilling-after-bp-oil-spill-michael-brune.html>.
9 see 8
10 U.S. Energy Information Administration. “Annual Energy Outlook 2010- Executive Summary.” Rep. 2010. Web. 16 May 2010. <http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/pdf/execsummary.pdf>.p. 3
11 Dailypolitical. “Sarah Palin: Oil Spill Issue Should Not Let Us Hold Back.” Daily Political. 16 May 2010. Web. 16 May 2010. <http://www.dailypolitical.com/politics/sarah-palin-oil-spill-issue-should-not-let-us-hold-back.htm>.
12 For more information read Horsley, Scott. “Q&A: What’s Behind High Gas Prices?” National Public Radio. 27 Apr. 2006. Web. 16 May 2010. <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5365439>.

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