The Gulf of Mexico Valdez
By Cam Mather
I’m a hypocrite. There I’ve said it. I feel better. I’m an environmentalist who owns a car. It’s a small car, and I drive it as little as possible, but I drive none-the-less. I haven’t been on a plane in 20 years and never intend to fly again because it’s so destructive to the atmosphere, but I do drive in this shiny metal box that releases carbon into the air that was stored underground in an oil reserve.
Those of us who drive are getting a rude awakening to the reality of oil every night on the news right now. It’s brutal to watch. First we heard 1,000 barrels a day were leaking in the Gulf of Mexico. Then they upped it to 5,000. Then at a recent press conference officials seemed hesitant to deny that the amount of oil leaking could be higher. This only makes sense since it appears that part of the problem in stopping the flow is the force at which it’s pouring out. And people don’t seem to be asking “Why are we drilling for oil under almost a mile of water in the Gulf of Mexico?” That seems pretty deep. And dangerous. Could it be that we’ve run out of the easy stuff and now have to risk drilling this deep to get at what’s left?
So you gotta love the CBC. Last night on The Nature of Things they aired a documentary called “Black Wave: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez”. http://www.cbc.ca/documentaries/natureofthings/2009/exxonvaldez/
It documented the oil spill and it’s effect on the town of Cordova where the people who make their livelihoods from fishing in Prince William Sound live. Judging from the experience of the residents of Cordova, the people of the Gulf Coast shouldn’t count on ever expecting to see a penny from BP as a result of this spill. The Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil in 1989 devastating the ecosystem on which these people depended. In 1994 a jury in the class action against Exxon awarded the plaintiffs $5 billion dollars. To date those people that suffered as a result of the spill haven’t seen a penny.
For decades now Exxon has used every legal venue possible to avoid paying the settlement. The last trip to the U.S. Supreme Court saw that amount reduced to $500 million dollars. Exxon has spent significantly more than that in legal fees fighting to avoid paying the suit, according to the documentary. It pointed out that Exxon invested the $5 billion when the original award was made and made some staggering amount like $27 billion on it. When the documentary was made in 2008 it reported that Exxon Mobil (as the corporation is now called) made a profit of $164 billion over the previous 5 years. Their earnings would have been even higher when oil hit $147/barrel during the spike. You’d think that when a corporation is making that kind of money it wouldn’t be a big deal to kick a little back to the people whose lives were ruined by their actions.
As I watch the news about the oil spill off the coast of Louisiana and I see and hear the fishermen and shrimpers raging against the injustice of the spill, I can’t help but ask myself what powers their boats? Isn’t it oil? How do they get the seafood to market across the U.S.? Isn’t it in trucks, and jets? This is why I point out my own hypocrisy. I use oil. I try not to use much, but I have daughters who live 3 hours away and once in a while I drive to visit them. Usually they take the train home which is far better for the planet, but it all has an impact regardless.
I have resigned myself to never fly. I am ramping up how much food I grow to reduce how far my food travels. I’m trying to get used to the concept that I’m going to live the way my grandparents did… locally. They ate in season. They stayed close to home. A trip by train or boat was a huge deal and not done very often in life. I’m getting pretty comfortable with this concept. When I get wanderlust I remember what a pain travel is. Oh it’s great when you finally arrive, but it seems governments are making travel, especially air travel increasingly brutal. I stopped flying many years ago but it seems like air travel became even less pleasurable after 9/11 and frankly I don’t miss airports.
Today though I’m going to drive into town to ship some books that were ordered over the weekend. I’m going to turn the key in my car, and the spark plugs are going to ignite a fine mist of gasoline, that was once crude oil, that was once under the ground, or under an ocean somewhere. And when I watch the news tonight and see how crude oil is destroying the lives of people who depend on the Gulf of Mexico for their livelihood, I am going to own up to my small contribution to it.