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Friday, May 21, 2010
The Gulf oil spill disaster: Who is to blame?

FOLLOWING THE RECENT EXPLOSION and oil-pipe rupture at the British Petroleum drilling platform Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama, in an unusual display of emotion, said, "I did not appreciate what I considered to be a ridiculous spectacle during the congressional hearings . . . (oil executives) falling over each other to point the finger of blame at somebody else. The American people could not have been impressed with that display, and I certainly wasn't." Obama then added there was "enough responsibility to go around."

I too want to stop the blame game, so I will -- by telling who is actually to blame: You. Yes, you.

If you ever bought gas from BP (or one of their competitors), or if you ever rode in a car, bus, train or plane, you are to blame.

If you got up this morning from your polyurethane foam bed, put on your polycarbonate eyeglasses or polymethyl methacrylate contact lenses, brushed your teeth with your nylon toothbrush with some water from your PVC plumbing pipes before you drove off to work, after strapping on a polyester seat belt, while sitting on your vinyl car seat, drinking juice from a styrofoam cup, using a polypropylene drinking straw, guess what?  Petroleum products all. You are to blame.

And even if you rode to work on a bicycle with "rubber" tires, since most "rubber" tires are synthetic, made predominately of petrochemicals, and the roads you rode are paved with asphalt made from petroleum, you are still to blame.

If you are reading this newspaper, you may think that since its ink was made from soybean oil, you are excused.  Sorry.  Just as with corn-based ethanol fuel, soy-based inks are produced from plants grown using, primarily, you guessed it, petrochemical fertilizers and fuel -- you're still to blame.

If you are an environmentalist who opposed drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- a much, much, much less risky place, environmentally, to drill for oil and gas -- then you are to blame.

If you think it was the owners of BP (and other oil and gas companies) who are at fault, well, if you participate in a retirement account, pension plan or investment fund that holds pretty much any index, large-cap or energy-based mutual fund -- which is a whole lot of you (whether or not you know it), you are one of the owners of BP -- and so you are to blame.

If pressure on BP employees and contractors to cut costs and speed up production was a factor in the disaster, then you are to blame -- if you ever bought an energy product where the price was lower or complained about high gasoline, natural gas and heating oil prices.

And you are definitely to blame if you are a Prius-driving, "Local Voices" columnist who before the disaster suggested that off-shore drilling was a good idea. (That, for the record, would be me -- and President Obama, as well, except for the columnist and Prius-driving parts.)

Off-shore drilling is not a good idea; it is just a necessary one -- and will be done now or later -- if we wish to continue living the life to which we have grown accustomed. We live in a petrochemical-based world, where our wealth may as well be measured in joules, ergs, BTUs or kilocalories as in dollars and cents.

Our only significant readily available non-petroleum energy substitute is coal. (Alternative energy sources, such as solar, wind and biofuels, produce, worldwide, only about 1.25% of our energy, and have little prospect for generating, anytime soon, anything close to what either oil, gas or coal now produce.)  And if coal were to become our primary energy source, it would make for worsened carbon dioxide emissions, more mountaintop removal and more future West Virginia mining disasters.

And, finally, if you are a federal government regulator, a congressman or senator or an oil company executive, you are to blame as well – for giving us what we asked for.

Gary D. Gaddy is not actually a pessimist, despite the tenor of this column.

A version of this story was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday May 21, 2010.

Copyright  2010  Gary D. Gaddy


Authored by Gary G. Gaddy at 8:00 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, May 19, 2010 9:03 PM EDT
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