May 25, 2010

Bless, Bess, What a Mess!

A few posts back, I made a brief comment about flying from Dallas to LA on the same flight as Victoria Principal. It was during the heyday of the show, Dallas. On that flight, I was seated next to a couple who had flown from New York, and since they had never seen the city of Dallas other than on the show, they had planned to have a long enough layover to rent a car and do some sightseeing. As it turned out, their flight from JFK was late, so instead of renting a car, they had just enough time to run into the gift shop at DFW and pick up some postcards.

As we took off, the wife pulled the postcards out her bag. Her husband and I were seated on either side of her, and I glanced at the postcards as they both pored over them, occasionally asking me questions. She pulled out one postcard that showed a train, and I noticed her studying it intently. Finally she turned to me and asked, "Where do the people ride?" I asked her to repeat the question, not because I hadn't heard her clearly, but because I was baffled by the question.

"Where do the people ride?"

"It's a freight train," I replied.  "People don't ride them. They're for cargo."

She looked at me as though I had just landed from Mars. Meanwhile, I'm thinking, "People ride trains?"

I'm kidding. I knew people ride trains, but it doesn't happen much in this part of the world. We're not big on mass transit. We don't even like to carpool. Come on, I might want to leave before you, and I need to have my own car.

All of this to explain that I am of two minds on this whole BP business. I think we should be looking for alternative sources of energy. I think we should be green. No matter what anyone thinks of Al Gore, I think we should be conserving energy for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with climate change.

But those alternative sources of energy are still largely Plan B, and we don't have a Plan B in place. We talk about wind, but the financing for that has dried up, along with a lot of other things. We talk about natural gas as an energy source for cars, but we're long way from making that practical.

As for oil, we are where we are.

I'm from a part of the world where many people I know are connected to the oil industry, from independent producers to those who provide equipment for off-shore drilling. Several members of my extended family are employed in various facets of the petroleum industry. It's not just about gasoline and motor oil.

Products from petroleum are diverse, including plastics, textiles, contact lenses, and artificial limbs. Vitamin capsules, tape, shampoo, and house paint are also derived from petroleum. As one Facebook friend has continually reminded another in a series of arguments threads on this topic, the computer you are reading this on is encased in plastic that came from oil. The list of items derived from petroleum is overwhelming.

We are where we are.

Much of our way of life is directly connected to oil. So while I have never been a fan of off-shore drilling, I've never been fully opposed to it either (although I have always been opposed to drilling in ANWR.) The "Drill, baby, drill" mantra appalled me, as those who were pushing it seemed to think it was a joke. While I don't agree with their attitude, I have seen off-shore drilling as something we need to do, mostly because we don't have a Plan B.

So when President Obama announced an expansion of off-shore drilling at the end of March, I thought it made sense. Has that changed since the BP rig explosion? I don't know. I don't see a simple solution.

We are where we are.

Those two Facebook friends who have spent the last few weeks engaged in a passionate dispute over the topic haven't answered any questions for me. One is ultra-conservative, and the other is ultra-liberal. One has worked in the oil industry, the other has worked in education. I have to tell you, while I tend to be left of center on many topics, and right of center on a few others, I don't think either one of them has any answers. I think they are both right about some things, and I think they are both wrong about others.

That's the problem with so many things right now. Everyone wants to solve problems with knee-jerk reactions, and hardly anyone wants to meet in the middle with a practical solution.

What is happening in the Gulf is unacceptable. That BP would ask the public for ideas on how to stop the leak is so absurd, no one could make it up. That for the last few years industry executives and politicians have continually told us that off-shore drilling is safe ("Drill, baby, drill!) because there hadn't been a major spill from off-shore drilling off the US coast since 1969 is infuriating. That after a month of not being able to stop the oil from leaking into the Gulf, the same politicians who were pushing "Drill, baby, drill!" are now blaming the government for the problem is insulting.

But we are where we are.

I understand the frustration with the government over this, but I'm not sure what the government is supposed to do to stop a leak once it has started. (And excuse me, but aren't these the same people who want the government out of everything in favor of the free marker?) Sure, the Army Corps of Engineers should surely be able to help figure out what to do, but I'm not sure the government has the equipment needed to fix it. I don't recall any of the politicians arguing for off-shore drilling ever saying anything about the government's role in cleaning up any spills that might occur. These same people who argued that we should allow drilling in ANWR never told us anything but how safe it is.

It seems to me that the role of government should be to demand that safety precautions be in place to prevent accidents like this in the first place. Do other countries require things that we don't? Were there things we  could have done before this accident occurred that we didn't do?

In the midst of the mess, I hear arguments from both sides bring God into it. One side refers to Genesis and says, "The earth is here to provide for our needs, and the oil is there for a reason." The other side refers to Genesis and says we are charged with taking care of the earth.

I agree with both. We need to take care of the earth, but the oil is there for a reason. Even so, I have to wonder, why is it so hard to reach? Is it because God wants us to recognize that we need to be getting serious about Plan B? Is it a heads up that we need to conserve as much as we can?

I don't think it's a coincidence that this happened just as President Obama announced the expansion of off-shore drilling. I don't agree with those who say it's a warning to stop off-shore drilling altogether, but I do think it's a warning to proceed with extreme caution.

I believe it's a heads up to get on with finding alternative sources of energy. We are where we are, but oil is not an unlimited resource, and we have to stop behaving as though it is. We need to start thinking about what changes we need to make as a nation to be ready for whatever comes next. We need to be investing in research and putting the best minds we have to work on this issue.

We have to demand that more safeguards be put in place to keep this from happening again. If politicians tried to tell us off-shore drilling was safe because there hadn't been an accident in 40 years, then we need to go at least 100 years without an accident before anyone tries to bring up the idea of drilling in ANWR again.

We have to quit behaving as though we own the earth and remember that we're just leasing. We owe that much to future generations. We might even have to consider carpooling. =)


  1. I'm glad you wrote this post because I have been thinking that I should say something on my blog about the whole thing, but I realize that I am too emotional about it to have clear look at the whole situation.

    One the one hand I live in Houston and the economy of Houston lives and dies with the oil industry. Most of the people I know earn a living from oil in some way. I myself work for a large law firm that represents large corporations, most of them energy corporations.

    That said there are a lot of things wrong with the way we allow the oil companies (especially BP) to do business. BP is really the crap of the crap and if anything good comes out of this I honestly hope that BP is sued out of existence. I could go on about why I think that, but most of what I know about them is from my work so I won't say anymore.

    Just read the Investigation report that was done on the 2005 BP Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 people. Read that. Then I think we should all be asking ourselves why we are shocked that this kind of disaster has occurred on a rig that was run and maintained by BP. Fool me once I believe is the saying, unfortunately they fooled us and our society just collectively shrugged.

    I get that our lives depend on oil. I really do, but I think that its wrong for us all just sit back and shrug instead of actively looking for alternatives. If people were actively NOT buying things made of and wrapped in plastic than companies would spend the money on alternatives. If we were actively taking public transportation then cities would work to expand the systems. Our way of life isn't going to change unless we change the way we live our lives. Every little step counts. Until then I think we need to have a system where regulation wavers can't be sold. We need to have regulators that are working for the interest of the people and the planet, not CEOs. We can't just tell everyone to Go Green. We need to improve our system at the same time we are funding research in to valide alternatives.

    Sorry for the long rant. Great, great post. I think you have captured where most of us are... somewhere in the middle.

  2. Thanks, Katy. As you pointed out, BP's actions are inexcusable, beginning long before the accident took place, and continuing throughout the mess that has been caused. And that kills me because I have known so many honorable people who have worked for BP. Unfortunately, it seems that those in charge are not so honorable. Beyond the deplorable loss of life in Texas City and on the drilling rig, we'll never know just how much damage they have caused.

  3. margaret,

    that was such a well reasoned plea for good common

    as you know, i am affected by the things i know and
    the people i love.

    there is easily obtainable oil, under ground not offshore.
    after any of our rigs leave the place they have drilled,
    you absolutely cannot tell they were ever there.

    the really good news is how quickly (in a matter of
    days) the oil/gas can be extracted now. so people don't
    have to see the rig as long.

    the excesses of "dallas" and enron have forever ruined the
    image of our nation's last 'cowboys.'

    our son worked on a rig a few summers ago and said that
    he had never had the privilege of knowing such fine, hard
    working men who were ecstatic to find a job to take care
    of their families.

    i can promise you that the CEO i know lives a far more
    austere life than al gore, bill clinton, oprah, or bono.

  4. I know - I hesitated about writing this one because I know so many at all levels of the petroleum industry who take their obligation to do the right thing seriously, and who have been unfairly maligned because of what appears to be the greed of others. I have nothing but respect for the individuals and families who have contributed so much to the quality of our lives through oil. I think my next post is going to be about how much we rely on each day, without ever thinking about the connection to oil.

  5. I am probably the most uninformed person around regarding this subject. I don't mean to be rude or inconsiderate...but at the moment...there are much bigger fish to fry in my own life...I just haven't had the time to think about this.

    BUT..that said...I really like what you have to say and I think you spoke very well about it. You speak truth. Sometimes...well..sometimes there just isn't a black and white...there are some greyish areas...people get so hung up on one side or the other that they forget about middle ground. The industry gets so hung up on the fact they need their paychecks..they forget about the individuals/animals/environment affected to get there. Some individuals get so hung up on their "politics" that they forget about the other person out there whose family is fed and clothed because of the "industry". It's a tough thing...very tough...lately in every keep going back to the same thing over and over again
    "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." John 15:12
    Somewhere along the way - we - both sides of this debate or any other debate - have lost sight of that command - the greatest there is. If our convictions and thoughts were rooted in this and this alone...I bet there would be a whole lot fewer of these accidents...and a whole lot less politcal discussion. topic ramble...Lol!!!

  6. "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." John 15:12

    Wise words, Supermanslady. If we would remember that scripture - and be faithful to it - what a wonderful world it would be!

  7. The scientific breakthrough the other day with the synthetic copy of the genome of a bacterium- Mycoplasma mycoides has MAJOR implications in solving oil dependency, as does hydrogen. Lots more funding and research needs to be addressed in these two areas to make a difference.

  8. Let's hope the funding is there...