Coast crisis: An oily situation

Published 5:15 am Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Everybody is mad at BP for the oil spill threatening the gulf coast. It is a tragedy for the 11 families who lost someone when the rig exploded and for all of us if the oil destroys a fragile part of the environment.
Certainly, BP has responsibility in the accident, and I say accident because I don’t think anyone intended to cause it. But it happened and now how do we get beyond blaming to fixing.
I read this quote and think it expresses how many folks feel about oil.
“Oil is a product that arouses so much passion. A lot of people have a passionate fear, or distaste, or downright hatred almost for oil. There is no other product that so many people need so badly, yet so many people believe should be produced entirely without profits.” Jeane Kirkpatrick, former U.N. Ambassador for the United States.
Truth is oil fuels our lives, and I don’t mean just in vehicles. According to Ranken Energy, a 42- gallon barrel of crude oil yields about 20 gallons of gasoline and 4 gallons of jet fuel. That leaves 18 gallons; so where does that go?
It goes into things we never connect with oil. For example, plastic – all plastic production uses petroleum products, (Does a day go by that we don’t use something made from plastic?) The list continues, permanent press clothing,  shoe laces, umbrellas, plastic hangers, scotch tape,  ball point pens, ink, footballs, disposable diapers, prescription bottles, antiseptics, artificial limbs, disposable razors, hair brushes, hair color, milk jugs, Styrofoam, trash bags,  carpet padding, upholstery material, garden hoses, caulking material,  disposable lighters, shopping bags…
In fact, you wouldn’t be reading this without the use of petro-chemicals to build components for the computer I used to write it. And of course, much of our electricity requires oil and natural gas for its production
That is why BP is in the gulf drilling, to provide the oil used to produce things we consider necessary for our life style.
And, while a spill like the one happening right now gets a lot of attention, tiny environmental disasters happen all the time. People dump used oil from engines onto the ground or into open drains instead of taking it to a recycling center. This is environmental pollution just like an oil spill in the ocean only on a smaller scale. Plastic objects and containers thrown away do not decay quickly but stay around sometimes injuring or killing animals – just like oil kills or injures sea creatures.
Even beaches, which we say we are concerned about, suffer at hands other than those drilling for oil. Plastic bottles thrown from ships and boats wash up on beaches. Soda cans, empty snack bags and wrappers left behind after a day of sunning and swimming end up in the sand and water, destroying the pristine beauty of the beach on a much more regular basis than oil washing ashore.
So while BP should take responsibility and clean up the mess it created, we also play a part in what is happening to our environment and have a role in the making it better.
It’s all about choices. I can take responsibility for what I do and try to improve how I live. I can choose reusable bags when I shop instead of using the store’s plastic ones. With awareness, I can reduce my consumption of electricity and gas by monitoring where I have the thermostat set, by choosing energy conserving appliances and by turning off lights.
Not big changes, but if every person changed one thing, it might put a dent in our oil addiction, reducing the need for more offshore wells, lessening the likelihood of those wells leaking into the gulf and making us so darn mad at what those awful oil companies are doing to our environment.
(Anyone interested in oil spill relief efforts can visit to learn more about how to volunteer).