Big Oil’s profits come at oceans’ expense

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/opinion/191782_bigoil22.html

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

By FRED FELLEMAN
GUEST COLUMNIST

The price of gas continues to rise quickly and fall slowly in response to real or fabricated projections in oil supply and consumption. The Post-Intelligencer’s July 30 story, “Fewer oil firms, higher profits,” uncovers a key reason for such occurrences. The Rockefeller family reunion of Big Oil mergers not only reduces competition but also consolidates political power. Big Oil only has to threaten to raise prices and Wall Street jumps as regulators waffle.

While we can expect Big Oil to gouge the public, simultaneously espousing their corporate citizenship is tough to stomach. After increasing its second quarter net income by 36 percent over the past year, BP invested some of its $3.4 billion in an unprecedented national ad campaign that included wallpapering Sea-Tac Airport with propaganda. BP claims the initials of the world’s second-largest oil and gas corporation and largest shareholder of Alaska’s North Slope reserves now stands for “Beyond Petroleum.”

The following provides some insights into just how far beyond petroleum British Petroleum and its merged corporations of Amoco, ARCO and Burmah Castrol have come.

In Alaska, BP has been fined more than $33.5 million for oil spills, safety violations and back taxes involving its operations on the North Slope since 2000. The corporation was already on probation after pleading guilty to felony charges in 1999. It now may be barred from federal contracts due to the failure to meet “corporate accountability and environmental responsibility objectives,” according to a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency from Alaska’s top pollution regulator, Ernesta Ballard.

BP led lobbying of the Clinton administration to lift the export ban on Alaska’s North Slope crude without any mitigation to West Coast states for impacts on the volatility of pump prices or the risk of increasing numbers of foreign tankers. By pushing to drain Alaska’s reserves quickly, BP simultaneously subjected the West Coast to wild price fluctuations while increasing political pressure to exploit the Arctic Refuge. A tanker from Iraq recently called on Cherry Point.

At the state level, Washington state has partnered with Big Oil and the Coast Guard for even bigger influence. Between BP’s Alaska violations and the conviction of a former Coast Guard captain, partnering with criminals is not always in our interest. Richard Softye, who was caught falsifying records for Holland America, previously served BP’s interests by opposing Congress’ call to fund the dedicated Neah Bay rescue tug as part of the bill lifting the ban on Alaskan oil exports. Instead he promoted a “tug of opportunity system,” which would rely on the chance that an appropriate tug would be in the vicinity of a disabled vessel.

In the same bill that passed the last Legislature (creating a four-year source of public revenue for the Neah Bay tug), BP had inserted a requirement for a $200,000 study to see if its new double hull tankers need tug escorts at all. Despite recognizing humans are the cause of most accidents, the Coast Guard does not require any tug escorts on double hull tankers; the state has required a single escort since 1975. Those escorts form the backbone of the tug of opportunity system.

Tankers BP charters to send “lean fuel” to California refuse to exchange their ballast water, making BP the primary source of invasive species entering Washington waters.

BP and the Coast Guard held a logistics exercise to determine how they would respond to an oil spill along Washington’s wilderness beaches that have experienced the largest spills while enjoying the least amount of protection. They concluded the best response would involve spraying chemical dispersants into the marine sanctuary from airplanes, collecting the oiled debris with front loaders and lighting it on fire. The state is assuring such a travesty occurs by not requiring more response equipment in the updating of its contingency plan rules or by incorporating that capability on the publicly funded rescue tug.

Overturning BP’s arguments, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers must prepare an environmental impact statement for the doubling of BP’s Cherry Point refinery dock. Our litigation and subsequent experience have identified that BP does not place booms around its tankers before transferring fuel at the new dock despite telling the Corps it does.

Herring are critical to endangered salmon, seabirds and orca. The Cherry Point herring stock has plummeted from 15,000 tons in 1973, shortly after the ARCO/BP refinery was opened, to 1,700 tons in 2004. On Aug. 5 the National Marine Fisheries Service accepted our petition to review this stock for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

BP prospers from rising oil and gas prices and has cleverly diversified into less finite resources. Given its financial motivations and major pollution problems it has yet to get beyond, BP stands more for “Big Profits” than “Beyond Petroleum.”

Fred Felleman is the Northwest director of Ocean Advocates.

© 1998-2005 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

~ by fredfelleman on September 22, 2004.

One Response to “Big Oil’s profits come at oceans’ expense”

  1. Great site and interesting reading

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