The oil business has been getting an especially bad rap recently, especially since the Deepwater Horizon blowout. As with all preventable catastrophes, there has been plenty of finger-pointing but no truly satisfying scapegoat. In fact, saddling an actual goat with the symbolic transgressions of the various parties involved might ultimately prove easier to watch than B-roll of tarred pelicans, sludged sea turtles, and, perhaps most disturbing of all, beach cleanup workers in orange reflective vests, rubber dishwashing gloves, and frumpy lesbian-style cargo shorts. So it is. Oil spills are ugly business. People want blood, even if they have to burn through a few million barrels of oil to get it. They want answers too – not complicated, technically dense, ethically vague, lawyer-assisted depositions to congressional subcommittees, but flashy, shameless, simplistic confessions (ideally pointing toward a Machiavellian conspiracy by Big Oil), followed by public disembowelments by corporate executives. That would maybe do the trick. The Joe Six Packs don’t want to hear that average workers like themselves might have ignored safety precautions – perhaps in response to upper-management pressure to get the job done, or maybe they were just high as a bat’s ass, staring at their fingers. It’s hard to imagine that a couple of bad decisions by reckless individuals possibly could have caused one of the world’s worst environmental catastrophes, isn’t it? There must be larger forces at work here … some sort of systemic, conspiratorial evil. As much as the foil hat people would like that to be, it just isn’t so. The ugly bottom line is that Big Oil might have fucked us, but Americans helped them by buying the lube. While we were riding to work in our SUVs we were also riding on the back of the crocodile. We still are. BP, like any other business, is driven by profit, not safety – occupational, environmental, or otherwise. It was only a matter of time before a big spill happened again. Yes, again. Back in 1979 the Pemex Ixtoc I oil spill infused the Gulf of Mexico with more than 3 million barrels of crude. For years afterward, Texas beaches were speckled with tar. Beach lovers sported not only tan lines but tar-ball splotches. Pemex, Mexico’s government-owned oil company, didn’t take nearly the heat BP has drawn. In fact, it wrapped up the whole cleanup operation for around $100 million, claiming sovereign immunity against liability claims. Not surprisingly, Pemex is still in business, still pumping oil out of the Gulf. During the first Gulf War, Iraqis tried to preempt a U.S. invasion by dumping as much as 6 million barrels into the Persian Gulf. Didn’t work. Here’s something that might surprise you: The worst oil spill ever happened on land … in California no less. The 1909 Lakeview Gusher Number One in Kern County spewed 9 million barrels of oil into a desert valley near Bakersfield. That’s nearly three times the amount of oil floating around in the Gulf. Yes, it sucks big, stinky tar balls that the latest spill happened on America’s watch … in American waters, but just because BP had the largest stake in the profits doesn’t necessarily mean BP should entirely shoulder the blame. Hell, the rig itself was actually owned by a Swiss company (Transocean) flying a Marshallese flag (looking to start a corporation? Try the Marshall Islands!) and employed workers from several different subcontractors (including the nefarious-by-association Halliburton). If you’re mad enough to shoot somebody, you’re going to need a lot of bullets, including one for yourself. Perhaps the most productive thing to do might be to start weaning yourself from the oil tit – not just by buying a brand-new Prius but by turning off the goddamn lights every now and then, caulking your windows, or maybe walking or taking the bus or voting for un-American public transit. Maybe oil won’t be such an ugly word if we can reduce all those oil barrels to something smaller … like oil cans. Speaking of, this Friday, Project Transitions 19th annual Red Hot fundraiser is happening at Oilcan Harry’s. This year’s party includes performers from Cabernet Cabaret, cast members from City Theatre's Into the Woods and Zach Theatre's The Drowsy Chaperone, the Austin Babtist Women, Larissa Ness, the Austin City Showgirls, and the cast of Las Vegas' La Cage. This blowout won’t be nearly as epic as the Deepwater Horizon, but it should be more fun!
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