BP is in the news again today, with its plan to drill for oil off the Shetland coast. A well is to be drilled at a depth of 1,290m some 80 miles NW of Shetland. To describe this area as being ecologically and environmentally sensitive would be a fairly serious understatement. Indeed the above article notes that:
BP documents referring to the North Uist project themselves list more than 20 vulnerable Shetland nature sites, including eight Special Protection Areas, two Special Conservation Areas and 12 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, which involve the breeding grounds of otters and rare birds such as the great skua, the red-throated diver and Leach’s petrel.
It’s extremely tempting, in fact hard not to think that they are doing this out of some increasingly perverse kind of destructive glee. BP’s very own assessment paints a picture of just how badly it could go wrong:
…the worst-case scenario for a spill from its North Uist exploratory well, to be sunk next year, would involve a leak of 75,000 barrels a day for 140 days – a total of 10.5 million barrels of oil… This would be more than double the amount of oil spilled from its Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico last year, which had a maximum leak rate of 62,000 barrels a day in an incident lasting 88 days – and triggered a social, economic and environmental catastrophe in the US which brought the giant multinational to the brink of collapse.
Granted this is the worse possible case and so it would be unlikely to be quite that bad. But in combination with the sensitivity of the area and the difficulties associated with stopping any leak, the well is nothing short of an act of madness!
It has been said that if a transnational corporation were a person, it would be a psychopath. But with oil companies it is pretty clear to me that, were they a person, they would be an addict. Think of the heroin addict who will steal anything from anyone just to get the next fix. Addicts who no matter the risk to themselves, their health and to those around them will carry on injecting regardless.
This is the mentality that now underpins the actions of the giant oil companies. It doesn’t matter that beautiful ecosystems will be utterly destroyed. It doesn’t matter if lives are lost – even human lives. There is only oil and the pursuit of the next fix, the drills sinking into the earth like hypodermic needle into flesh, looking for the vein.
And they make junkies of us all. We do our best, we buy more fuel efficient cars, we insulate our homes better, we try always to reduce our consumption via the methadone program of ‘green living’. But we too, in the end, are addicted to oil. We cannot help it. Our society – our entire civilisation – is hooked and we can’t seem to stop it.
So we seek help. We ask our government to put an end to this madness, to declare war on this fatal drug. But they are more addicted even than us! If the oil corps (cartel anyone?) are the dealers pushing the drugs into our society then individual governments are, at present, the hapless runners doing their dirty work. So how are we to seek help from them?!
The truth of course is that no one government can hope to help us. Yes, they may be craven apologists for the oil industry right now, but in truth even the most environmentally resolute government could do nothing alone. To do so would make their country uncompetitive – it’s not hard to imagine the threat being made of lost jobs and investment as operations move elsewhere. No government will risk this and so all capitulate entirely.
The only answer, in the long term, is simultaneous policy. When all, or sufficient governments act together simultaneously there will be nowhere left for the oil companies to run to.
Don’t get me wrong, we should certainly combat insane projects such as this right now – Greenpeace are already on the case. No doubt others are too.
But this situation will keep on occurring again and again until we take action simultaneously at the global level.
Actions now are the needle exchange and the safe injection sites – reducing harm right now and helping the addict to live a little longer. Simpol is proper rehab, helping us all quit the addiction once and for all.