Monday, May 10, 2010

We're importing oil from poor countries with far more spills

A just-hatched sea turtle making its way to the water. Photo courtesy of

This post now on

After my post a few days ago about the oil spill and its consequences to wildlife, I got a few interesting messages from friends and acquaintances.

My friend Sonia, the director of a land conservancy in the Southwest U.S., sent me this note on Facebook:

"This whole situation is just heartbreaking...and infuriating. A FB friend is sharing photos from a friend of hers who found three dead sea turtles in coastal AL yesterday. She said she has lived there 16 years and never found one dead - then three in a day."

Jane, another close friend in my hometown of Charlotte, sent me this message via FB:

"I have been listening all day to ramifications of the spill. The only solution is to get to the root cause: too much demand for gasoline. I feel very guilty as one who uses petroleum as much as anyone."

Jane hit the nail on the head - we all should be concerned about our persistent and unyielding consumption. During the past decade, even with all the publicity about climate change and carbon footprints and our country's disproportionate consumption of oil, the United States has not reduced its consumption of oil at all; it's roughly the same as it was in 2000.

The brilliant Lisa Margonelli changed my thinking

I heard Lisa Margonelli on NPR last week, in a startling (to me) discussion of our oil consumption. She really enlightened me on one subject. Like most environmentalists, I've always been firmly opposed to offshore drilling, especially off the coast of my state (NC), but also opposed to drilling in the Arctic or the Gulf or any place where drilling might threaten already-stressed and declining wildlife populations.

But Lisa Margonelli had a different perspective on that, in her May 1 Op-Ed piece in the NY Times and her remarks on NPR. Lisa directs the Energy Productivity Initiative at the New America Foundation. Her book, Oil On the Brain: Petroleum's Long, Strange Trip to Your Tank, describes the culture and economy of the oil-supply chain.

As Lisa pointed out, none of us want oil wells on our own coastline. She guesses that the likely outcome of the recent BP spill will be a moratorium on offshore drilling. Yay! We'd all like to see birds and sea turtles win out for a change over big oil corporations. Lisa says that, emotionally, she would enjoy the moratorium too.

But....the problem is that the U.S. is not reducing its overall oil consumption. Therefore, the oil that isn't produced domestically must be imported. Lisa had some interesting info about the ramifications of importing oil. It doesn't come from rich countries like Saudi Arabia, which is what I guess we all thought. No, it comes from places that are so poor they have no environmental safeguards and no financial resources to enforce laws or to clean up spills. Places like Kazakhstan, Angola and Nigeria.

Said Lisa, "Kazakhstan, for one, had no comprehensive environmental laws until 2007, and Nigeria has suffered spills equivalent to that of the Exxon Valdez every year since 1969. As of last year, Nigeria had 2,000 active spills."


Reminds me of the other environmentally-exploitive products we import, like beef from the Amazon and palm-oil from Indonesia.

What's to be done?

The internet is full of proposals for solutions, most of them sensible.

Said John Fitzpatrick , PhD, Director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, whom I respect enormously: " We must never again forget the fundamental lessons of this disaster. The unthinkable is possible, and must be planned for in advance. As we assess risks versus rewards, as we fully audit the true costs of energy exploration and extraction, we need to incorporate and properly mitigate the enormous risks and costs of disasters like [this oil spill]."

Yes that sounds good. If we're going to drill offshore, or anywhere, we need to be ready to plug the spew quickly when the machinery fails.

More importantly, we need to reduce our oil consumption! As my friend Jane said...we're all responsible for the consequences of oil drilling. We're all responsible for the dead sea turtles Sonia's friend sees washing up on the Alabama shore. We're all responsible for the unimaginable oil mess in Nigeria.

Can Obama help us reduce our oil consumption? Who is going to lead us on this? Will we maintain our addiction to oil until we finally run out in about 43 years? I wish it was 3 years and not 43, because I frankly can't imagine that Americans will stop the gluttony until the the last drop is gone.


John W. Fitzpatrick, PhD, Director of Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. "How bad is the oil spill? Ask the pelicans. " May 4, 2010.

Lisa Margonelli. "A spill of our own." New York Times. Op-Ed Page. May 1, 2010.

Shashank Bengali. "Gulf spill's lesson: The era of 'easy oil' is over." The Charlotte Observer. May 9, 2010.

Some of my previous posts on the oil spill and other coastal environmental issues: 
Oil spill 2010: Danger to wildlife considered "terrifying"

10% of Louisiana underwater by 2100, says recent study

North Carolina's vital coastal breeding grounds vulnerable to rising seas

Copenhagen data confirm: 10% of Florida underwater by end of the century

10,000 pythons breeding in Florida, says new USGS report

More info:
American Bird Conservancy

Key words:

Lisa Margonelli importing oil sea turtles reducing consumption oil spill Nigeria Kazakhstan Angola foreign spills Louisiana Alabama

No comments: