Public Comment

The Dementia of Petroleum Addiction?

By Craig Collins, Ph.D.
Monday May 03, 2010 - 09:42:00 PM

Petroleum executives assure us that their giant tankers and offshore oil rigs pose no danger to the environment; coal company CEOs insist that their mines are safe and that blasting away mountaintops is ecologically benign; natural gas companies insist that “fracking” deep underground geological formations will not contaminate fresh water aquifers; and nuclear power promoters tell us not to worry about core meltdowns or the disposal of millions of tons of highly radioactive waste.

Do we have S-T-U-P-I-D written on our foreheads? Or do we just choose to swallow these lies because, like addicts everywhere, we need these pushers to provide us with our daily energy fix? 

These energy “suppliers” have a sordid history of crimes against nature and humanity and their assurances of safety have proven tragically wrong time after time. Clearly their drive for profit knows no ethical or legal boundaries. So why do we continue buy their lies, and reward them with lavish subsidies and tax breaks, instead of kicking our habit and sending these petroleum pushers to prison? 

Just last year BP—who now tells us BP stands for “Beyond Petroleum,” not British Petroleum—told the government that an oil spill like the one wreaking havoc in the Gulf was highly unlikely so they didn’t need to install the remote controlled valves that could prevent an uncontrolled blowout. Beyond Petroleum?…more like Beyond Belief. 

According to the watchdog group, Public Citizen, BP has the worst criminal rap sheet of any oil company—and that’s no mean feat. In the last few years, BP has paid $485 million in fines and settlements to the US government for environmental crimes, willful neglect of worker safety, and penalties for manipulating energy markets. As BP’s massive oil slick smothers the Gulf’s fragile wetland ecosystems and lays waste to the fishing and tourist industries, assurances of safety are no more credible than the sworn testimony of a career criminal. 

The same goes for the Massey Coal Company—the biggest coal mining business in central Appalachia. Massey insisted its Montcoal operation was safe right up to the day when their mine--that was repeatedly cited for improperly venting methane gas--exploded killing 29 people in the country's deadliest underground disaster in a quarter-century. 

Last year, the number of citations issued against the mine more than doubled and the penalties proposed against the mine more than tripled. Massey was fined $897,325 over the last year, more than $382,000 for repeated serious violations involving its ventilation system. Andrew Tyler, a conveyer belt electrician, told the New York Times that live wires were often left exposed and that coal dust and methane accumulation were routinely ignored. Yet, after the explosion, Massey CEO Don Blankenship told Metronews radio that, despite the company’s many violations, the Mine Safety and Health Administration would never have allowed the mine to operate if it had been unsafe. 

It’s time to clear our heads of gasoline fumes and our economic arteries of high-octane euphoria. Energy addiction is distorting our judgment and allowing these energy pushers to get away with murder and ecocide. Unless we come to our senses soon, we will have sacrificed the planet to feed our addiction. 


Craig Collins, Ph.D., of California State University East Bay, is the author of the newly released book, TOXIC LOOPHOLES: Failures and Future prospects of Environmental Law (Cambridge University Press)