Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Of Oil Spills and Left Wing Simplification


The author of this Guardian piece makes an important point as the base for his essay: we focus on the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but aren't even aware of greater environmental disasters of faulty oil infrastructure. Unfortunately, proportion gets thrown out the door, as do several facts in his otherwise speculative exposition, predictable in a topic where misinformation and ideological tunnel-driving are the norm.

Shell Oil aren't saints. They should be held accountable in many ways for the disgusting situation in Nigeria. But the lion's share of the blame goes to the Nigerian government. The country is no longer a colonial beggar but a sovereign state (if one can ignore the porous borders where volatile and enormous crosscrossing migration is necessary due to gangs -- some employed by the government, some by backroom oil company deals, some by the looting class -- and due to a search for the barest necessities caused by environmental devastation, oil and otherwise).

The Niger Delta, says John Vidal, "supplies 40% of all the crude the United States imports". This is the Guardian's environmental writer? The correct figure is 12%. He also states that the quality of Nigerian light crude is the world's best. How so? It's no better or worse than any other highly saleable crude from the OPEC bloc, from Russia, from Canada, from Mexico.

But it's the speculative drive of the essay which is most innacurate. "Rebels" attack the pipelines of Nigeria, but the economic strong-arming behind these attacks, which have been ongoing for years, and which have been reported extensively in the media (contra Vidal's assertion), are skirted. In a country where wholesale government corruption forces poor families to tap and siphon oil for individual use and/or sale, and where government workers, already compromised by protecting the rulers' Swiss-bank accounts, also puncture the black goo treasury for personal profit, and where gangs -- both unaffiliated and government-controlled -- also line up at the trough, Shell Oil is just one component in a corruption of staggering complexity.

Despite some feints at objectivity by way of lumping the Nigerian government in with the evil oil conglomerate, the thrust of the essay follows the usual simplification I hear almost every day amongst friends, strangers, and on-line pundits: corporations are the cause of all the world's problems. People want a convenient bogeyman; life is easier that way. We can take a little pill (albeit a bitter one) and go back to sleep.

The fiasco in the Gulf of Mexico happened because of cheap, insensitive safety shortcuts on the oil tanker. I'd also love to see British Petroleum fined, flogged, and festooned with invective. But even in this international media excoriation, there's plenty of blame to go around.