Shortest Book Ever: Oil Company Ethics

An exposition of the ethical principles that guide the oil industry. The catalog of their offenses comes via 18-wheeler. (Photo by Colin Dunn/Flickr)

An exposition of the ethical principles that guide the oil industry. The catalog of their offenses comes via 18-wheeler. (Photo by Colin Dunn/Flickr)

Stress reveals character among humans, and the ongoing, slow-motion implosion of the great American shale oil revolution is throwing stark light on the nature of the humans involved in the oil industry. (I refuse, contrary to the shorthand title of this piece, to attribute human characteristics to corporations. They have none. The people who run them sometimes do.) One should not expect much of people who take as their life’s work the wresting of the planet’s last morsels of carbon from the earth so that we can burn it and destroy the ecosystem that nourishes us, but still: they live among us, they raise children, they pretend to share with us at least some fundamental values.

Even knowing, as many of us do, that they lie, that they hire elegant blonde women to stroll across our Sunday TV landscape and lie in their cosmetically enhanced teeth about what oil companies are doing and what the consequences are, it is nevertheless something of a shock to watch their present descent from dishonesty and greed to sheer, don’t-give-a-damn evil.

Cases in point:

  • Oil companies that find themselves in trouble in Alberta are simply walking away from their rigs, leaving miles of pipe in the ground and acres of polluted ground and water on the surface to be cleaned up by a little-known and under-funded industry organization, the Orphan Wells Association. Last year, the OWA had 164 wells to clean up in Alberta; now that number is up to 704. It’s possible to handle a clean site for $50,000 and two years of work, but oil people are not clean operators, and many sites  are costing more than a million dollars and are taking 10 years to fix. The OWA has been completing remediation on 43 sites a year; at that rate its present backlog is 16 years long.
  • One tar sands operator in Alberta reacted to falling profits by laying off 15 people and refusing to transport them out of the wilderness in which they were working. Air transportation into the tar sands for 20 days of work and back out for eight days off was provided by the company, but the 15 were told that getting back to civilization was their problem. The classy company (Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.) relented only after worldwide outrage at the plight of the dismissed workers.
  • Oil companies whose wells play out in the Gulf of Mexico are “required” to seal them permanently to prevent leaks of the residual oil, which is still under pressure in pipes subject to severe corrosion. There are 27,000 abandoned wells in the Gulf, of which nearly 4,000 have a figurative cork stuck in them — a temporary seal that the company intends maybe to someday somehow replace with the “required” permanent seal. (Wait, make that “permanent” seal.)
  • In the eight years since Exxon Mobil promised the world to stop funding climate-change-deniers, it has given them more than $2.3 million to pollute public discourse and hamstring efforts to deal with the oncoming planetary crisis. It took a British newspaper — the Guardian — to figure this out, and oddly enough, CNN did not go wall-to-wall on this story.
  • Nor did anyone pay much attention to the story — okay, this is old news, but still capable of rendering hair flammable — that the fracking industry in California continues to get rid of its waste fluids — millions and millions of gallons of water so polluted it can never be used for anything related to human consumption — by injecting them into previously untainted underground aquifers that are the state’s last best hope for irrigation and drinking water as their worst drought in history continues.

There’s more, much more. But before this abbreviated review of oil company crimes against humanity becomes the longest book in the world, let’s go turn on the TV and watch the Exxon Lady sing her Siren song.

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10 Responses to Shortest Book Ever: Oil Company Ethics

  1. Craig Moodie. says:

    So, let me get this straight. The oil execs are the bad guys and 99.9999 % of the population are willing to give up their industrial lifestyle without fossil fuels, which makes them the good guys.
    Get real! You are becoming more delusional with each article.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      “99.9999 % of the population are willing to give up their industrial lifestyle without fossil fuels, which makes them the good guys.”

      I’m looking for the place where I said that. Damned if I can find it? You’re right though, it does sound kind of delusional.

  2. Craig Moodie says:

    If we chose not to burn it, there would be no need to extract it. Not going to happen is it.

    • Kate says:

      I’d like to not burn it. American life makes that pretty hard. Get to a job or the grocery store without a car? Dauntingly hard in most areas. Live close enough to walk? Not the way we’ve planned most of our suburbs.

      Live without heating fuel of some kind? Houses are not built to take advantage of solar heating. Cheap construction and the assumption that we can site cities in the hottest deserts mandate the use of AC.

      I could go on but you get the point.

  3. Kate says:

    In other words, aside from a few off-gridders, we as a society are trapped.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      Yes, Kate, the society is trapped because it has set up the luxuries you describe — supermarkets that can only be reached by car, suburbs sprawling over farmland, food jetting in from China, a population shopping for gadgets in air-conditioned comfort — all based on burning cheap fossil fuels which are running out. Like all societies that overshoot their resource base, this one is toast.

      But you, Kate, and I and each individual now alive — we have choices that can be made, and the possibility not only of survival but of creating a new society, cured of the cancer of destructive greed. The choices are hard — no one is going into this new age in air-conditioned comfort. No city or suburb will survive, they simply are not sustainable. No individual who does not know how to grow food, and have the place to do it, will make it. That these are hard choices, and counter to the triumphant chorale of consumerism, does not alter the fact that they are there.

      Oh, and about those “few off-gridders” you mention? Go to any part of the country and look at the farms and you will see far more of them than you think, working hard to learn and practice sustainable agriculture and resilient living. Just start asking around where you are and you will be astonished at the number of people who have bug-out plans and locations.

      Don’t be trapped. Learn more, and make you choices.

      • JungleJim says:

        “but of creating a new society, cured of the cancer of destructive greed.” Now, that’s delusional.

  4. Tom says:

    No Craig, it isn’t going to happen. Anything that generates fictitious “money” (especially when it’s for energy for lazy humans) gets the red carpet treatment, the environment be damned. Look around. All the trees are dying. The pollinators are disappearing, storms are getting worse by the year, the climate that used to be predictable so we could grow food, is now gone – and with it food production. Am i the only one who noticed that the cacophonous summer evening sounds of tree frogs, cicadas and other night creatures aren’t there any more?

    We’re damned to environmental collapse and human extinction right behind it if we keep pumping CO2 into the atmosphere (actually that’s not true any more – it doesn’t matter if we stop all fossil fuel use tomorrow, the climate will still degrade for thousands of years) and, if we stop all fossil fuel use, the lights go out, there’s no water in the taps and no fuel at the filling station – so we go extinct anyway.

    That’s a simplistic look at our predicament, and i left out the part where all the nuclear power plants and spent fuel pools go Fukushima on us as a result of the electrical grid failing. So we have that to look forward to also.

    Dick Cheney should be strung up for crimes against humanity for allowing fracking waste to be dumped into pristine aquifers. This will all end badly, that’s for sure.
    i’m lookin’ at 2020 when the whole of civilization begins going south big time, that is, enough environmental damage will have been done by then so that it’s OBVIOUS that we ain’t comin’ back from it. We’re losing our habitat by our own hand. How delusional is humanity?

    Thanks again for a great update on this industry, Mr. Lewis, because it shows how the whole system “works” in a nut shell. The big money people live by a different set of rules than the rest of us and have no regard for the once beautiful planet that they helped trash. This goes for our government (and that of most countries), every industry (you could have done a piece on mining, for example, and reached the same result), and especially the banks. The whole thing is a rigged mess that’s coming undone as we watch. It won’t be long now. Enjoy the time you have left, ’cause it’s all going to change forever.

  5. Tom says:

    Good morning all. The most recent news pretty much makes any future look doubtful.

    Let me list some of them below.

    Sunday, July 19, 2015
    Arctic Sea Ice Collapse Threatens – Update 1

    In terms of thickness, sea ice has been reduced by more than one meter in many places, such as north of Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago, all in the time span of just one month.

    [ends with]

    Massive amounts of ocean heat will be carried by the Gulf Stream into the Arctic Ocean over the next few months. The combined result of high sea surface temperatures being mixed down to the seafloor and the ocean heat entering the Arctic Ocean from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans can be expected to result in dramatic methane eruptions from the Arctic Ocean seafloor by October 2015.

    On the economic front:

    Two well-known financial forecasters claim that virtually all governments worldwide will be hit with a gigantic economic crisis in the first week of October 2015.

    [quote from the end of the article, and correction]

    Edelson is predicting the biggest financial crisis in world history – including a collapse of government solvency – starting on October 7, 2015 – the same week as Armstrong’s prediction – when the European Union breaks up.

    Edelson also thinks that huge sums of investment will flow from the Eurozone to America, driving up U.S. stocks (unlike Armstrong, Edelson thinks U.S. bonds will also benefit). He thinks that Japan will be the next domino to fall … and that Japan’s default will also drive investments into the U.S. as a safe haven.

    In other words, both Armstrong and Edelson think that – as the best looking horse in the glue factory – the U.S. stock market will skyrocket as others fall apart.

    But to be clear, both believe that the domino collapse will eventually hit the U.S., and America will end up defaulting on its debts – and falling into financial crisis – as well.

    Correction: Several people have pointed out that Armstrong is not predicting that the crisis will be felt on October 1, 2015. Rather, he’s forecasting that October 1st is a major turning point, but that the governmental financial crisis may not be felt until some months later.

    Happy days, eh?

    Appreciate the time you have left – there’s no place to run, we’re all in this together.

  6. Mike Kay says:

    Someone else who addresses the implications of corporate personhood, and illustrates some of the abuses that follow when a fictitious entity is granted, not only extraordinary leeway in securing profit, but absolute lack of culpability in anything this entity does.
    Of course, a big part of this topic is also the issue of externalized costs. Corporations enjoy this power-the ability to make others pay for what they do not wish to pay for-like cleaning up after themselves. The old adage is that corporations externalize costs to make their operation profitable. Now here is genuine delusion, where profitability is nothing more than how much the corporate person can get everyone else to be on the hook to pay for this illusory profit. How much profit is there when life support systems are compromised and destroyed for the wallet size of pasty faced geeks in suits?
    Well, we can clearly observe that such profit is increasingly narcissistic, dysfunctional, and carrying implications beyond the ability of the society to cope. With such reality staring us in the face, it must be a comfort to blame everyone who has no say in this process for the failure of it. In fact, today in Amerika it is quite accepted to blame not only the powerless, but also those who had nothing to do with the problem for its existence. Thus in the demented “mind”(????) of certain types, the Gulf of Mexico disaster has its roots in “envirofascists”…
    Ah well, the inability to correctly comprehend a problem guarantees the inability to ever solve it. Thanks, Mr. Lewis, for a quick reminder of what the corporate culture really provides modern “society”.