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.