Jed Morey’s Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘BP Oil Spill

BP and Obama: The President’s Public Relations Nightmare

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President Obama in Clinton-esque Form

Short of actually sticking the president into the gushing hole in the Gulf of Mexico, I’m not clear what exactly people expect Obama to do right now. This is a public relations fiasco that is as unprecedented as it is unwinnable and the response to his response has been puzzling to say the least.

Republicans accuse Obama of taking advantage of the spill to push renewable energy and clean technology. Um, OK. Democrats are lining up to accuse Obama of not emoting enough on television. I see. One can only surmise the proper reaction then would be to demand greater dependence upon fossil fuels during a nationally televised address where the president breaks out his hanky and furiously mops his brow while channeling his inner Jimmy Swaggart.

Pleasing pundits and demagogues isn’t of primary concern at the moment. The bigger issue is maintaining control of the situation and instilling confidence in the public. For this, Obama has the wisdom of “W” to rely upon. When Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, President Bush was excoriated for not visiting the hurricane-ravaged region sooner. Thus, President Obama has visited the region three times already and locals are furious his motorcade is gumming up the works and the public is charging him with seeking Clinton-esque photo opportunities on the beach.

That leaves us with the working men and women who rely on the Gulf for their livelihoods. Here again, a PR non-starter. On one side are representatives from the fishing industry lambasting the administration for not holding BP’s feet to the fire in processing claims immediately. On the other is the oil industry—incensed over Obama’s six-month moratorium on off-shore deep-water exploration—claiming the penalty for companies in good standing is too harsh and negatively impacting workers in the industry.

One can only imagine the prevailing sentiment in the Exxon Mobil board room is “there but for the grace of God…”

Ultimately the only issue I have with the president’s handling of the spill is in his characterizing it as the “worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.” This is a hollow proclamation that examines the spill in a vacuum. The worst disaster is our pernicious environmental policy agenda that allows ignominious corporations to reap enormous profits from our insatiable consumerism that is fueled by other less tangible, but wholly calculated corporate misdeeds such as planned obsolescence and the rise of industrial agriculture.

Thirty years ago the IXTOC I well in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and proceeded to pour approximately 140 million gallons of oil into the Gulf. It took eight months to cap the leak. The immediate effects on the fishing industry and wildlife from a spill this size are devastating. However, the long-term effects of an oil spill of this magnitude are reported, even by environmentalists, to be rather benign. That is to say, oil is a natural ingredient of Earth and over time it will break down and return again to its original form. None of this is any consolation in a situation that is as maddening as it is sickening.

In practice, our reckless pursuit of fossil fuels is less sustainable for humans than Earth. The great Chief and Faithkeeper of Onondaga, Oren Lyons, says it best: “Whatever happens to us will not have any impact on the world. In time, the world will regenerate. It will come back green, and the waters will be clean again. It’s just that there won’t be any people here.”

And there it is. Suicide by consumption.

What we require in the interest of self-preservation is leadership that demands investment, not into “bridge fuels” like natural gas exploration and inefficient ocean-based wind turbines, but into a massive micro-level renewable energy plan that can be easily adopted by the states. Renewable energy technology on a micro level is more portable and easily funded than quixotic pursuits of windmills and the folly of “clean” coal and “safe” nuclear power. The effort must begin at the top but be decentralized enough to allow the states to administer a plan to simultaneously curb consumption and reward conservation through economic incentives, thereby sparking a global manufacturing race.

Unfortunately, this agenda is neither sexy nor easily explained, but it can be inspired and effective. Either way, this recipe for environmental and energy independence success is a political recipe for disaster.


Written by jmorey

June 24, 2010 at 2:58 am

Our Addiction To Oil

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It isn’t money, love or greed—it’s oil. Oil makes the world go round.

Wars are waged over it and the weapons of war are powered by it. Films are made about it on film made out of it. It’s everywhere. Hell, what’s a slick or two between friends? Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. That’s what I say. It started out as pure darkness, undisturbed beneath the ocean floor or desert sand, and we beckoned it into the light and into our cars. Now it’s in the Gulf. Pay it no never mind. This is what we wanted. To be swimming in oil. Now we can. Drill, baby, drill.

Look at it move—that sexy, mucilaginous shadow slowly making its way through the water, preparing to lick the shore. I swear you can almost hear it purr. Drill, baby, drill. We consume it. Literally. It’s in our food, the animals we eat, the Vaseline on our lips. Now we’re having ourselves a good, ol’ fashioned Texas Tea Party. Come one, come all. Fill up your 10-gallon hats with our crude.

This isn’t a disaster, it’s a dream. No, a dream would be if it hardened. Then we could fill in that gap between New Orleans and Pensacola and drive on it. Pre-mixed blacktop. Why, just think of the development possibilities. I can see the real estate signs now: New Waterfront Properties on Oil Beach Preserve.

My God. What have we done?

Our sacred black lifeblood is hemorrhaging from the shortcuts we’ve taken. This is the moment we should all recoil in horror with hands cupped over our faces, staring unblinkingly, realizing the spectacle we are witnessing is of our own doing. The moment we see Tyler Durden for who he really is. We talk about our addiction to oil in distant and intangible terms because we never actually see the junk going into our veins. It comes from beneath the Earth’s surface, into a rig and through a refinery. Then it’s shipped on a barge, poured into holding containers and returned underground into gas tanks and boilers. The whole time it’s invisible to the naked eye. Then it evaporates when we use it and the process begins again.

Our addiction is only revealed when a break in the flow occurs and we come face-to-face with our demons.

Much of the attention paid to our oil addiction is focused on our consumption of the drug itself and finding new ways to get our fix. Renewable energy, bridge fuels, new areas of exploration. We seek answers in corn for ethanol, blasting through shale and developing technology to harness energy from algae, wind, sun and the tide. But what about the dealers?

It’s time to shed light on those who control the supply, the obscure cartel dealing in the shadows. They aren’t runners and kingpins. They are financiers and politicians who operate under a different code of ethics and evade the very laws they establish.

Deepwater Horizon—the drilling rig that exploded in the Gulf—was owned by Transocean, which also served as the drilling contractor, but the well and the crude itself are owned primarily by British Petroleum. Transocean operates out of Texas but is incorporated in Switzerland, with an office in the Caymans for good measure. Can’t be too transparent, you know. The rig was less than 10 years old. State of the art. One of the primary contractors was Halliburton.

Predictably, Wall Street has already weighed in and made its own prognostications about the impact of the spill. Just 10 days after the initial explosion that claimed the lives of 11 men, Morgan Stanley issued what the Oil and Gas Financial Journal calls a “comprehensive” report on the “financial implications” of the explosion. The bottom line is that insurance will cover most of the costs associated with the spill and that the inevitable regulation that will occur should financially benefit the industry. In fact, Morgan expects “established offshore drillers with the newest deepwater units to benefit as demand for their rigs is likely to increase” and that it will be “positive for the drilling industry.” They also conclude that “this would make the long-term supply outlook for tankers more favorable.”

What sickens me about this heartless yet rosy outlook for the oil industry is that the human and environmental toll is meaningless to financial analysts. What should sicken everyone is that Morgan Stanley is not only the most trusted analyst firm for the oil industry, it is itself one of the biggest oil companies in the world. Morgan has interests in crude oil production and storage, tankers and transportation. It is also one of the largest traders of oil on an unregulated commodity exchange that it founded. Morgan Stanley is a powerhouse oil company that should benefit handsomely from its own predictions which, even before the spill, included oil prices hitting $95 per barrel by December.

If 11 men hadn’t perished, the Gulf wasn’t flooded with oil, and our addiction wasn’t brought so painfully to light, perhaps I could close this column with some clever and pithy statement lamenting about the irony of it all. Something snarky about Halliburton and Wall Street, price fixing and collusion, the astounding conflicts of interest. But it’s too sad. It’s too much.

Written by jmorey

June 24, 2010 at 1:56 am