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Corporations make oil a dirty business

Russia and Norway have signed a deal carving up the Arctic Ocean bed, opening the way for a new oil boom. All of this is certain to lead to more spills, pollution and the further destruction of marine and coastal environments.

The United States Geological Survey last year estimated there could be 90 billion barrels of oil and 50 trillion cubic metres of gas across the Arctic and the oil corporations are itching to get their hands on it.

Companies like Exxon, Chevron and Shell, are queuing up for permission from Greenland – part of Denmark – to begin drilling in some of the most precious eco-systems on the planet. Gas is already being tapped there.

New North Sea fields, west of the Shetland Islands, are also set to be drilled. One of the firms involved is BP and MPs listened open-mouthed as outgoing CEO Tony Hayward told them not to worry – his firm is safe. The Energy and Climate Change Select Committee were questioning him not only about the Gulf Oil spill, but also about the fact that BP’s Magnus North Sea oil platform has failed three oil spill preparedness inspections since 2006.

Even small fields that in the past would not be worth drilling are now yielding profits. Some unique environments are under threat as a result. The Australian company ADX is drilling in the strait between Sicily and Tunisia. They got the go-ahead even though the area is a priority conservation area, with tuna, swordfish, sharks and turtles breeding, and coral gardens with thousands of species.

The island of Panteleria, soon to be declared a marine reserve, is just 13 miles from the rig and would be engulfed with oil in case of a big spill. But the Italian government is keen to expand oil production in their part of the Mediterranean.

In reality, spills are not occasional accidents, but part and parcel of the oil production process. Safety and environmental concerns are never allowed to interfere with the bottom line.

While 10 million litres of oil a day was pouring in the Gulf of Mexico from Deepwater Horizon, monitors discovered there were also continuous leaks from old abandoned wells nearby.

In Venezuela, oil is spreading across Lake Maracaibo, polluting wetlands and mangroves. Fishermen say their nets are coated, and that wildlife is dying.

In the Niger Delta, there are an average 1,598 breaks or leaks in the pipelines each year. Oil has saturated the world’s third-largest wetland, destroying farmland and fishing. But Shell has abandoned Ogoniland to its fate – they are off to the Arctic to get their hands on more easy money.

The side effects of cleaning up spills can be equally as dangerous, with little investment in research and no clear idea of the long-term effects of spraying millions of gallons of dispersants into the sea.

The last major advance in safety was after the fire on the Piper Alpha platform in 1988. But it emerged recently that lies were told about what happened to toxic chemicals stored on the rig for use in the production process. At the time it was claimed these had gone up in smoke – but now it is clear that they went into the water and have destroyed a wide area of marine life.

Humanity needs oil – it is crucial for our survival – but the reckless extraction of oil for burning must be halted. It must be husbanded for essential uses. And you could say it is almost a sacred duty to extract it with extreme care and to the highest standards, when it is found in such precious places. There will be times when it should just be left where it is. The first step to achieving this approach is to remove the whole process from the control of corporations who place profit above all other considerations, as the calamity in the Gulf shows.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
16 September 2010

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Phil says:

An informative article by Penny Cole. I would like to ask AWTW a question. Recently on the BBC's "HardTalk" Professor David Harvey (New York), a noted Marxist thinker, advocated zero growth for the advanced capitalist countries like the USA and Britain. He said this is necessary because capitalism has been growing at 3 per cent compound for many years and this is unsustainable. Now, some Marxists would disagree with this aim of zero growth because they would argue that the power of the human mind is infinite and this will enable us to find other ways of structuring the economy and will make socialist growth sustainable. My question is: does AWTW agree with Harvey, or these other Marxists, or is there another position that AWTW would take up?

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