Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Weekly Standard doesn't think BP loves oil nearly enough.

If you read this Weekly Standard article, you might think it a shocking expose -- shocking, because it's in the Weekly Standard -- of BP's longstanding laxness with regards to safety issues. But what develops is something else entirely: An exercise in schadenfreude that a company that tried so hard to brand itself as "green" has enmeshed itself in one of history's more notorious environmental disasters.

The game is given away when describing Oberon Houston, an engineer who left the company a few years back after narrowly avoiding death on a BP rig. Andrew Wilson's article presents a litany of safety-related reasons for Houston's departure, but tacks this on:
And finally, he told me over the course of several interviews, he was distressed by an abundance of rhetoric—coming from the CEO—about BP going “beyond petroleum” and joining the environmental activists in campaigning for reduced carbon emissions. “To me and everyone I knew, it didn’t make any sense. We were a petroleum company. That wasn’t going to change any time soon, and it wasn’t anything to be ashamed of, either. All the talk about windmills and solar power was just PR and a lot of nonsense.”

In short, Houston no longer trusted the company to do the right thing.

The article hints that BP's "greenwashing" campaign is linked to its atrocious safety practices, but never really makes the case. (And couldn't, unless BP's PR department ran the company's maintenance operations.) Instead, what the piece reveals is the extent to which "oil now! oil forever!" might be more deeply embedded in conservative ideology than actual free-market capitalism. It seems not to matter that BP undertook its environmentally friendly push in order to sell more oil; all that matters -- and is worthy of contempt -- is that BP paid any deference at all, even rhetorically, to the environmental movement. That is the sin that cannot be forgiven. At least, not now that BP's sins can be hung on a Democratic president.

Late in the piece, Wilson mocks BP for paying scientists at Berkeley to research energy alternatives:
Thanks to BP sponsorship, 300 researchers in white lab coats at Berkeley are busily searching for ways to make green fuels that will reduce our dependence on oil. In 2007, BP set up the Energy Biosciences Institute, saying it would spend $500 million over the next ten years to support research into plant-based fuels at Berkeley and two other universities. This is the largest corporate donation ever for university research.
Broken down, though, that amounts to $12.5 million per quarter over the next 10 years -- barely a dent in the company's earnings. Even then, it doesn't seem to occur to Wilson that an energy company might consider the cost a prudent bit of R&D -- if not for a post-oil future, then at least to cater to the segment of the market that would rather avoid oil.

Like I said, though, market considerations don't really matter here. Any acknowledgement that massive oil consumption might have a downside, or that alternative energy sources might even be possible or even necessary, is heresy. Conservatives pride themselves on their realism about oil: It's cheap and it's available and we're not going to abandon it because of those qualities. There's something to that argument. But the contempt for BP -- as revealed in the Weekly Standard -- reveals that there's more than admirable realism at work here. It's calcified, closed-minded ideology.

1 comment:

Kelly said...


Good insights here.