The Dernogalizer

July 26, 2010

Oil Companies: Pick Your Poison

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 3:17 pm
Tags: , ,

I wrote this column in the Diamondback’s summer edition, and it came out last Thursday.  I was motivated to write this after seeing movements for people to boycott BP after the oil spill.  I think this is a poor use of activists energy, which should be focused on bringing about political change to end our oil addiction.

Figuring out where to buy gas these days is more irritating than usual, and it’s already pretty annoying. It began with BP. Back in 2005, BP was talking about investing $8 billion in clean-energy technology over 10 years. Sure, that’s still a smidgeon of their profits, but at least they were tipping, unlike the rest of big oil.

Then, BP considered putting all its renewable energy programs on the auction block, invested $3 billion into the Canadian tar sands, started transferring solar jobs from Maryland to China and had an accident in a small body of water known as the Gulf of Mexico. This begged the question, Beyond Petroleum … to what? Beyond preposterous, I say.

Then, Chevron started coming out with deep, moving commercials about our obligation to future generations. I stopped there once or twice a few years ago — until I found out Chevron had a skirmish in the Ecuadorian Amazon for 26 years. This led to the illegal dumping of 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater (enough to fill Lebron James’ new swimming pool) and 17 million gallons of crude oil. Needless to say, lots of cancer, gigantic international lawsuits — I can’t get my gas from these guys!

Shell? Tar sands, leading the way on environmentally destructive shale oil — need I say more? Well, I thought I didn’t, until I read they have extracted $600 billion in oil revenue from the Niger Delta and given them back 6,800 oil spills. They have been privy to the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for the last 50 years. Good grief.

Exxon Mobil? I suppose the Exxon Valdez accident was a while ago. They’re sharing the Niger Delta with Shell. They keep showing Phil Mickelson in their commercials talking about helping children in school. They’re also pretty famous for funding climate denial — I just read the other day they gave $1.5 million last year to organizations that campaign against controls on greenhouse gas emissions.

Where does that leave me? My environmental policy professor last semester said he goes with Sunoco. They do seem to have the fewest black marks of the bunch; the worst I could find was 192,000 gallons of oil dumped into a wildlife refuge. Sigh…

This is why, last week, when I needed to fill up my Corolla, I threw up my arms and pulled into an Exxon for the first time in several years. I mentioned this to a friend who proclaimed they don’t buy at Exxon because they’re “the worst of the bunch.” I try hard not to judge people based on their personal habits through the eye of environmental stewardship, mainly because we’re all sinners faced with terrible choices. The guy driving a Hummer could go home to a house half the size of yours; the vegetarian could have four kids while the meat-eater has one; I’m moving out of my parents’ house that has solar panels on it to a coal-powered apartment close to the campus and Metro, cutting my driving by a lot. Probably a wash.

Ultimately, there isn’t much of a choice, is there? Not yet, anyways. People should legitimately do the best they can in their personal lives with what they have to work with, but at the end of the day, political action is going to be what changes the playing field.

Now if only I could find a Sunoco.

Matt Dernoga graduated in May with a degree in government and politics. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com.


  1. It’s so true, Matt, we really do have to pick between bad and worse when we pull up to fill up our cars. We’ve been placed in this position by the many, many political and economic decisions over the last century that places us where we our now, with dirty oil as our only option to power our vehicles. Many people I talk to are frustrated and angry by this, yet still need to use their vehicles by necessity (not all of us live in urban areas with good public transportation options). My family is waiting for a plug-in hybrid to come along that meets our needs. We wish the Toyota Rav-4 plug-in hybrid was still available in North America!
    In the meantime, we use our bicycles to get around our small northern Ontario town as much as possible (although our weather is changing, too, and we’re much much rainier in summers than we used to be), and are putting solar panels on our roof in the next couple of weeks to take advantage of Ontario’s new FIT program.

    Comment by Christine — July 28, 2010 @ 10:37 am | Reply

  2. Way to go on the solar Christine! I envy your FIT program, I think if we had that in this country solar would take off. Thanks for posting!

    Comment by Matt Dernoga — July 29, 2010 @ 11:49 am | Reply

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