Petroleum has been a critical component of world economic growth for generations. The strong growth of the U.S. economy since the end of World War II has been in large part made possible by the availability of cheap oil. But at what cost? The recent oil disaster off the Louisiana coast has brought into sharp focus that this economic prosperity comes at a price.
In reality, Americans are just discovering some of the ugly truth about the harm oil spills and leaks have been having on people around the globe. Most of the spills have resulted from oil tanker accidents and damaged oil pipelines. The worst ever oil spill was in 1979, and also occurred under water in the Gulf of Mexico. And like with the present BP oil spill, the Mexican state-owned oil company PEMEX back then tried unsuccessfully a variety of approaches to stop the leak of oil into the Gulf. The 1979 Ixtoc spill was in much more shallow water (about 200 feet) but still took about a year to bring to an end — and not before over 140 million gallons had polluted the northern Mexican Gulf coast and about 170 miles of Texas beaches.
Two long lists of oil spills around the world can be found on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_oil_spills) and at EnviroWonk.com (http://envirowonk.com/content/view/68/1/).
Perhaps the most glaring example of global irresponsibility by the multinational oil industry, and in this case exploitation of an indigenous population, has been in Nigeria. A group of independent environmental and oil experts visiting the Niger Delta in 2006 estimated that between 1958 and 2006 as many as 13 million barrels of oil have polluted the Niger Delta. To put this in perspective, this amount of oil spillage is like the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez size spill every year for 50 years. Amnesty International published its report: “NIGERIA: PETROLEUM, POLLUTION AND POVERTY IN THE NIGER DELTA” in 2009. The report is a real eye opener and raises serious questions about the morality of our continuing dependence on petroleum.
Add to that the enormous wealth we here in the U.S. are literally giving away to nations that do not like us, and you really have to wonder when we will finally wake up and realize that our economic and environmental well-being depends on creating an alternative energy future. A future that emphasizes moving to renewable energy sources and alternatives to fossil fuels as quickly as, and to the greatest extent, possible.