Spilling over

Like many people around the world, i’ve watched with dismay as oil washed up on the Gulf Coast, threatening living things & livelihoods. This is just the latest in a string of hits the environment takes to satisfy our thirst for oil. So many oil spills that happen around the world are not given quite the same coverage that this has gotten. In Nigeria for instance we have about 2,000 active oil spills as at last year, but no one talks about us. This time, the US has tasted a little bit of the bitterness that comes with crude oil extraction. Before coming into office, Barack Obama said he would not allow offshore drilling. A few weeks ago, he went back on that pledge. That was before the Gulf coast mishap. For years, America has talked about depending less on foreign oil without doing what is necessary and difficult to make that happen. The huge amounts they spend on Middle East oil on which they’ve depended since the 70s goes to funding extremist groups that attack the US, but no one wants to drill in their backyard. 3rd world countries like Nigeria end up bearing the brunt. Weak enforcement of environmental standards due to corrupt government officials enables multi-national oil companies to get away with things they would pay dearly for in their home countries. chief among these is gas flaring. Nigeria accounts for much of the gas flared in the world, along with Russia. It’s no surprise that Russia is also a very corrupt nation. The Federal Government has given many deadlines for an end to flaring, none of which have been enforced and with no appropriate punishments given to the IOCs.

In a way, the oil companies are not to blame. America had the chance to move towards renewable energy in the 70s after the first oil shock but they didn’t take it. Their appetite for crude has known no bounds and they are doing everything to keep up this way of life. Unfortunately, it is not sustainable. Oil majors are having to drill to great depths to access oil. The Deepwater Horizon owned by Transocean and leased by BP is a very advanced rig. It is therefore baffling that whatever measures they put in place to prevent a catastrophe like this failed woefully. A friend of mine said on his blog that offshore drilling is equal to putting man on the moon. I do not argue this. Is it not troubling that this spill is yet to be stopped? there are two clear possibilities. The first is that BP was not prepared adequately for this scenario. The second is that when you drill that far down into the earth, you really have no control over what happens. We have seen time and time again that mankind is no match for the force of nature. The volcano in Iceland didn’t even erupt, it just spewed ash, and it grounded 100,000 flights! People were stranded for days far from home, billions were lost in terms of money and man hours, but not a single life was lost, not a single thing was destroyed. I think it’s high time humanity gives up on looking for crude oil in extreme environments and focus on harnessing what nature gives us freely: the sun, wind, water & geothermal energy. You could also add nuclear energy into that mix. Taken together, it would put us on a surer path to sustainability.

The leadership of the US would be crucial to bring this about in a reasonable time frame. In 1961, President Kennedy mandated NASA to out a man on the moon by the end of that decade. In 1969, it happened. JFK said the words, but also empowered NASA by committing the funds necessary for that herculean effort. Obama must do something similar. He is obviously grappling with a number of things at once and must surely have one eye on a re-election bid, even though it’s in 2012. Sacrifices would have to be made in order to address this energy issue. The whole world respects the US and it still retains a moral authority, even though it’s economic power is not what it used to be. If it leads, other countries would surely follow. I just wonder if these leaders know how high the stakes are.

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