Monday, 1 April 2013

You Can't Eat Money

"Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed, and love of power." -- P. J. O'Rourke

This morning I am physically ill.  Not because I have a cold or 'flu, but rather it's a reaction to a story circulating in the news.

The town of Mayflower in central Arkansas, with a population of about 1700, was flooded on Friday afternoon.  Not with water, but with oil.  An Exxon-Mobil pipeline known as Pegasus ruptured, sending thousands of gallons of heavy crude coursing into the town's drainage system, streets, and backyards.  The spill has supposedly been contained and the company has offered an apology, but so far the cause of the spill hasn't been identified.

What kind of apology can mitigate this?  Part of a community has been destroyed because of inadequate oversight and maintenance on a pipeline.  People in the spill area will never be able to sell their homes, and will likely never see any form of monetary compensation.  The ground and local water supply will be contaminated for decades.

Let's look back at the Exxon-Valdez spill of 1989 in Alaska.  Although the spill was "cleaned up" the effects are still there, 24 years later.  Dig down into the soil a few inches and you see oil.  Sea otters and orcas in the affected area are in decline, and fisheries still haven't recovered.  Exxon was ordered to pay billions of dollars in fines but its multiple appeals and legal wrangling on the case caused the total to be revised downward to a fraction of that amount.

How ironic it is that a town named for the ship that brought some of the first European settlers to North America in search of a new life has been so adversely affected by the "new" American life: greed.  The oil flowing through the ruptured pipeline isn't even American; it originated in Canada and is being transported to Texas for refinement before shipment overseas.  So Exxon was pumping oil that wasn't theirs through an inadequately maintained pipeline that had previously been idle for four years, and they expected it to work?

There have been at least five landbased oil spills on United States soil in the past three years (two in Canada).  How many more accidents will it take to make the bigshots realize that transporting oil is dangerous?

How many communities like the town of Mayflower will pay the price?

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