Friday, May 20, 2011

The Power of Big Oil

FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2011


The use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun.

- Ralph Nader

Oil is a fossil fuel. It’s dirty and greasy and it pollutes. It’s a non-renewable resource and the world is running short of it. Yet we want it. We crave it. We can’t seem to do without it – or so we are led to believe. After all, it makes some people extremely wealthy. As the old Beverly Hillbillies song goes, oil is black gold. It’s Texas tea.

In the first quarter of 2011 alone, the five major oil companies in the United States (BP, Shell, Chevron, Exxon Mobil and Conoco Phillips) together racked up a grand total of $36 billion dollars in profits. On May 12, the chief executives of these companies appeared before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee in Washington. They were there to justify the $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies they’re receiving this year. They fought vigorously against an effort by the Democratic Party to repeal their tax breaks.

Senator Baucus (Democrat, Montana), the chairman of the committee, told the oilmen that given their profits “it’s hard to find evidence that repealing these subsidies would cut domestic production or cause layoffs.” Chevron Corp. Chief Executive John Watson replied, “Don’t punish our industry for doing its job well.” The oil executives contended that they are not to blame for high gas prices. “Stated simply,” said Shell Oil Co. President Marvin E. Odum, “oil is a global commodity.” “With worldwide economic recovery underway, demand is on the rise, sending prices upward.”

Since demand for energy is on the rise, isn’t that all the more reason to find alternate energy sources and to end dependence on both foreign and domestic oil? Furthermore, with the United States facing a high budget deficit, oil companies neither need nor deserve government subsidies. Still, their CEOs came to Washington with cap in hand to declare, “Please sir, I want some more.” If that isn’t chutzpah, I don’t know what is!

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the Democratic bill to end oil subsidies was defeated in the Senate on May 17, 2011.  As expected, votes were cast mostly along party lines with three Democrats and two Republicans crossing sides. The final tally was 52-48. The bill required a 60 vote threshold to pass. If it had been approved, the measure would have removed $20 billion dollars in tax subsidies over the next 10 years and used the savings to pay off the deficit.

Republicans argued that the Big Five would pass any tax increases to consumers at the gas pump and that they would cut jobs.  Every time I hear that argument, I can’t help thinking it’s a form of blackmail or extortion on the part of the oil companies. Why should consumers give in to it? Isn’t there a choice other than being held hostage by greedy CEOs? Are they not putting a gun at our heads?

The latest Gallup Poll in the United States (May 3-6, 2011) reveals that more Americans are concerned about energy costs and supportive of offshore drilling than a year ago. Six in ten adult Americans (60%) favour increasing offshore drilling for oil and gas in U.S. coastal areas, up from 50% in May 2010, according to Gallup’s annual environment survey. Last year’s poll was conducted about one month after the April 2010 oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. The worst oil spill in American history is fading from memory. Unfortunately, people tend to forget about birds dripping with oil when they open their wallets to pay for gas at the pump. What’s an environmental disaster compared to the high price of gas in their lives?

Sarah Palin and her Tea Party cohorts continue to shout, “Drill, baby, drill!” and they seem to be making headway. Here in Canada, in the province of Alberta, they love their oil. The tar sands represent prosperity and jobs to most Albertans. That’s why they named a hockey team the Edmonton Oilers.  It's a shame, however, that so many people see a stark either/or choice between the environment and jobs.  Why can't we focus more on creating jobs that do not harm the environment?  Human beings have the ingenuity to do this and it is imperative that we do so.  Our future depends on it.

Even as the price of gas rises steadily, we North Americans continue to drive gas-guzzling SUVs. How many hybrids or electric cars do you see on the road? Not very many, I’d venture to say. Why? Well, one major reason is that they are too expensive for most people. Although hybrids save money on gas in the long run, their initial purchase price is too high. The other reason is that hybrids and electric vehicles are not in the interests of Big Oil. It is so difficult to take on the power, the wealth and the influence of the big oil companies.

Americans wish to reduce their dependence on foreign oil, especially from the Middle East. They talk about finding more domestic oil. Canadians, meanwhile, promote the Alberta tar sands. My question is this: Why aren’t we talking more about safer and cleaner energy alternatives? Just imagine if everyone drove hybrid automobiles or electric ones. The air would be cleaner and we would save money on gas. Right now, it’s only a dream.

On a happier note, there has been an important good news story this week. At the invitation of Irish President Mary McAleese, Queen Elizabeth II visited the Republic of Ireland. It was the first visit of a British monarch since 1911, ten years before Irish independence.

The Queen’s visit to the Republic was, above all, a visit of reconciliation. I must commend President McAleese for having taking the initiative in this situation. I also commend the Queen for reaching out to the Irish. Her visit has received a positive reaction from the Irish press.

Although the royal visit focused on Dublin, it was not restricted to the Irish capital. The Queen spent her last day in Ireland in Cork, a hotbed of Irish nationalism. She left Ireland on a triumphant note.

In the spirit of reconciliation, Elizabeth II visited Croke Park in Dublin, the site of the original Bloody Sunday massacre on November 21, 1920. She also visited famed Guinness brewery in the city, although she declined to taste the brew. Her husband, Prince Philip, reportedly looked longingly at the ale. Do you think he was given orders to refuse it? Nah . . .


How do you fix a tuba?


With a tuba glue


The Vancouver Canucks have taken a 2-0 lead in their Stanley Cup semi-final series against the San Jose Sharks. The series moves to San Jose tonight for the third game. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m cheering for Vancouver. I’d like to see a Vancouver versus Boston Stanley Cup final.

It is interesting to note that of all of the “Orignial Six” NHL teams, only the Toronto Maple Leafs did not make the playoffs this year. The other five (Chicago, Boston, Montreal and New York Rangers) all made post-season play.


After a win against the Tampa Bay Rays, The Toronto Blue Jays begin interleague play today at the former SkyDome against the Houston Astros. The Jays must do better against the National League beginning tonight.

I’m really enjoying the great play of Jose Bautista as he proves he was not just a one-season wonder. I only wish the Jays would make better use of the wonderful asset they have in Bautista. Although Jose slugs those home runs, he does not get many RBIs. I can’t for the life of me understand why he isn’t batting fourth in the line-up.

- Joanne

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