Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tomgram: Stephen Kinzer, BP's First "Spill"‏

June 29, 2010

Tomgram: Stephen Kinzer, BP's First "Spill"

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: To check out the most recent review of my book, The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s, which just went up at Mother Jones magazine's website, click here (“...as in his daily dispatches, he takes on our war-possessed world with clear-eyed, penetrating precision...”). For all those of you who, in return for a signed copy of the book, sent in a contribution of $75 or more online by last Thursday -- and there were enough of you to make a real difference to TD’s finances! -- I signed away until my wrist hurt last Friday and the books went out to you Monday. For any contributions that came in later or by mail, I’ll try to do the next round this Thursday. In the meantime, many thanks to you all!

While I’m at it, let me recommend a second book. Some of you may remember Stephen Kinzer for his groundbreaking work on the CIA’s overthrow of a democratic Guatemalan government in 1954 in Bitter Fruit, or his more recent history, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. Well, his newest book, Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future, has just been published. Andrew Bacevich calls it “history with a bite”; Juan Cole, “a must-read for anyone concerned with the future of the United States in the Middle East.” It’s a history-cum-critique-cum-policy-review of American folly in the Middle East, especially in relation to Iran, but also Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. It couldn’t be more relevant to this moment or more riveting. I’m almost done and can hardly put it down. So check out Andy Kroll’s intro below, read Kinzer’s dispatch, and then, remember, if you order my book and his (or anything else, book or otherwise) after arriving at Amazon via any of the TD book links to that site, we get a small percentage of your purchase at no cost to you -- and it does add up. Tom]

Only one industry in the world can make Wall Street’s earnings look like chump change: Big Oil. This is, after all, a business where a “slump” year for international oil giant ExxonMobil means annual profits of only $19 billion. A few years earlier, on the back of skyrocketing oil prices, the same company had netted $45 billion, the single largest annual profit in history, a sum that exceeded the gross domestic products of more than half the world’s nations. And as Exxon was drilling its way into the record books in the U.S. in 2008, Royal Dutch Shell was doing the same in Britain, hauling in $27.5 billion, or a mind-bending $75 million in profits daily. To keep the cash coming in, the five biggest oil and gas corporations have spent nearly $34 billion in the past three years on exploration. To keep American lawmakers off their backs or in their pockets, they’ve spent $195 million on lobbying over that same period.

Here’s what they haven’t spent their largesse on: oil-spill response. BP, whose American operations may never recover from its Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, told Congress it spent about $9.6 million in each of the past three years on research into safer drilling technologies. ConocoPhillips spent an even more meager $1.3 million -- and that was over three years. Congressman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has ripped oil companies for their negligence, and called their preparations for future catastrophes “paltry.” Given the funding, it’s hardly a surprise that oil companies like BP are now stuck with antiquated and ineffective tools when a spill occurs, no less a spill a mile under the Gulf of Mexico’s waters. As the Associated Press reported recently, the main technologies being used in the Gulf -- oil dispersants, offshore booms, and skimmers -- are the very same ones employed to clean up the Exxon Valdez spill two decades ago.

Now that it’s helped create one of the great environmental catastrophes in history, BP has typically pledged to right its wrongs, including by giving $500 million to fund “independent research” into the impact of the Gulf spill on the marine and shoreline environment. Of course, you don’t need millions in funding to know that the effect of BP’s spill will reverberate throughout the Gulf coast region and along Florida’s white sand beaches for decades, possibly generations. As Stephen Kinzer, the acclaimed author of the newly published Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America’s Future, writes in his debut TomDispatch post, the Deepwater spill is hardly the first time BP has wreaked havoc on a nation and its people. Andy

BP in the Gulf -- The Persian Gulf
How an Oil Company Helped Destroy Democracy in Iran
By Stephen Kinzer

To frustrated Americans who have begun boycotting BP: Welcome to the club. It's great not to be the only member any more!

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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