“I hate the smell of crude oil in the morning.”
This thought must have crossed the minds of hundreds of thousands of Orange County, CA, residents after at least 25,000 gallons of oil invaded one the country’s most emblematic ocean shores.
Besides the beaches, the smelly goo smeared a set of marshes and wetlands of enormous ecological value that had taken decades and millions of dollars to recover and restore. The Talbert Marsh alone, sandwiched in between the beaches and petrochemical facilities, is home to at least 90 species of birds. This is the second time in not too long that it suffered the catastrophic effects of a black tide.
Once again, the debacle is the result of a toxic cocktail of greed, incompetence and the disastrous belief that extracting oil from the ocean floor is a safe practice. The pipeline whose rupture caused the spill has been in operation for 40 years and, allegedly, was damaged a year ago by the anchor of a merchant ship. In its search for the last drop of oil, Amplify Energy, the pipeline operator, had been cited 72 times for safety and environmental violations. Days after the disaster, Amplify stock tanked by 50 percent, which raises fears that it will lack the money necessary to clean up the mess, declare bankruptcy and pass the bill onto the taxpayers, a notoriously common practice among oil companies.
The costs of the climate crisis this industry causes are growing exponentially. In this year alone, in the US we have suffered 18 climate disasters at a cost of $1 billion each.
The examples of this industry’s irresponsible and abusive behavior are as usual as the spills it causes. Ecuador is a devastating example. From 1964 to 1990, Texaco—currently owned by Chevron—spilled 16 billion gallons of toxic wastewater and 17 million gallons of crude oil into the Ecuadorian rainforest, in what is known as the Amazon Chernobyl. Considered history’s worst oil catastrophe, it left behind a lethal legacy of cancer, respiratory diseases and genetic malformations among the Tribes that inhabit the area.
After three decades of litigation, Ecuador’s courts ordered Chevron to pay $9.5 billion in damages to the victims of such an ecological crime. Ever since then, the company has waged a relentless legal battle here in the US that has achieved the cancelation of the original ruling, portraying Chevron as the victim of this drama and the imprisonment of the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, Steven Donziger. In 2019, US District Judge Lewis Kaplan—a former corporate lawyer with investments in Chevron— sentenced Donziger to two years of house arrest for contempt of court after refusing to release legal documents to Chevron’s attorneys. And a few days ago, US District Judge Loretta Preska—a member of the ultra-conservative Federalist Society, which Chevron donates to—sentenced him to six months in prison on the same charges.
These, however, are the actions of an industry whose days are numbered. On one hand, oil investments are a ruinous proposition. So far, institutions the world over have dropped almost $15 trillion worth of fossil fuel investments, including recent examples such as Harvard and Dartmouth universities, and the MacArthur Foundation.
And on the other, the costs of the climate crisis this industry causes are growing exponentially. In this year alone, in the US we have suffered 18 climate disasters at a cost of $1 billion each. A recent study revealed that 85 percent of the world’s population has been impacted by the climate crisis.
The popular rejection of this industry and its practices manifests itself on a daily basis, including a recent protest in front of the White House by hundreds of Indigenous and other people of color to urge President Biden to declare a national climate emergency and the end of the continuous expansion of fossil fuels.
Because we all are sick of cleaning up after Big Oil.
Javier Sierra writes the monthly bilingual column Sierra & Tierra.
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