Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Price of Oil….One of Mankind’s Greatest Addictions

If you own a car, run a business or heat your home with oil, the topic of the price of oil has certainly caught your attention during the past few years. We have watched the price of oil rise to near $150 US per barrel then dropping to lower than $50 after an economic crisis and now back up to around $80. All of this occurred within a two year span which makes an uncertain market relating to this commodity. Now with the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico we may be in store for another price hike in oil since this will surely have an impact on off shore oil drilling in the future.

However, the price of oil should go beyond the dollar value we put on it. The price of oil should take into account the human, animal and environmental impact our dependence on oil leaves. The pollution caused by the hundreds of millions of cars on the road and the refineries producing gas from the crude oil supplied, alone, should be enough to consider the consequences of oil and how it is used to fuel our modern lifestyle. However when we add environmental catastrophes like the current Oil spill in the Gulf, the Exxon Valdez disaster and numerous other oil spills that go relatively unmentioned, it is another reason to take heed of the human and environmental impact the consumption of oil has on the world.

As I write this article, a giant oil slick is moving to the Southern US coastline. A major environmental disaster is occurring in the Gulf of Mexico. On April 20, there was a fatal explosion on the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico. The rig sank shortly afterwards, and since then the well has been leaking crude oil into the Gulf, spreading an oil slick towards the U.S. Gulf Coast. This spill is pouring as many as 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) of oil a day into the Gulf and poses a significant threat to coastal industries, sensitive habitats and wildlife, including numerous species along the coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. In addition to the loss of human life from the explosion, the impact on the Gulf coast in regards to the anticipated effect on marine life and economic impact in the area is devastating. BP is currently trying to find ways to contain the oil leak and promises to clean it up, however once the dust (or oil in this case) settles on this catastrophe it will take years to fully clean this mess up.

Other environmental disasters relating to oil have occurred in recent history. Here are just a few examples. On March 24, 1989, a super tanker rammed into a reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound and spilled millions of gallons of crude oil into its clean waters. The Exxon Valdez oil spill killed as many as 250,000 seabirds, along with 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbour seals, more than 200 bald eagles and some orcas. The unfortunate thing about oil spills is that often the impacts on the food chain and economic life of communities hit by this last for many years afterwards. When Iraqi troops withdrew from Kuwait at the end of the Persian Gulf War in early 1991, they set fire to more than 600 oil wells and pools of spilled oil in Kuwait. There is great environmental devastation wrought by mankind in its incessant, thirst for oil.

Human health is greatly affected by oil indirectly as well. The emissions from vehicles and refineries to produce gasoline and other fuels to run these vehicles, have caused many illnesses and premature deaths over the years. Pollution causes not only physical disabilities but also psychological and behavioral disorders in people. It can contribute to certain cancers. Pollution also leads to irritation of eyes, nose, mouth and throat, headaches and dizziness, and disruption of endocrine, reproductive and immune systems.

Another controversial topic is the wars that have been caused by oil and perhaps future wars to come as oil becomes scarcer and if dependence on it grows. It is believed that the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been at least partially fuelled by the desire for the Western World to have some control over oil rich areas of the world. Why else would the Middle East be such a strategic location for the United States to be involved in? Let’s face it, without oil, the economies of the western world would grind to a halt and depression would set in. I heard someone state recently, that even though the United States may have one of the best air force and navy in the world, without oil to power their ships and planes they would not be effective. It has been reported that wars and sharp spikes in oil prices were behind most of the seven recessions in the United States since the Great Depression. The spring of 2008 saw a beginning of a massive spike in oil prices. Six months later the economy was on the verge of collapse. I am certain that other factors lead to this, but we cannot dispute that the oil price issue in 2008 helped caused this. Oil companies for the most part are very powerful and have close ties to governments. We need to look no further than the Bush family in the United States and how oil dictated many of the government’s policies. As well, many governments rely on tax revenues from gasoline to help keep them running. It is fair to say that governments are as addicted to oil like anyone else!

Next time you fill up your vehicle or purchase products that are made with petroleum ask yourself what is the real cost of oil. I am not saying to quit using oil completely, as it is not practical. Many of us need to travel to work or run our business. I use oil myself for that matter. I just wish there were more alternatives. Oil is more than what powers our vehicles and heats or homes. It is, more or less, the backbone of our consumption based economy in the western world. Many of our consumer products contain petroleum and are produced with petroleum based power and shipped to our local stores using oil based products. We should, however, push ourselves and our governments to reduce the cycle of oil dependence. We need to look towards sustainable energy sources such as wind, solar and tidal power. We can look at improved public transportation. Reducing waste is another way to reduce oil dependence. Collectively every little thing counts and we can all make a difference in breaking our addiction to oil.