Blame for Gulf Coast Spill Begins at the Pump

If you’re mad about the spill, think about what you’re driving.

The devastating oil spill in the Gulf Coast will embolden green transportation advocates to push harder for change—from fuel-efficient cars to public transportation and bicycle use. But that change won’t happen until drivers make a fundamental connection between their oil use, oil spills, and other severe environmental and economic risks.

Electric-drive cars, especially those running on electricity instead of petroleum, could play a key role in reducing the need to drill. The good news is that electric cars and plug-in hybrids are finally coming to market, but they are trickling out while the spill in the Gulf gushes out. The current spill is not an isolated event. Between 2001 and 2007, there were 356 oil spills of varying degrees of seriousness on federal lands and waters.

What’s taking so long for hybrids and plug-in cars from displacing gas-burners? You could point to oil company profits, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. “For the oil companies, [Gulf of Mexico] reserves are worth hundreds of billions of dollars and represent the industry’s future,” Jad Mouawad writes in today’s New York Times. The Gulf of Mexico accounts for a third of the nation’s domestic oil supplies, and is the fastest growing source of oil in the United States.

If the public is not outraged over the oil industry profiting at the expense of the environment and the livelihood of Gulf residents, then maybe anger at the government will be helpful. Lisa Margonelli, also writing in today’s New York Times, explains that the federal Minerals Management Service considered requiring relatively inexpensive equipment to allow offshore drilling rigs to shut down spills using remote control switches. But the agency decided it wasn’t necessary.

But ultimately, disgust with the oil spill should turn to introspection. Nothing will change as long as the average driver—not just hybrid and EV owners—fails to connect the dots. As Margonelli writes, “Every gallon of gas is a gallon of risks—risks of spills in production and transport, of worker deaths, of asthma-inducing air pollution and of climate change, to name a few.”

That’s why her other clever idea, while tongue-in-cheek, is about the best we can muster right now: “We should print these risks on every gasoline receipt, just as we label smoking’s risks on cigarette packs.”


  • veek

    –Bravo for the main point of the article. I can do essentially nothing about BP’s search for profits, and I can do essentially nothing about government incompetence, grandstanding, and corruption. What I can do is to be more moderate in my consumption, not only in what I drive and how much I drive, but also in what foods and other products I buy (or don’t buy, which is even more important).

    –What is so tongue-in-cheek about the suggestion to print up a warning label for gasoline? We should also include the risks of wars-for-oils, the effects of greed on our character, etc. We, as consumers, have looked at the risks of consumption and decided they are worth the convenience they bring. Let’s take the responsibility. Any attempt to foist the blame onto the oil companies or the government is not productive and not honest. At least one of the solutions is to increase our knowledge, which is one value of this forum.

  • Dave – Phoenix

    Amen.

    For those looking for solutions, start by looking in the mirror in figuring out ways to reduce your own oil consumption using today’s available technologies.

    If there is no desire to use less oil, there really is no market for alternatives fuels or hybrids or EV’s, unless they become less expensive (which is unlikely).

    It has to start with the will of the people….

  • Dave B

    There is one other thing we can do about it. VOTE DEMOCRAT.

    Those of us who are for the environment and desire foreign oil independence need to realize that “without a doubt”, the Republican Party is the party of the oil industry.

    Don’t forget which party used the phrase “Drill baby drill”

    If you like using oil? Vote Republican
    If you like oil spills? Vote Republican
    If you like fighting wars in the Middle East? Vote Republican

    What ever you feel about other issues (like health care or abortion), if the most important issue for you is the environment or foreign oil independence, there is only one way to get the government to pass legislation that is favorable to your cause and that is to put more Democrats in office.

    Want to make a difference with oil? Vote Democrat this November and encourage others to do the same….

  • Christof

    I agree wholeheartedly that oil consumers must assume a good portion of the blame for spills. I also agree that a move to EVs will likely be a good thing environmentally speaking (though driving less is always the best approach).

    But let’s not forget that many EVs will be powered largely by coal (98% of the grid in W. Virgina is coal powered, for example), and that coal has had its share of disasters as of late — 29 dead in W. Virginia.

    It’s going to take more than going to EVs. We need EVs — and an American electric grid — powered as much as possible by renewables, and no new coal plants coming on line just to fire up EVs. I know “the studies” show that the current grid could support tens of millions of EVs (charging off the grid’s “excess” night capacity) without growing coal any more.

    But, in the long run, if EV-ers don’t walk and push for the green walk, they too could be being blamed for the next coal, rather than oil, disaster…

  • Paul Scott

    Christof is right about coal being used for generating electricity, but at least with the plug-in cars you have the CHOICE to drive on renewable. You can’t do that with gas no matter what.

    As for getting folks to reduce consumption, it’s my opinion that no real progress will occur till we increase taxes on the dirty energies to level the playing field. Only a small percentage of people are willing to drive a more efficient car as long as the cost of the war and environmental and health costs of using dirty energy are not in the price of gas.

  • Anonymous

    a bit off topic, but the picture reminds me of coffee and cream…

  • Tom

    We had our chance with President Carter. If only that 30 years of infrastructure were in place now.Instead we live in this economic and enviromental nightmare created by conservatives.Big Government should round them all up to clean every bit of this mess at the point of a gun just like the German people were forced to pick up the dead in the concentration camps of WWII.
    Of course they are trying to blame this on Obama. We as a people and as Human beings must vote these conservatives out of office in November including the Democratic posers like Blanch Lincolin.

  • 9691

    Hybridcars, lets stick to the topic of hybrid-cars. News or concerns of oil spills don’t follow the path of alternatively driven vehicles we are all waiting on.

  • Fred Linn

    There are no electric vehicles available that can fill our current transportation needs—-and the manufacturing and infrastructure necessary to support an electric vehicle market is many decades off.

    Hybrids, although slightly more efficient, still require petroleum to run. Even plug in hybrids, given a little boost with a battery charge, will still coast to a stop very quickly without petroleum. Diesel engines are rugged, powerful, and achieve about the same efficiency as hybrids without the use of highly expensive batteries and electronics. Diesel trucks typically run 500,000 miles or more before being overhauled.

    Any internal combustion engine can be converted to run on natural gas. Natural gas(methane), is extremely clean to use and produces almost no pollution—it has the highest rating available from the California Air Quality Management Board. Natural gas causes completely minimal environmental damage to extract. You can’t spill natural gas in the ocean—-it simply bubbles up and blows away. You can’t strip mine a gas. (electric vehicles will depend on coal and all of its attendant environmental destruction—the environmental impact of the Tesla; about 10 miles per ton of coal—–even 1890s steam locomotives got far better efficiency than that)

    Bi-fuel engines can run on compressed natural gas(CNG) or liquid fuels at the flip of a switch. Any type of fuel you care to name has certain characteristics that make it advantageous or detrimental under changing conditions. Bi-fuel engine vehicles that can use CNG or liquid fuels at the flip of a switch can utilize the best advantages of either liquid or gaseous in any situation. Cold weather can be a problem with liquid diesel—-however, a bi-fuel diesel engine can be easily started in cold weather(since CNG is already a gas, there are no vaporization problems)—-it has been done for years in very cold climates. Transport and storage of liquid fuels is easier and more practical in remote locations. Bi-fuel engines can use the advantages of either fuel type. It is the versatility of the engine that is the secret—-able to use the best fuel for changing situations.

    Using methane(CNG) costs about 1/2 what it costs to drive the same distance using petroleum.

    Biofuels, can be made from any type of plant material at all. Ethanol and diesel fuel can be made from cellulose—we’ve been able to do it for over 100 years.

    The Fiat Siena Tetrafuel is in production, on sale and in use now in South America. It can run on petroleum gasoline, Brazilian gasoline(25% ethanol), pure hydrous ethanol(straight from the still), or compressed natural gas.

    The American people need to DEMAND that the government mandate that all new vehicles sold in the US should be bi-fuel, or multi-fuel capable vehicles. If drivers are given a choice, most drivers will chose to run their vehicles on biofuels and natural gas—whether they chose to do so for environmental reasons, or purely economic reasons(CNG is significantly cheaper to use). Even drivers who insist on using petroleum can do so if they wish—-although, they will probably be in the minority due to costs. Why pay more for something (driving from point A to point B) when you can do exactly the same thing using a different fuel for much less cost?

    And methane(natural gas) is BOTH a fossil fuel AND a biofuel. It can be produced cheaply and easily from any type of organic material at all, including landfills and sewage treatment. We need to tap landfills and treat sewage anyway. Why not drive our vehicles with the methane nature produces when we do?

    The cost and changes to what we have now are minimal. We save protect ourselves and the environment. And we put money back into our own pockets when we do so. And no one is forced to do anything.

    It seems like a very easy choice to me.

  • Bobsky

    Re: 9691

    The Hell it doesn’t! This website may be focused on hybrid cars and EVs but have you forgotten what ICE cars burn???

    Good job HybridCars.com.

    P.S. Everyone should be lobbying the Obama Admin and their Senators and Reps. to come out against drilling in sensitive areas. Maybe we can also send McCain and Palin to the Gulf of Mexico in a rowboat with hand skimmers and bottles of Dawn soap.

  • Samie

    Blame is pointed yet again in the wrong direction…..

    “The devastating oil spill in the Gulf Coast will embolden green transportation advocates to push harder for change—from fuel-efficient cars to public transportation and bicycle use. But that change won’t happen until drivers make a fundamental connection between their oil use, oil spills, and other severe environmental and economic risks”.

    The connection is not something that people already don’t know it is not just a simplistic ideology change. If government with loaned money shields BP in cleanup, litigation, and other costs involved than no the consumer will not feel the full price of this until 20-30 years later.

    Hidden costs stay hidden on purpose but taxpayers will at some point pay for these things. Environmental, economic including tax breaks, required safety standards, and military expenses are not fully added to the cost of petroleum.

    If taxpayers don’t feel market forces making oil go up than no one shares in the responsibility of generic statements for less regulations and more market based solutions which never includes hidden costs, paid for by big brother with loaned money so to shield itself from not increasing taxes on current taxpayers. Rather then deal with issues know, say tougher regulations now and more cost to consumers we kick the can down the road, which will cost more and/or an event like this will occasionally spring up for ignoring these problems.

    In many cases adding in the cost of safety and environmental cost are never fully part of a business model. But why not? If BP was to pay the billions of dollars for its mistakes shouldn’t that be part of the cost of less government regulations and more industry self-regulations? BP would have to find ways to recover its profits by hopefully higher priced oil and not weasel out of other costs like Exxon did by dragging out litigation so people will settle for a fraction of what they originally needed.

    When people complain about the economy and risks that are involved with oil prices if BP had to pay full costs, fixed regulations, or added price at the pump, than they are only feeding the cycle of fake political ideologies, not taking responsibility for their actions or stopping the powers that be from continuing to never fully take responsibility for their actions and promoting major oil spills in the future.

    The point of all of this is to get people to understand that change is only felt when we all share in the responsibility for not factoring in hidden costs that cause these problems but until we want to address our ill fated short-term economic ideologies and fake political ideologies we will continue to have these things happen

  • Lost Prius to wife

    9691, I disagree with you on this one. This is a very interrelated world that we live in. I happen to believe that there are a lot of people that still have yet to “connect the dots”. I believe this since many of my associates believe that oil is being produced right under our feet just as quickly as we are pumping it out of the ground. I know some of my associates believe that global warming is a myth or hoax while listening to the weather reports of those that have no doubts that mankind is contributing to global warming. Anything that can be placed in front of the uninformed and/or uneducated to show them that we really are “shitting in our own nest” cannot be a waste of effort in my opinion. Anything that pushes along the efforts to bring forward faster progress on hybrids and EVs is not a waste of effort. I can only hope that some of those many uninformed and/or uneducated looking with curiosity at hybrids, through this site and others, will come to realize that there is more going on in this world than just hybrids.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    @ Fred Linn,
    While I agree that methane should be scoured from any source we can find, I don’t believe that the amount we can use will even come close to handling our energy needs.
    Natural gas will run out just as oil will so bio-fuels of the kind you described will only slow the problem down slightly.
    We really need to find a sustainable solution. The only thing I’ve seen that really fits that bill is the plug-in vehicle since the electrical grid is a true-multi-fuel, multi-energy-source energy distribution system.
    The problem, as you hint at is that there are very few plug-in vehicles being manufactured and those that are fall very short of meeting our transportation needs.
    A solution, then, is to actually get plug-in vehicles manufactured – something the existing auto manufacturers have proven to be extremely reluctant to do.
    Additionally, natural gas gets you more miles/gallon if it is used to generate electricity in efficient, stationary power plants and that electricity is used to power electric vehicles.

  • Fred Linn

    @ ex EV1 driver.

    You present some legitimate concerns.

    ——–” Natural gas will run out just as oil will so bio-fuels of the kind you described will only slow the problem down slightly.
    We really need to find a sustainable solution.”———-

    We currently have over a 100 year supply of fossil methane in the ground with proven reserves at current usage rates. This does not even count Methane Clathrate deposits which have barely even been scratched as a source. (google methane clathrate)

    Methane is also very easily produced with low tech, cheap technology—-it has been widely used for over a century, especially in India, Pakistan and China. This is chemically exactly the same methane(CH4) that is in fossil methane(natural gas). Biomethane can be mixed in any proportion with fossil methane with no loss of performance for any application. It is the same stuff. (google gober gas)

    Let’s say for argument that increased use of methane for transportation reduces the length of time reserves could last. Let’s say that we’ll run out in 50 years instead of 100. If we construct enough biomethane production capacity to replace just 2% per year of our methane use—in 50 years, we will have replaced 100% of our fossil methane needs. And we will not have to replace anything else.

    The largest bulk of natural gas usage now is to heat buildings and water. Solar thermal power requires no complex or expensive technology to build or install. It is easy to maintain, highly efficient and effective, and it is perfectly suited to operate as an auxiliary “helper system” to current systems. Your furnace and hot water heater would operate the same as always, they would simply come on less often and use much less energy when they do. Solar thermal systems are so cheap to manufacture, install and use, that in most cases, we could make and GIVE them away at less expense than we are currently incurring with subsidies to PV systems. If consumers installed a solar thermal system, then used the natural gas (or $$$) saved to power their vehicles—they would, in effect, be powering their cars with free solar energy, either completely or at least a significant portion of the time depending on how much they drive.

    If you figure that solar thermal replaces CO2 going into the atmosphere from heating buildings and water—-and that methane powered vehicles produce 35% less CO2 than vehicles using petroleum going the same distance—-the amount of CO2 savings going into the atmosphere would huge.

    We would provide a clean, secure and sustainable energy source we could use far into the future. We could do it with minimal disruption of our current way of doing things, and at very significant cost savings.

    No batteries required.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    @ Fred Linn,
    Thanks for the response. There are 2 key things you’ve left out:

    1) what are you proposing to use as a feedstock to create methane from? Landfill’s won’t create enough. For example, the highly successful Puente Hills Landfill Clean Fuels Facility, near Los Angeles only produces the equivalent of 1000 gallons of diesel fuel per day (http://www.lacsd.org/info/energyrecovery/alternativerenewablevehicle/puentehillscleanfuels.asp), while laudable, this won’t really go very far towards replacing the millions of gallons of gas and diesel, even the LA basin consumes per day.
    2) your discussion of solar thermal is great for home heating but it doesn’t address our transportation needs.
    I think that batteries will still be required.

    Getting off-topic here: Where do you find this cost-effective residential solar thermal? I’ve priced systems and the tanks, collectors, and controllers seem to be extremely expensive compared to the costs they would offset. Am I missing something?

  • Fred Linn

    ex EV1 driver:

    1) Where do the rules say we can only use one source? There are millions of oil wells. Landfills are only one source of methane. Methane can be made out of anything organic. Methane is a natural byproduct of anaerobic digestion by clostridia bacteria. The same bacteria found in the gut of ruminant animals such as cattle, sheep, goats and deer. and in wood eating insects such as termites. Composting produces methane. Sewage treatment produces methane. Biogas has been produced from farm waste for centuries in Asia. mainly for the rich compost fertilizer that is the end result—the methane(biogas or gober gas) is just an added benefit.

    2) Solar thermal collection can be as simple as an insulated box with glass on the side painted black on the inside. Heat from the sun is trapped inside by the glass, and then circulated to the inside of the house by air—-or taken off and stored in a tank by water. Solar thermal can even be incorporated into the design of a building—-large south facing windows allowing winter sun to fall on brick or masonry walls that store the heat, for instance. Even the ancient Anasazi Indians made use of solar heat by locating their cliff dwellings on south facing caves—–the sun would shine on the cliff dwellings in winter, but the sun moves to a more northerly position in the summer. This kept them warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. And it required no active effort on the part of the builders—-they just chose carefully where to build and what direction to align their buildings.

    ——–” 2) your discussion of solar thermal is great for home heating but it doesn’t address our transportation needs.”——–

    If we use bi-fuel engine vehicles that can use either liquid or gas fuel—-every cubic foot of methane that is not used to heat a building or hot water, is available to be used to power a vehicle.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Fred Linn,
    1) I never said we could only use 1 fuel. I was just pointing out that, while your logic is fine, there is a quantity mismatch. If all the garbage for a large part of Los Angeles only generates 1000 equivalent gallons of diesel fuel per day, you’re going to have to find a whole lot of other huge sources to come close to meeting the world’s demands. I know of a large dairy farm that collects its manure to generate methane which then goes into a generator. It barely provides enough for the lighting, milking machines, and the electric vehicle that they use for errands. He doesn’t have any left over to sell or even run his transport trucks. Its a good local-area solution but not a global one. I suspect that if you captured all of the methane from the agriculture, sewers, and garbage in the US, you’d still fall extremely short of meeting the demand.

    2) I understand the theory of solar thermal well. The implementation, however, is quite expensive today, either in terms of purchase price or labor to build-it-yourself. I also wish you luck in persuading builders to align their buildings for the sun instead of trying to get more buildings in less space.

    I like your ideas but encourage you to check the numbers and come up with an action plan to really make things happen.

  • veek

    Comments like wanting to “round up people at the point of a gun,” “just like the Germans in the concentration camps,” and “sending people out with hand skimmers” just because they disagree with one’s political viewpoint are good reminders that people with genocidal and unconscionable ideas are still with us today. Even comments like “all we need to do is vote Democratic” are both divisive and factually inaccurate (i.e. Ted Kennedy was one of the biggest and most effective opponents of wind energy in the US). Many of the above comments about things like “government mandates” and “we must demand ____” are pretty depressing to someone who had hoped America would not return to the polarization, intentional misunderstanding, self-righteousness, arrogance, and mutual hatred of the Vietnam War era. We seem to have begun returning to that sad era over the past couple of years. Too bad the environmental movement — potentially such a positive force — may be one forum for that to happen.

  • Fred Linn

    Biogas Is Renewable Energy’s Cinderella [Renewable Energy World]

    http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2010/03/why-is-biogas-renewable-energys-cinderella

    Biogas Flows Through Germany’s Grid Big Time [Renewable Energy World]

    http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2008/07/biogas-flows-through-germanys-grid-big-time-53075

    New Biogas Network Under Development

    German city of Lünen. Powered by agricultural waste, including cow dung and horse manure, 90,000 residents will benefit from the development, which will make the town the first in the world to build and manage a biogas network.

    http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea//news/article/2009/05/new-biogas-network-under-development

    Biogas [wikipedia]

    Note: it is easy to miss because the numbers are small, but energy transfer loss for natural gas fed into a grid is less than 2%-vs. electricity which is 5 to 8% transmission loss. More than 4 times as efficient as electricity. Multiply that increase in efficiency out over the quadrillions of kilowatts passing through the entire grid, and you get enough energy savings to power an entire state.

  • RandalH

    @Dave B

    This well was both permitted and drilled during 2009, a time when Democrats had the presidency and both chambers of congress. I fail to see how your vote changed anything.

  • Craig

    I spoke with my wallet – purchased the cleanest car in America, the Honda Civic GX powered by CNG. I’m all for batteries since electricity can be derived from many domestic energy sources, but it’s not here yet. If many folks in America that cry about pollution would act rather than cry, crude oil would not be so in demand.

  • Anonymous

    BP is at fault. They only spent money in 39 years on drilling technology. They didn’t update cleanup or spill prevention techniques.

  • Dwamor

    @Dave B
    wow. that comment was filled with facts and information. I’m sure your insight will be enough to convince millions.

    Why did Obama refuse help from other countries when they offered it a long time ago. I guess the spill wasn’t bad enough yet… Smart move by a republican.. oh wait, no..? oh he’s a democrat.

    Blanket statements are unintelligent.
    All men are pigs.
    All republicans hate fetuses.
    All republicans love taking baths in crude oil.
    All democrats are hippies.
    All hippies smoke pot.
    See I can do it too.

    “There is one other thing we can do about it. VOTE DEMOCRAT.”
    NOPE! Vote for the best man for the job whether he’s democrat or republican. Don’t be fooled by labels. Be Smart.

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