Book Review: Black Tide

By Susan Lamont
Sonoma County Peace Press, December 2011/January 2012

“You absolutely cannot trust government and industry when they are out of your sight.”
Stan Jones, Director, Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council

The Peace & Justice Center recently brought author/activist Antonia Juhasz to speak in Sonoma County. She was dismayed that I had focused the publicity around her book, rather than around her larger work about the oil industry. She said, “I’ve found that no one is interested in the BP disaster anymore.”

I’ve been bringing Antonia to Sonoma County for close to a decade because she is a brilliant thinker and a gutsy activist. She uses most of the tactics available to us: standing out there with signs, buying stock in Chevron so she can be at shareholder meetings, writing, speaking, and painting the big picture by having a grasp of all the small brushstrokes.

I know that most people are wrapped up in the Occupy Movement and rightly so. But we need to make space in our minds and hearts for the conditions which made this movement necessary. How best to explain it, to those who “just don’t get it” yet, than by examples? Black Tide lays it all out there. The wrecked economy, the wars, the devastated environment have a common denominator: corporations/the rich working hand in glove with the government to leave the rest of us out. It’s the destruction of any semblance of democracy.

Antonia brings together the stories of hundreds of people – those who worked on the platform, fishermen and women, families of those who died, government regulators, industry, government and independent scientists, elected officials, the gamut. And if you think things have changed much since Katrina, think again.

The oil industry is the largest and most profitable industry in history. It controls governments. From day one, BP and the Obama administration worked to make sure you and I did not know what was happening. Despite all of Obama’s public statements, BP was put in charge of handling this crisis. It was allowed to take additional risks with the environment and residents of the Gulf and it was allowed to do everything it could to reduce its liability.

Oil companies are fined based upon how much oil is spilled. BP was allowed to send the highly toxic dispersant Corexit down to the base of the well to disperse the oil before it could be measured. Such actions also make it impossible to recover the oil. Less than 20% of the 210 million gallons of oil were recovered. Twenty-two years after the Exxon Valdez tragedy, 27,000 gallons of oil remain in the waters of Prince William Sound and the economy and ecology of the area have not recovered. This is penny ante compared to what waits at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico (though the Obama administration claims it is gone).

In June of 2008, Barack Obama declared he would work to free this country from “the tyranny of oil” He firmly supported the 1969 moratorium on granting new offshore oil drilling leases (from which the Gulf of Mexico was exempt). By August, he supported G.W. Bush’s lifting of the moratorium. Antonia explains it as his first “compromise” in a never ending string of compromises. The Democrats in Congress vowed to restore the moratorium. In the end, they supported their candidate and made no further efforts in that direction. Antonia lays out the facts and figures to reveal the unprecedented influence of oil money on our elected representatives – representatives who represent the oil industry, instead of the people.

At the time of the tragedy, John Hocevar, the Oceans Campaigns director of Greenpeace, said, “The whole world is paying attention now. And the question is, what can you make out of that? Is there something positive that can come out of it?” But public attention is easily diverted. Most telling is that there has been no substantive change in the oil industry since the Macondo well broke. Not a single piece of legislation written to address the Gulf oil disaster introduced in the Democratic–controlled 111th Congress was passed. Antonia wrote, “the ultimate failure is that the nation may emerge from the tragedy without meaningful policy changes to ensure that such an event never happens again….If an industry cannot operate within the bounds of basic human rights and ecological survivability, its risks and costs are too great. Offshore oil drilling is an operation we can live without, and one which far too many cannot live with….We must demand a ‘separation of oil and state.’”

This is the story of the buying of our government with money from the most influential industry on earth. Big Oil is now bigger and more profitable than it was in 2010. There are a lot of “never forgets” on our plate, but it is these stories (of which oil’s influence is just one) that must be explained as many times as necessary by the Occupy Movement (aka you and me).

Sonoma County Peace Press