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Monday, January 21 , 2019, 5:14 pm | Fair 62º


Letter to the Editor: Resisting the Corrupt Oil/Gas Industry

Transparency International has published a “Corruption Index” based on 13 surveys globally. It has found that the oil and gas industry and mining are the conglomerates that account for most global corruption. The evaluations were performed by business leaders in each country.

At No. 22 out of 178 countries, the U.S. oil/gas industries were rated below — more corrupt than — virtually every European country, as well as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It even rated a little below Hong Kong, Chile and Qatar.

How does this corruption manifest itself?

In bribes to public officials for drilling access to coveted areas or for a government entity's favorable laws or regulations; in the purposeful neglect of known safety measures for the sake of enhancing the corporate pocketbook, as recently spelled out by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier when he found BP guilty of “gross negligence,” “willful misconduct” and found Halliburton Energy Services and Transocean Ltd. guilty of “negligence” in their corrupt avoidance of known safety precautions that resulted in the infamous Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“They chose profits over safety,” Judge Barbier said, with “conscious disregard of known risks.”

In a Chevron Kern County steam injection well, the company failed to warn its employees of relevant dangers. Construction supervisor Robert David Taylor was sucked underground and boiled to death. His body was recovered 17 hours later. The company was fined $350.

In our own backyard, Greka Oil & Gas Inc., a company that state officials have called California's worst inland oil polluter, spilled, between 1999 and 2008, more than a half-million gallons of oil and contaminated water in our community, and in 2011 settled with Santa Barbara County for $2 million in fines.

I am not alone in the conviction that oil/gas company corruption is evident in the buying of officials' actions through campaign contributions.

When, in Theodore Roosevelt's second term, he had pushed through legislation to curtail the excesses of various trusts such as railroads and coal, whom he called “malefactors of great wealth,” one of them complained, ”We bought the son-of-a-bitch but he wouldn't stay bought!”

California Gov. Jerry Brown is not giving big oil any such trouble. When the Carson City Council voted for a moratorium on new oil drilling in its community, Occidental Petroleum, which had contributed $500,000 to Brown's Proposition 30 campaign, was upset and asked the governor to step in. He made a personal call to the city's mayor, who changed his council vote resulting in a tie, thus negating the moratorium. Logic prevailed? I use another word.

In California, the Western States Petroleum Association donated $2,308,789.95 in the first half of 2013 to lobby legislators and other state officials, an average of $427,000 for each state legislator. WSPA members: BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillip, ExxonMobil, Navajo Refining Company, Noble Energy Company, Occidental Oil and Gas Corporation, Shell Oil Products US, Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company, U.S. Oil & Refining Company and Venoco Inc.

So now oil companies' big money has come to Santa Barbara, outspending environmental groups 10-to-1 to make sure fracking wells, acidizing and steam-injection technologies will become our daily drinking, breathing and feeding threats. (I name and document these threats in the posts “Measure P – A Non-Industry View” Parts 1 and 2.)

Recently local mysterious telephone surveys representing ??? - “We can't say” - ask what your view is on Measure P. If you say you support it you are not contacted again. If you give a more satisfactory answer, a later call comes offering you more than $100 to attend a “focus group” that will discuss “a ballot measure.”

So now the question stands before the house: Can we in Santa Barbara County be bought and stay bought?

If fracking is permitted here, and from a nearby well your child comes “home from school every day with terrible headaches” *; or begins having “nosebleeds” ** or “seizures” **; if after a well is established on your property your wife and mother-in-law “lose [their] sense of smell and taste” **; and if the Center of Disease Control tells you not to drink from your water supply and, should you bathe or wash dishes in it, be sure to “open the windows so your home doesn't explode from the methane” ** — if any of these or like events are visited on you and your family, you can be sure that Santa Barbara's fire or police departments will not be there to save you. Their concentration will long since have been on the new equipment, upgraded facilities and/or guaranteed pensions they hope increased tax revenues would bring them.

There is no dispute among reputable people about where the vast bulk of money is being spent in this controversy and where it comes from.

Oil companies have the money. You and I have one strength: our vote.

If you want to use that vote to promote energy production that does not contribute to the increasing danger of climate change; if you want to avoid the repeatedly-documented possibilities of poisonous water and air contamination through failures in well casings due to faulty construction and/or earthquakes; if you want to avoid the excessive use of water when we face decades of drought; please vote yes on Proposition P on Nov. 4.

* http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XH1W9HXne7I (Rodgrigo Romo speaking in Spanish)

** http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_b8s1JkkvxI (Wyoming rancher John Fenton)

William Smithers
Santa Barbara

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