Take steps to protect the environment: counter the effects of big oil and gas companies


Photo by U.S. Government

Clouds of smoke billow up from controlled burns taking place in the Gulf of Mexico May 19, 2010.

By Savannah Epperson, Reporter

Imagine, a child suddenly falls ill. There is no known cause, but they complain of headaches and blurred vision. Then, the neighbor’s child sickens, complaining of similar symptoms. Suddenly, a baby is born at the local hospital with severe birth defects – unlikely to live to their first year. Such consequences could be the results of radiation poisoning due to oil spills and using people’s homes as dumping grounds for the waste. This is how it has been for many families in and out of the U.S. ever since big oil grew into a large industry like it is today. 

The beginning of what many people know as “big oil” began when the Rockefellers started Standard Oil in 1865. However, the process of distilling oils began years before that. James Young, a Scottish chemist distilled both a light thin oil for lamps and a thicker oil for lubrication. Young later, Young experimented further with coal and was able to distill petroleum and patented paraffin. That was just the beginning of the oil industry. 

After Standard Oil was dissolved in 1911, it became Exxon and stepped into the limelight with a monopoly on the American oil business. The name has been in the news for one of their many oil spills, including the 1991 incident near the Santa Clara River, when 74,000 gallons of oil made its way into the surrounding area. That spill arrived on the heels of the 1989 disaster known as the Exxon Valdez oil spill, involving 11 million gallons of oil. Thirty years later, pockets of oil can still be found in Alaska.

Offshore oil and gas production contributes to America’s Energy Future. (Photo by U.S. Government)

“The big oil and gas industry make up 68% of America’s primary energy,” said Dr. Paulina Jaramillo Professor of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Melon University. 

Many of the conflicts in the Middle East are in part due to America’s continued need for oil. This has led to the forming of OPEC or the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Nations involved in this organization include Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.

Industrial chemistry’s use of petroleum amounts for 14% of all greenhouse gas emissions,” wrote Robert F. Service in an article for Science magazine.

Yet the problems created by big oil are not relegated to foreign nations.

“Think about how much oil, and electricity that you’re burning through. Be aware of how much gas you’re using. Buy products that are environmentally friendly,” said Suzanne Burchaki, science teacher and sponsor for Club Green at WEGO, who believes the average person can help with the growing climate crisis that surrounds the big oil and gas industry.

Oil and gas companies have always and will continue to profit off the suffering of others. While researching Kerr McGee, many sources referenced the fact that Occidental Petroleum, now Oxy, the company that purchased Anadarko Petroleum (the new owner of Kerr) dealt with a lawsuit in 2013 in which Native tribes of Peru sued Occidental for continually dumping waste in their villages for generations.

Not only that, but Kerr McGee affected 22 other states with different radiation and waste materials.

Staff working on the solar panel array at Natural Bridges National Park in Utah. (Photo by U.S. Goverment)

Science is making strides in environmentally safe energy sources. The oil companies need to take a step back, they need to invest in renewable energy or get out of the way of those that do. But locals also need to work to protect the environment.

“Get involved, vote at a local, state and national level, push for the government to pass laws that bolster infrastructure and reduce unsustainable energy sources,” said Jaramillo. 

So yes, get involved: actually watch the news and care about politics. There is no way to change the world without people standing up and saying enough is enough. Fight for the world that you want to live in, do not just sit around and wait for everyone else to do something. Run for local, state and national positions, so you can have influence over the policies that allow oil and gas companies to continue to bulldoze their way through the world. Vote for the people who are going to protect the environment.