Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Oil Shell Game

Lisa Margonelli's book, Oil on the Brain: Adventures from the Pump to the Pipeline, actually seems like an interesting read, but the interview with her on Weekend Edition today was frustrating because of two issues that should have been discussed but weren't: the massive profits of oil companies and the complicity of the oil companies in Nigerian misery, injustice and oil violence.
During the interview, Margonelli is talking about gas prices. She says, "Gas stations make very little profit...every aspect has been optimized to get the gas here as cheaply as possible." That's interesting enough, but given the mind-boggling profits of the big oil companies I wanted Simon to at least ask, "So if the gas stations aren't making the big profits, and oil policy in the US is geared toward low gasoline prices--how do the companies make such a killing?

The more maddening part of the interview begins when Simon says, "Some of the most arresting sections in the book are about the oil industry in Nigeria. We might assume that the oil business is just rough and dirty and hard work for anybody working into it; it becomes—it’s something else, beyond that even, in Nigeria. It’s criminal; it’s rough in the sense it’s violent...."

This perked my ears up. I remember back in 1998 hearing about how Texaco-Chevron brought in the Nigerian military to attack and kill protesting oil workers. But the discussion was not about to look at the complicity of the oil companies - Margonelli instead notes, "…but what happens in Nigeria is that it’s part of a political system, involves gangs of young men who are mostly unemployed, who remove oil from the pipelines, and sell it, and it’s quite violent, quite dangerous, and it has a big effect on our lives…it effect the price here...." Well yes, it's part of a political system, but one that (as this Human Rights Watch report reveals) the multinational oil companies are largely responsible for.

Of course, it's no surprise that none of this history is brought up, since it has been ignored by NPR news throughout the years. How can Scott Simon bring up something that in the narrow world of NPR news, doesn't even exist?

If you are interested in reading more about the Nigerian tragedy here are a few more resources:
African Focus Nigeria Report, EarthRights on Chevron and Shell, Amnesty's Report on Nigeria Oil Injustic, and finally the documentary Drilling and Killing.

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