Drawing the Horizon line: Public apathy and the oiligarchy

Despite the recently – or temporarily – ended Gulf of Mexico oil spill debacle, governments, oil companies and the public are not going to get serious about shifting away from oil or really clamping down on the industry any time soon.

That was the consensus after a well-fuelled discussion last night at the Frontline Club on the Politics of Oil.  On the panel was Dr. Simon Boxall, a lecturer in oceanography at the University of Southampton who has been involved in monitoring the impact of a number of oil spills, as well as Dr Richard Pike, the chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry  who’s career spanned almost 25-year at BP.  Also on the panel were Ben Amunwa, a campaigner with PLATFORM; a campaign group that focuses on the oil and gas industry, as well as Chris Skrewbowski, the founding director of Peak Oil consulting, a consulting editor of Petroleum Review.  Chris began his career as a long-term planner for BP.  The panel was chaired by John Vidal, The Guardian’s environment editor.

If you couldn’t be with us for this event, you can watch the whole thing here: Oil.

But for as much press coverage as BP’s gushing well has received over the last few months, Simon Boxall stated that the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe will not have a lasting effect on the public conscious.

 In the sense that 13 people have died, it’s a catastrophe.  In terms of the environmental impact, we have to put it in perspective. In a year, the memory will probably be very faint.

At least, Ben Amunwa said, that faint memory is be better than the utter ingorance most have of the incessant oil spills that devastate the Niger Delta.  The way in which BP, the media, and the US government have scrutinised and publicised the Deepwater Horizon spill, Amunwa says; belies the industry’s and indeed the west’s double standards. 

There are definitely elements of shocking double standards in the sheer lack of response in Nigeria [to oil spills] versus the titanic response in America. Nigeria is the oil industry with it’s gloves off. Since the shocking human rights abuses in the Niger Delta, we’ve seen the birth of corporate social responsibility.  But most of us are pretty skeptical about that.

I caught up with Ben after the discussion to hear what he had to say about the likelihood of these double standards changing any time soon.  Listen to our chat here.

 Richard Pike said that the reason this shift will take such a long time is due to the fact that the oil industry knows that the public hasn’t made any serious movements away from oil as there is a rapidly increasing public demand for energy, 80% of which is satisfied by fossil fuels. 


Chris Skrewbowski, however, takes another view.  He says that industry regulators across the world will jump on the band wagon in order to appear ‘more Catholic than the Pope’ in their scrutiny of drilling projects.  Hear more on this from our chat after the panel right here.

But regardless of how well the industry is regulated, counters Simon Boxall, accidents such as the Deepwater Horizon will happen regardless of the checks and balances in place. 


"Even if you’ve got all these fail safes in place, you’ll never prevent all of these accidents.  Accidents happen.  It’s human nature.  It’s nature itself," he said.

At the end of the day, he added, the public must change its attitude and not ‘drive up the motorway to protest how much petrol costs’.  But until the public can be compelled to change its actions – hit firmly in either its pocket, mind or heart – and go cold turkey on its addiction to oil, we can and should expect further fossil-fuelled catastrophes.