Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Oil Crises: A Case Of "Disaster Capitalism" At Work

On September 4, 2007 Canadian activist and author Naomi Klein celebrated the publication of her latest book entitled The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Since that time, the book has become a best seller and has been translated into at least twenty different languages.

Ms. Klein’s main premise, which she advances through her book, is that government and multi-national corporations have teamed up in order to exploit the public at times during which it is feeling shocked due to some disaster or crises. It is at these times that the public is most vulnerable and most willing to accept unpopular ideas. In a July interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, Klein put it this way:

“There is a clear political strategy, and there has been for several decades, to exploit these moments when people are desperate for quick-fix solutions and are more inclined to believe in a kind of magical cure to push through very unpopular policies that don’t actually solve the crises at hand – that don’t actually help people, but are incredibly profitable for multi-national corporations…”

Perhaps there is no better example of disaster capitalism at work than the current oil crises now being experienced in the United States. Recent gasoline prices have been at or around $4.00 per gallon in many parts of the country, while some areas have experienced prices that are much higher. National Public Radio (NPR) the other day, ran a news segment on the looming home-heating oil crises in New England, which is causing great concern among the both the public and area politicians due to the fact that home-heating oil prices are expected to double as demand grows during the winter months. It is feared that many will not be able to afford the price of heating their homes this winter.

Clearly, vast portions of the American public have legitimate concerns over the cost of oil; this, among a public that until recently was opposed to further offshore drilling. It is here that the Bush Administration and their oil-producing cronies enter the picture.

In recent weeks, the American public has been bombarded with pro-drilling propaganda that has shown itself, both through paid advertising by the oil cartels and through the admonitions of politicians and right-wing radio talk-show hosts. These claim that we must declare independence from the OPEC nations and their oil. The proposed solution comes by way of exploring for and drilling for oil off the coast of Florida. They tell us that we can drive the price of oil down if only we would turn over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to the multi-national oil cartels. Recently, President Bush lifted the executive ban on offshore drilling, but Congress must also act before more exploration and drilling can be allowed. It is not hard to imagine then, that pressure is building and that many Democrats, including Barak Obama, are now beginning to compromise on offshore drilling. The public is in shock and believes that a crisis is at hand. It is now ready to forfeit its objections to offshore and ANWR drilling in order to obtain relief.

What the Bush Administration, the oil cartels and their fellow talking heads have failed to mention however, is that the oil companies are already sitting on reserves that they are currently allowed to explore and develop. Naomi Klein brought out their likely true intention in that Democracy Now interview by pointing out that it is oil company strategy to stockpile leases in order to control the price of oil. As long as the companies are sitting on vast reserves, which they may not even be using, they can control prices and therefore, continue reaping record profits as has Exxon/Mobil with its most recent $11.5 million quarterly profit.

In the east and northeast central sections of Alberta, Canada lies a vast region whose terrain, below the surface, is composed of bituminous sands. This area is referred to by most as the Alberta Tar Sands. Within these sands is a substance called bitumen, otherwise known as heavy oil. This oil is contained inside of a shale-type rock; and, it must be extracted from that rock through a process that is extremely toxic and devastating to the area environment.

Although some oil production has been going on in these tar sands since the 1960’s, it was the United State’s invasion of Iraq and the consequent jump in oil prices that spurred major production efforts in Alberta. Since 2003, those oil production efforts in Alberta have now put Canada on the international list of environmentally renegade nations. Here’s why:

Before any mining of bitumen begins, large segments of pristine virgin forest are clear-cut away. Once the mining and extraction process get under way, both a cooking and steaming process are used in order to extract this heavy oil from the bitumen rock. The amount of water currently being used for this steaming process amounts to roughly double that used by the entire city of Calgary, Alberta’s capital. According to the 2007 civic census, Calgary has a population of 1,019,942. Further, at least 90 percent of the water used for extraction at the Alberta Tar Sands ends up in huge tailing ponds. Some of these ponds span some 50 square kilometers and are so large that they can be seen from space. Additionally, they are so toxic that ducks and other water-foul that inadvertently land in them face a certain death. Propane cannons are used to keep the ducks away. Because of the burning process used in oil extraction here, Canada has now been added to the list of major contributors of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Former workers at the tar sands and area residents have been known to relate the odors coming from these processing facilities to that of asphalt production. The pollution continues 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

In addition to the direct pollution and environmental desecration caused by the tar sands operations, the actual extraction process is extremely inefficient. It has been reported that three barrels of oil are required in order to produce one barrel from these Canadian facilities. Still, and contrary to what most Americans believe, due to mining and processing at the Alberta Tar Sands, Canada has become the largest exporter of oil to the United States with it now contributing some 20 percent of all U.S. imports. Further, it is believe that these tar sands hold an amount of oil equal to the reserves found in Saudi Arabia.

When the “Extortionist and Chief,” as Naomi Klein calls President Bush in her July, 2008 article found in The Nation magazine entitled Disaster Capitalism: State of Extortion, says that we need secure and domestically-produced oil, he neither mentions the millions of barrels of oil, protected under the provisions of NAFTA, that enters the United States daily from our next-door neighbor, nor does he mention that this recent infusion of Canadian oil has done nothing to lower the price of gasoline. When the talking heads use fear tactics to convince the American people that we must allow oil drilling in environmentally-sensitive areas such as ANWR, and that such operations will not harm the environment, they are not mentioning the abject dissatisfaction of the Canadian people over the destruction of Alberta’s formerly pristine environment in order to feed the American addiction to oil.

On the contrary, these practitioners of disaster capitalism will continue deceiving and frightening the American people into forfeiting the things they have long held dear, such as the protection of environmentally-sensitive areas, for a lie. They will do it shamelessly because, by taking advantage of the people in times of shock and crises, they can reap huge and criminally irresponsible profits unto themselves.

This is how it works folks! Sadly, and with the help of a complicit media, the majority of Americans fall for it time and time again.

For further reference see:

Disaster Capitalism: State of Extortion – by Naomi Klein

Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project On Earth

Questions and Answers About the Alberta Tar Sands

Greenpeace Gallery: Stop the Tar Sands

The Shock Doctrine

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