Life in a Barrel of Oil

by JOHN STANTON

The Grammy Award’s selectors overlooked the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) hit children’s recording titled Energy and Me by Bill B (Bill Brennan). With its accompanying dance video, API describes the project as one that “integrates music and dance with energy education” for the age range 4-15. The CD features classics like Energy Y Yo and We Can Save Energy. Energy and Me was manufactured by API partner Project Learning Tree, the environmental education program of the American Forest Foundation (AFF). A visit to AFF’s website (<>) reveals that it is funded primarily by energy, logging, paper and packaging corporations. Of the 151 listed as donators– API, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Tenneco Packaging among them–approximately 13 percent are not corporations and include groups such as the Mead Foundation and the National Hispanic Environmental Council.

Energy and Me is part of the oil and natural gas industry’s Energy and Society Education Program to enlighten K-8 educators and youngsters about fossil fuels. Any teacher or student can visit the excellent API website and, once there, be directed to the slick Energy & Society section which features colorful happy-go-lucky images of K-8 aged children and a slew of user-friendly interactive options, including quiz taking, for young and old alike. Children can enter contests and have their parents or guardians order Billy B’s CD and video, or education kits. Energy and Me received the third-place Parent’s Choice “Recommended” Award which means it has some redeeming value to the child listener or viewer. And guess who submitted the production to Parent’s Choice for review? API’s partner Project Learning Tree.

One of the most clever pitches in the energy education program is the “There’s a Lot of Life in a Barrel of OiI ” sell which maintains “It’s amazing how many things get their start from a barrel of oil. Everyday things like the gasoline you use to drive to the beach Comfy synthetic fabrics you wear year-round. Medicines to make you feel better. Fertilizer that helps your garden grow. Plus a bevy of fun toys. Discover how much life there is in a barrel of oil. You’ll discover how the oil and natural gas industry keeps America going strong.”

So now oil and natural gas companies are K-8 educators with a reach that extends to American kindergartners or any child anywhere with access to an Internet connection and a web browser. A whole generation of children will come to learn that it’s necessary to drill on wildlife refuges and “voluntarily” submit to greenhouse reductions rather than comply with international accords or domestic regulations. They will also learn that, according to API, there’s another 97 years before any climate change might take place, so why worry? Let’s suck up as much as we can now and let other generations handle the impending disaster. According to API, “The severity of a future problem is unclear. Also, if serious climate problems develop, they may not occur until the end of the century or later. Finally, the costs of reducing emissions-and therefore the impacts on the economy and consumers-vary greatly depending on when and how green house gases reductions are made.”

API’s educational website exudes comfort, tranquility, soft colors, and the feeling that, yes, thanks to America’s energy folks, they really do “Keep America Going Strong”. All’s well in their hands.

Dirty & Murderous Business

Those K-8 youngsters will never learn that the energy business is a filthy one in which US and European governments–and their militaries–must and will resort to any tactic in any country to get the oil and natural gas companies in a position to extract and deliver product. Nor will they learn how some oil and natural gas companies have engaged in ruthless and, allegedly, murderous actions against host country nationals. Moreover, they will not realize that they themselves, their parents, their communities, their economies, their governments, and their militaries are vile addicts hooked on the bubbling crude. Without oil and natural gas, economies would collapse and citizens would revolt. By the year 2030, both the US and Europe will need to import close to 70 percent of their oil and natural gas. The US already imports close to 15 million barrels of oil per day. All that to drive alone–unsmiling and unhappy but smelling clean–a $40,000 four-passenger vehicle to and from work each day.

Stability of supply is critical and the only way to get it is to take over the oil producing world. It really is that simple. And that is precisely why the US and Europe–the latter being appalled at the thought of US dominance of the world’s oil and natural gas supply–are so keen on taking out heads of state in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Venezuela (in other words, reduce risk investment), and are anxious to have countries like Crotia, Poland, Bulgaria and Slovenia in the NATO Pipeline alliance. The US has entered Colombia’s decades-old civil war against the FARC not because FARC has anything to do with communism or drug running, but because FARC operatives disrupt the flow of oil through Occidental’s pipelines. And it’s laughable to listen to militant Republicans and Christians–and their Democrat counterparts–moan on and on about China-as-threat, China-as-human-rights abuser when, in fact, every red-blooded American oilman and woman wants a piece of China’s energy market, particularly if they can get upstream equity in their projects.

The US Energy Division of the International Trade Mission announced recently that in October 2003, it’s running a trade show over in Kazakhstan, one of America’s newest and most trusted allies in the US War Machine. “Kazakhstan’s booming oil and gas sector presents numerous opportunities for U.S. companies that provide oil and gas equipment and services. International consortia operating major projects such as Tengiz, Karachaganak, and Kashagan expect to invest billions of dollars over the next few years. There are opportunities for U.S. companies in virtually every subsector associated with oil extraction, processing, and transportation…”

Never mind the fact that Kazakhstan has a brutal post-Soviet Union human rights record. Human Rights Watch reported on an incident typical in that country under President Nursultan Nazarbaev. ” In 2002, Kazakh government repression of independent media reached crisis proportions, as journalists were attacked and beaten, threatened with death, and jailed. Media outlets connected to [the President’s] political rivals, and journalists who attempted to expose official corruption, were particular targets of the crackdown. In May, the twenty-five-year-old daughter of independent journalist Lira Baiseitova disappeared the day after the journalist published a controversial piece in the newspaper SolDat (Let Me Speak) regarding personal Swiss bank accounts allegedly held by the Nazarbaev family. In June, police informed Baiseitova that her daughter, Leila, had been arrested for heroin possession, but did not grant the two a visit. Days later, Leila Baiseitova died in police custody; Lira Baiseitova received conflicting reports about the cause of death, including a police claim that her daughter had hanged herself in her cell. Lira Baiseitova had herself been the victim of physical attacks in 2000 and 2001.”

Not to be outdone by a puny government like Kazakhstan, ExxonMobil employs close to 5,500 Indonesian security and paramilitary forces to protect its gas field in Aceh. Each is paid $294 per month for protecting ExxonMobil’s operations there. In 2002, 2,700 people reportedly lost their lives at the hands of ExxonMobil’s security employees. It is accused of complicity in the murder and sexual molestation of locals by its paid security forces, along with the unjust imprisonment of Acehnese Democratic Resistance Front leader Kautsar who was released from prison late in 2002.

Shell Oil has played that game too. It was accused of fomenting a killing spree in the early 1990’s in Ogoni, Nigeria according to Human Rights Watch. The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), led by Ken Saro-Wiwa, mobilized thousands of Ogonis, an ethnic group of 500,000 people occupying a portion of the oil producing region, to protest the policies of the federal government in relation to the oil wealth, and at the human rights violations of Shell Oil–to include importing weapons for its paid security forces. In 1993, Shell was forced to close its production in Ogoni following mass protests though active pipelines still cross the region. MOSOP’s protests provoked a violent and repressive response from the federal government, for which any threat to oil production is a threat to the entire existing political system.

Many Ogonis were detained or beaten by the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force, a military body specifically created to suppress the protests organized by MOSOP, and hundreds were summarily executed over a period of several years. In 1994, Ken Saro-Wiwa and several others were arrested in connection with the murder of four traditional leaders in Ogoni. On November 10, 1995, Saro-Wiwa and eight other MOSOP activists were hanged by the military government for those murders, after a trial before a tribunal which blatantly violated international standards of due process and produced no credible evidence that he or the others were involved in the killings for which they were convicted.

Stability Operations

The Interstate Oil and Gas Transport to Europe (INOGATE) provides an illuminating Perspectives Map. The Perspectives Map matched with current and projected US and European military movements puts an interesting light on the destruction of the former Yugoslavia, the entry into NATO of some unlikely members, the pounding of oil drums from Bush and Blair, and the change in the Pentagon’s view of peacekeeping. Like varicose veins that mar the skin, bright red and dark green lines indicating pipelines and energy flows are drawn over the whole of Europe, Scandinavia, Central Asia, Northern Africa, the Middle East and Persian Gulf–including Israel and Cyprus. New NATO entrants Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have key ports for shipping energy products. The Constanza-Omisalj oil pipeline project involving Romania, Yugoslavia and Croatia seems a nice, if coincidental, benefit of US and NATO action back under the Clinton Administration.

Twenty-one countries have signed the INOGATE Umbrella Agreement which simply means that they will do whatever it takes to minimize risk to investors. What better way to do that than have the US or NATO forces in-country (and buy their weapons and products), or have a regime that brutally suppresses dissent and ensures that the investor’s risk is minimal. And after a look at the Perspectives Map, it’s clear why Bush appointees in the Pentagon wiped-out the term “Peacekeeping Operations” and opted for “Stability Operations”. A nice tip-of-the-hat to the oil, natural gas and banking and investment communities.

Now, API members no longer need to hire host nation security forces because they now have in their employ the US Armed Services to handle pesky locals who complain about low wages, poor living conditions, hunger, destruction of their environment, and their own governments who–bought by the US and Europeans– sell off the wealth of their nations at ridiculously low prices. Does that really make America stronger?

Oh, well, no matter. Just get your copy of Billy B’s Energy and Me from your child, stick it in your vehicle’s CD player, and merrily sing-along as you make your way alone to and from work. And remember, there’s lots of life and a lot of fun in a barrel of oil.

JOHN STANTON is a Virginia based writer specializing in national security matters. He can be reached at cioran123@yahoo.com

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