To BP or not to BP? That is the question.

June 24, 2010

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Let’s play make believe.

Imagine for a minute that you are a gas station owner — let’s just say that you’re located in a town north of Boston and that you had owned and run a Getty station for almost twenty years when a corporate deal that didn’t seem like a big deal at the time converted your Getty station to a BP station. It’s just a name, right? No one will care, you told yourself.

Just for the hell of it, let’s say your name is Jim Daaboul. And let’s say that this week is when the change-over to BP is occurring — a switch that’s been in the works for almost two years –at your gas station. What do you think you would be feeling as the BP signs were hoisted over your gas station amidst the coverage of BP’s two-month old, and ongoing, disaster in the Gulf of Mexico?

I’m guessing you’d be thinking something along the lines of this: “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuccccccccccccccccccccckkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk.”

Okay, now stop the pretending — what are you, five years old!? No need to pretend, anyway — Jim Daaboul is a real person! He owns a gas station in my town; you can read the local paper’s story here. Prior to reading his story I had been a de facto participant in the BP boycott. (It was de facto in that I never really patronized BP to begin with. So, Take that, BP! I am going to continue to not go to your gas station! Powerful stuff.)

The other reason I haven’t been fully on board with the boycott is that if I am voting against BP, then I feel like I am voting for whichever company I go to instead. So, please tell me, which oil company is the Good Guy? Have you done all your research and do you feel confident with your vote?

And, lastly, without removing any of the enormous and deserved blame on BP, I would also like to state the obvious, which is that oil companies exist because we as a nation use a royal ass-load of oil. So, it’s nice that we have a Bad Guy now — and they are definitely the Bad Guy! — but let’s just recognize that it’s a complicated situation. ‘Lotta ins, ‘lotta outs.

Meanwhile, north of Boston, there’s this guy, Jim. In the article Jim says,”I’m just a small guy. Customers need to look at the service, not the sign.” He also points out that BP supplies oil to other big-name companies, too. So you could be patronizing a Mobil station and filling your tank with BP fuel.

So what’s a girl like me, who likes to do the right thing, to do? This gas station is about 1/2 mile from my house. I drove by yesterday, the day this story was published, and I looked over to see a man (I’m guessing it was Jim) pumping gas; oddly, he looked up and we made and held eye contact as I drove by. It didn’t feel accidental. It felt like he was standing out there, at his shiny new BP station, and purposely looking at the drivers of passing cars, just waiting for someone to yell something obscene or to tell him that he should be ashamed.

I didn’t honk my horn or yell, “BP kills birds and ruins lives!” (Both of which is true.) But I also didn’t yell, “I support you, Jim!” And I didn’t stop to get gas, either. I looked away.


(Postscript, added March 2012: I recently received an angry email from someone who was upset that I would “lampoon” the situation and “rip on someone who is easy prey.” So, in case there are others who also had this wild misreading of what I had written, I would like to state clearly that the owners of the BP station in Amesbury, MA, seem like lovely and hardworking individuals and I never meant to suggest otherwise. This essay was about the attempt to separate the enormous and obvious wrongdoing of BP, the corporation, from one small businessman who was working under a giant BP logo. It was about me personally working through that, and my initial ambivalence. In the end, not only did I decide to patronize the station on a regular basis, including car inspections, but I also convinced more than one friend to stop “boycotting BP,” when they were really boycotting one hardworking individual who had a case of bad timing. Personally, I thought my ambivalence came through pretty clearly in the original post — and I thought I did a decent job of illustrating the affect of the situation on someone in my own town — but after getting totally railed on I figured I’d post a clarification. The End.)

  • jeffreytill

    Bravo! I haven't done the moral calculus on how culpable all of us oil consumers are, but it has been top of mind.

    I'm doing a paper right now for work on risk management which is about the lucky fools and dirty scoundrels in business. The other oil companies are likely no better prepared to deal with a similar explosion, but were lucky enough not to have it happen on their watch.

    And there are no shortage of villains in the oil industry. Their cahoots with the MIC and congress has also aided in a million dead arabs and 5K dead Americans, which saddens me infinitely more than dirty birds and spoiled shrimp (my priorities are fucked up, I know)

    Thanks for the sober article.

    If you went and held hands at Salisbury beach last weekend, though,…

  • lcarrigg

    Thanks, Jeff. Without being too righteous I do think we all need to remember that the best boycott of Big Oil — actually, the only effective boycott at all — is to use less of it.

  • Paulie Want a Cracker

    Paulie Roberts is drumming up support for a local chapter (belmont/boston) of Paulie's pro-humanitarian efforts speak volumes. Please support Paulie in his efforts.
    Kind regards,
    Vassar Alumn

  • Mitch

    When you do your research and determine who the “good oil guy” is, please tell me so I can get gas with a clear conscience :)

  • Lcarrigg

    Yeah, I will get back to you when I find both the good oil guys and the honest politicians.

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