The Glottal Stop

The Curse of Black Gold: Lest we should forget

Posted in News, Politics by admin on June 7, 2010

The Curse of Black Gold: Lest we should forget
C. Bauby

Workers clean up oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the beach at Grand Isle, La. Saturday, June 5, 2010. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

In 1859 a retired railway worker named Colonel Edwin Drake developed the idea that oil could be extracted from the ground using wells. At Titusville, Pennsylvania, he bored a hole to a depth of 69 feet and got the world’s first ‘gusher’. It was quickly realised that petroleum in volume could be used not just for medical reasons (for example, it was originally used in medicines for the treatment of different ailments), but could be refined into lucrative products like paraffin and kerosene.
After that discovery, Western Pennsylvania boomed inordinately. In three months the ‘Pithole city’ (as John Mcphee, author of ‘suspect terrain’, so aptly named it) went from a population of 0 to 15,000. For a while Pennsylvania had a virtual monopoly on one of the world’s most valuable resources, oil, and it was dominant also in the production of coal. Many people became colossally rich, Pennsylvania prospered, and there began the developed world’s demand for oil. A demand that grew, and grew and grew. But it soon became clear, that satisfying this demand brought its dangers, disasters and uncertainties.

In 1846, at Carbondale, almost 50 acres of mine shafts collapsed simultaneously, claiming the lives of hundreds of people. Between 1870 and the outbreak of the First World War 50,000 people died in American mines.

On September 23, 2001 at the Jim Walter coal mine 40 miles south of Birmingham, Alabama, USA, a release of Methene gas caused by a cave in sparked two major explosions killed thirteen miners.

In 2008 280,000 gallons of oil were spilled into the Mississippi river after a tanker collided with a barge in New Orleans, Louisiana.

On the 2nd of January, 2006, an explosion at the Sago Mine in Sage, West Virginia, killed all but one of the 13 miners who had been trapped by the explosion. A number of causes were given, but most notably were the inadequacies in the ventilation system.

Underground explosion at Upper Big Branch, about 30 miles (50km) south of Charleston, led to the deaths of Twenty-five miners.

Other mining disasters include; 1989 – 10 killed in explosion at Wheatcroft, Kentucky; 1984 – 27 killed in fire at Orangeville, Utah; 1970 – 38 killed in explosion at Hyden, Kentucky; 1968 – 78 killed in explosion at Farmington, West Virginia. And there is an extensive list of oil disaster from around the world (

And now, as no conscious being could have failed to notice, we are witnessing one of the greatest environmental disasters ever seen in the USA. Oil is leaking into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day, leading to the destruction of wildlife, coastline, and fragile eco-systems.

There is a noticeable story here. It is a tale of the darker side of corporate vantures that we should all be familiar with (if at least, aware of). Corporations exploit labour and environment, Corporations get rich, CEOs get richer, health and safety is cornered and when things go wrong those with the least control in the company are the ones to fall victim, their families also.

But why does America (along with the rest of the oil-consuming world) not learn from its mistakes and take a look at events from the past? After all, they need not look that far back into their rich history. The answer is that this insatiable demand for fuel, and a greed that persistent throughout our consumer-society, only encourages consumers, governments, and profit-making corporations to conveniently forget mistakes made in the past.

Let’s hope that in the future we can learn from this terrible disaster. Though, sadly, I don’t think we will.

Further reading;

Gulf of Mexico oil leak ‘worst US environment disaster’ – BBC News
Gulf of Mexico oil spill creates environmental and political dilemmas – The Washington Post
Gulf of Mexico oil spill: timeline –
Official Accident Response Site


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