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Most believe boycott isn’t productive

With some people still boycotting Exxon due to the Valdez oil spill in Alaska 21 years ago, certainly there is talk about boycotting BP because of the Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout. But a BP boycott seems to have little support on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“We have received e-mails from organizations other than Sierra Club calling for a boycott,” said Steve Shepard, chair of the Coast Sierra Club group. “I sent out the material anyway, but most of our people agreed it was silly to do it. Most people think they might as well continue BP’s cash flow so they can pay the claims.”

Shepard, who has been boycotting Exxon ever since the Valdez spill, said BP is paying out claims. And with the loss of work and environmental damage expected to last for years, Coast residents want BP to stay profitable enough to pay for the damage.

“Number two, it is independent operators of service stations who are going to pay the price,” Shepard said. “It won’t make that much difference if we boycott BP. BP will sell gas. It just won’t do it under the BP name. I have a sour taste in my mouth when I see a BP station now, but I am not trying to get people to boycott BP. There is not much point to it.”

Shepard, who lives in Ocean Springs, said gas companies share territory. So instead of shipping gas all across the country, local stations might instead be getting gas from the closest refinery—in this case the Chevron Pascagoula refinery.

“Sometimes they will share the same refineries,” he said. “That has always been a fact.”

Shepard finds it ironic that prior to the spill, he went out of his way to buy BP gas after learning in 2004 that BP and Shell were the only oil companies who gave campaign contributions to Democrats. All the other oil companies gave only to Republicans. BP was also viewed favorably for its “Beyond Petroleum” programs to develop alternative energy such as solar. 

Make no mistake, though. Shepard is very angry at BP now.

“They were absolutely reckless in the Gulf of Mexico,” he said. “They were more reckless than the other oil companies. I am also mad at them for their oil release on Alaska pipeline. We’ve got to get past oil, period. Whether we pick on BP of not becomes a mute point.”

Ellis Anderson, of Bay St. Louis, whose Hurricane Katrina memoir “Coastwatch: Under Surge, Under Siege,” was published recently, is with the non-boycott crowd.

“If I were to boycott BP, which brand would I buy?” Anderson asks. “Is there an oil company that is guiltless?  In fact, is there one among us who is guiltless? If we buy gas from anyone, we’re part of the problem.  If we have shingles on our roofs, we need to accept responsibility.  If we heat with oil, we’re supporting a dirty industry.  If we’re purists who bicycle everywhere and don’t own a car, we’re still in collusion — the tires are petroleum products, as well as the asphalt roads we travel. “

Anderson’s view is that a boycott seems pointless and a waste of valuable energy that would be better directed to ramping up the development and promotion of alternative energy sources.  

“And the sensible course of action for the federal government would be to step up with rigorous enforcement and oversight of current drilling operations, perform meticulous inspections of existing rigs and create new guidelines for future projects, with special emphasis on deepwater drilling,” Anderson said. “Perhaps one day we can free ourselves from the dirty dominion of oil, but it’s going to be a long, ‘asphalted’ road.”  

As an oyster biologist, Dr. Ed Cake of Ocean Springs is extremely alarmed about the impact of the oil spill. The submerged oil he calls “Oilberg” is running off the Alabama Coast with the tides and current, killing all marine life at the bottom of the ocean. He sees that as being worse than the more visible and less toxic effects of the spill in the form of oil tarballs and patties on the beaches.

“This is a rotten series of events that have not ended and won’t end probably in the deep Gulf for decades or perhaps longer,” Cake said. “I’m very concerned especially for the oyster resources of Central Gulf Coast because the dispersed oil will affect oyster production. Our oyster industry down here is in trouble.”

But Cake, who has boycotted Exxon for 21 years, doesn’t support a boycott of BP. He said it would only hurt “our business neighbors,” the local residents who own BP gas stations.

Cake isn’t sure the Exxon boycott did any good, and feels the same about BP. 

“It makes some of us feel good, but it probably doesn’t affect their bottom line,” Cake said. 

He added that the Coast is “relatively lucky” regarding the oil spill. Deepwater Horizon is more than 100 miles from Biloxi, which gives time for natural processes to break down the oil. 

“It is unfortunate Deepwater is 100 miles south-southeast,” he said. “It is also fortunate. If it were 25 miles offshore, we would have a black tide or dispersant that turns it into a red tide. There is time for volatile chemicals to evaporate, and for bacteria to attack it so when comes ashore, it is just tar balls and patties. Can you imagine if this was right on the Chandeleur Islands what it would be doing to us?”

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About Becky Gillette

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