Although the immensity of the BP oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico isn’t understood yet, and despite recent editorials proclaiming Canada’s tar sands as an attractive alternative to deep sea drilling, this is a profound environmental incident that is sure to change public perception around this resource.
No reason for me to mention that the world is almost-entirely reliant on crude, but what surprised me is how recent this addiction is. Re-reading Herman Melville’s great classic Moby Dick, I was struck by the realization that whales were a major source of industrial oil prior to about 1870. Whaling was about oil!
The amazing thing is that the book was based on real incidents of whales that rammed whaling ships. Moby Dick was no imaginary behemoth. According to Wikipedia, Melville read about the incident of an albino sperm whale ramming the Nantucket ship the Essex in 1820, and sending it to the bottom with only eight survivors.
And then there was the real “Mocha Dick”, who had over 100 encounters with whaling ships in the Southern Atlantic between 1810 and 1830, usually coming out the winner. He had dozens of harpoons in his body but continued attacking whaling ships with incredible ferocity. And there were other whales with a vendetta, the most recent account being an attack on the Kathleen in 1910.
Well sir and mesdames, the Gulf oil gusher may be our Moby Dick. The worm has turned and the destruction is immense. And for all of us who rely on “dirty oil” for our livelihoods, it might be a good idea to have a look at the monster that is following us.
The oil craze in North America began in 1858 in Oil Springs, near Sarna, Ont., when James Williams dug a well behind his asphalt plant and struck oil instead of water at 20 metres (it’s still operating to this day, producing a small amount of light crude daily). The first commercial operation in the US began in 1861 in Titusville, Penn., and J. D. Rockefeller founded a refinery in Cleveland that became the precursor to Standard Oil in 1865.
It’s a wicked world and the accelerated craving for crude has sparked wars and destruction, death and depravity, on a macro-cosmic international scale. If you believe the report on 60 minutes a couple of weeks ago, BP was outrageously negligent in their exploitation of the drilling procedure, and sacrificed due diligence for increased profits and public safety. The Exxon Valdez was only small potatoes compared to the unabated gushing a mile under the Gulf that BP doesn’t know how to stop, and neither does the US government nor the hundreds of species (including homo sapiens) that depend, or rather rely on the ecologically symbiosis of the Gulf wetlands as a source of life itself.
And with Big Oil taking a drubbing, Big Trucking can’t be far behind. Outside of finding a new cheap and enviro-friendly fuel, we’re obsolete and don’t realize it…I know it’s heresy to say this, but running trucks up and down the road doesn’t make sense economically or environmentally. inter-city trucking should be done by rail except for a small percentage of perishables, and that should be prohibitively expensive unless deemed a necessity.
You can put all the LCVs on the road you want and it won’t make much of a dent. Freight on the 401 corridor should be moving by rail and I suppose we’re lucky that the rail infrastructure is so backwards and arrogant that we can keep our jobs for now. The two Canadian railways have an untouchable monopoly and they just don’t care about service to customers or the common good.
And where are the new technologies and alternatives to internal combustion? Years down the road if that. Hydrogen fuel cells haven’t panned out, electric trucks are still in their nascence, and other alternative fueled vehicles are just a pipe dream at present.
Not that the fickle public is going to help any. A recent survey indicated at 75% of Canadians “care” about the environment, but only 1 in 100 are willing to give up their cars to make a difference. The public is “concerned” about the latest glitch in the crude oil supply chain but nothing seems to be changing (except for the dinosaurs that claim global warming is an anomaly and we should keep on polluting all the way home, or as prime minister Harper aptly told us, global warming is a “socialist” plot).
So keep on trucking brothers and sisters but don’t look back. The big white whale is gaining on us!
Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.
With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude. All posts by Harry Rudolfs