BP are out, but the race is still on.

Posted by jamess — 26 August 2010 at 10:23am - Comments

So it's official: BP are out of the arctic oil race. Word is that our confrontation with Cairn Energy is scaring off the oil giant. In the words of a senior source, "with the Greenpeace ship already harassing Cairn off Greenland - a company which has an exemplary safety record - everyone realised it would be political madness to give the green light to BP".

So our direct action is paying off. But before we do any celebrating, we have to ask: will it make a difference? We all know that BP has a disastrous track record of irresponsible oil drilling that culminated in the world's worst oil spill this year - the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. But will Cairn, or anyone else for that matter, prove any different?

First there's the question of damage to the local environment. Cairn's been drilling in India for a while now and their record is far from clean.

Ask Aslah Ram, a farmer in Rajasthan, what he thinks of Cairn. His crops of millet, sesame and moong have been ruined by oil sludge from Cairn's plant next door and he has no idea how he's going to feed his family or livestock now.

"All of this (oil) has come into my fields destroying the crop with toxic chemical. Even our cattle are dying due to lack of fodder. We don't know what to do," he says.

Alsah's story, and those of farmers around him, are forgotten in the oil industry's celebration of Cairn's gamble in India - it paid off big when they discovered some major oil fields in Rajasthan. Now the UK company has turned its sights on the pristine Arctic, and is currently drilling two exploratory wells there.

A spill in the Arctic - by Cairn or anyone else - would be catastrophic. The fragile environment where they're currently drilling is home to some of the world's most distinctive mammals like polar bears, walruses, caribou, narwhals and beluga whales. Any oil pouring into these freezing waters would take much longer to break down than in the warmer Gulf of Mexico, and Canadian analysts say the seasonal ice would mean any relief well could take three years to drill. Three years of dirty oil spewing into the Arctic wilderness.

Then there's the broader threat to our climate. It doesn't matter if it's BP, Cairn or anyone else for that matter who is extracting that oil to be burned. The result is the same: a six-degree rise in average global temperatures. This would have cataclysmic and irreversible consequences for our planet, threatening oceans, forests, wildlife and the basis of our civilisation. Do we really want this?

If internet polls are anything to go by, most peope don't. 86% in a Guardian vote say "oil drilling should be banned in sensitive environmental areas". 51% in the current Daily Mail poll say we shouldn't drill in the Arctic. But none of that seems to matter - Cairn is drilling there now.

So while today we may celebrate a minor victory against BP, the bigger problem is the industry itself. The only long-term way of leaving the BPs and Cairns of this world behind is by choosing a clean energy future. It's time to go beyond oil.

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