Tilting at BP

Tilting at BP

Delusion, addiction, and a boycott only Cervantes could love.

Dear BP Boycotters:

A number of organizations, including Public Citizen, have started a nationwide boycott against British Petroleum (BP) to protest the company’s leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. The New York Times reported that the boycott’s Facebook page had received 550,000 “likes” already by the middle of June. John Kleine, the executive director of the BP Amoco Marketers Association, was reported as stating that some BP station owners have seen sales decline by as much as 20 percent.

If he were alive today, Cervantes would take a BP boycotter as his hapless hero. That is why I’m writing to you today: Stop your tilting at windmills; better to build a windmill, though that alone is not the answer, either.

There are approximately 11,000 gas stations that bear the BP name in the United States; only a few hundred are company owned. So you are basically boycotting small businesses. According to various reliable news reports, gasoline in this country comes from a variety of refineries and is sold as a pooled product by wholesalers who add various branded products at the end stage. Consequently, as a boycotter, you may boycott a BP station that isn’t selling gasoline refined by BP and instead drive across the street to, for example, a Sam’s Club that is selling gas from a BP terminal. British Petroleum makes relatively little money from the sale of gasoline at BP-branded stations.

Of course, you boycotters are expressing frustration fueled by the broadcast of constant, real-time video showing oil spewing from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a little like the endless images we saw of that white Bronco driving up the California freeway and the subsequent trial of O. J. Simpson. Come to think of it, the daily image of a nation of eight-lane freeways clogged with gas-guzzling SUVs is a pretty good visual reminder of why we have oil wells on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico in the first place. And it isn’t just one oil well 5,000 feet below the surface of the water; the Gulf contains more than 3,500 offshore rigs.

There is much about this sad saga that should remind us of Don Quixote. Trying to stop the oil leak with a “junk shot” is a lot like tilting at windmills. Remember? Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, told us that one plan for stopping the oil gusher was to hit the hole with, among other things, thousands of golf balls under pressure. To nobody’s surprise but his, this approach did not work. Perhaps he should have used a better brand of golf ball. My choice would have been Titleist—“extreme distance, straight flight.”

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