Saturday, February 03, 2007

THE OIL INDUSTRY: PROFITS BEFORE PEOPLE

Excuse me for a moment while I go find my crying towel. The oil industry, specifically the gasoline refinery companies, are resisting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) efforts to impose limits on benzene in gasoline, a substance harmful to human health. The refiners are crying that these proposed limits, which would become effective in 2015 or even 2030, will cost them too much money to meet. I find it difficult to sympathize with the oil industry on this one, after reading yesterday about the all-time record net income recorded by Exxon Mobil of $39.5 billion in 2006.

An article in The Oregonian today listed three refiners that met with federal officials to push for less strict rules; Tesoro, Sinclair Oil, and Giant Industries. Each of these three firms owns multiple oil refineries. Tesoro had a 2006 net income of $801 million, up about $300 million from 2005. Sinclair, a privately owned firm, had 2005 sales of $5.6 billion. Sinclair owns 3 refineries, about 2,600 gas stations in the U.S., and numerous upscale hotels and resorts. Giant Industries (love the name) had $104 million net income in 2005 from $3.6 billion revenue.

These companies are putting profits before people. The long-term health effects of benzene exposure (source: CDC) include: effects on the blood (harmful effects on bone marrow, decrease in red blood cells, excessive bleeding, immune system effects); leukemia (cancer of the blood-forming organs); possible birth defects (demonstrated in animal studies). This is particularly bad news for people in the Pacific Northwest states, where benzene in gasoline is much higher than the US national average.

The Core Values of Giant Indutries, Inc. are: "Do your best. Do what's right. Treat others the way you would like to be treated." Tesoro Corporation touts it's social responsibility, including environmental responsibility. Wouldn't it be a wonderful world indeed if these were more than words from these industrial giants. Real responsibility would be to step up and say "the health of people is more important than the magnitude of our profits." Don't hold your breath for this to happen - but do hold your breath if you live near automobile exhaust.

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