So You Want to Boycott BP?

There are some rumblings out there of people wanting to boycott BP in response to their fumbling of the Gulf oil spill. The Atlantic Monthly has a piece up highlighting the futility of such an effort. They argue that all of the oil companies are bad actors and any source of energy, electric or otherwise, is attached to these large energy companies.

I did some research on the sourcing of local fuels when we were trying to consume everything locally and have some perspective to add to their observations. In my research I learned that gasoline is like milk in the sense that it is gathered from different sources, whether it's BP or Exxon refineries, and all mixed together in pipelines and storage tanks. At the retail level it is branded for sale to consumers. In other words, you can drive up to an Exxon station as an alternative to a BP gas station, but some of the fuel coming out of the Exxon nozzle will have originated from a variety of sources including BP owned oil wells, refineries and pipelines.

Here's what I reported back in 2008 after talking with a variety of industry sources;

There are two primary ways refined fuels get to Spokane. There is apipeline from Billings, Montana that runs through Spokane to Moses Lake. There are three refineries in Billings that process crude oil coming from Canada, probably the Calgary area.

There is a pipeline from Pasco to Spokane that transports fuel from a pipeline in Utah (that often is actually the fuel processed in Billings), or from fuel transported by barge from Portland along the Columbia River. This Portland fuel comes primarily from four refineries in Western Washington; Anacortes, Ferndale, and Tacoma, These refineries get their crude oil from Canada, Alaska and "foreign sources".

All this refined fuel is not only mixed together in the pipelines and tankers, but is also mixed together in holding tanks once it arrives in Spokane. This fuel is than pumped into the trucks with the proprietary cleansers and mixers that make the fuel a Conoco, Exxon or Costco etc. product.

So I can say with some certainty that most of the fuel at gas stations in the Spokane area comes from crude oil in Canada and Alaska, but there really is no way of sourcing fuel by choosing one gas station over another. They are all getting their fuel from the same pot of mixed up fuel sources.

The only way to boycott BP effectively is to dramatically change our lifestyles to make them less dependent on fossil fuels - walking and biking to work and living more locally. It may ease our conscience to buy gas at a Chevron station, but in some ways we have to all acknowledge our complicity in what's going on in the Gulf. Our insistence on oil enabled lives leaves us with oil stained hands. We can't just wash our hands of the whole ordeal with mild changes to our brand choices.