Brian Spears

Poet, Editor, Teacher, Blogger.

On Boycotting BP filling stations

I can’t honestly say I’ve been boycotting BP stations since Deepwater Horizon first blew up, because I didn’t often fill up there. There is a station close to where I live, but it’s a pain to get in and out of, situated as it is on a very busy corner and with not much room to maneuver between pumps and traffic, and the price of gas has never been that much different from the other stations. And the price has to be significant to make me inconvenience myself–even a ten cent difference per gallon comes up to less than two dollars if I’m bone dry and fill up. So it’s not like my habits have changed any, except to the extent that now it’s not an option for me at all.

The New Orleans Time-Picayune has an article about frustrated independent BP station owners who want their supplier to do more to help them out, since they’re the ones who are actually feeling the effects of the boycott. There’s nothing really new in the article about the way gas stations work–I already knew that BP wasn’t going to feel the pinch, that BP (I keep typing BO; I wonder why?) can sell its gas to other stations, that the margins on gas are low for station owners and that they make their money on coffee and candy bars–and yet I can’t really find it in my heart to change and fill up at a BP station, even though the station owner is largely blameless in this.

Which is not to say that I would be opposed to some of that $20 billion the Obama administration suggested BP set aside to help those affected in the Gulf region going to some of those station owners to help offset some of their losses. Anything that actually takes a chunk out of BP’s ass is good with me. What might even be better, though, would be some action from Congress encouraging BP to allow any station owner who wishes the chance to buy out his or her contract with BP on very favorable terms, and allow them to sign up with some other supplier.

The real problem with boycotting filling stations is that the real problem is that we’re buying gas in the first place. It’s not like Exxon is a champion of safe drilling or that Shell is the gold standard for environmentally safe production. They all suck, every last one of them. The only real solution–and I’m belaboring the obvious here–is to stop using gasoline to the greatest extent possible.

I’m as guilty as anyone else. I should walk more; I should bike more; I should take public transportation. I drive a reasonably efficient car–a 1995 Saturn SC2–and Amy and I carpool to work. We also have jobs where we do a lot of work from home, so that helps reduce our consumption. But we could cut down even more if we were willing to brave streets filled with distracted drivers in gas-guzzlers.

So no, boycotting a particular brand of station won’t actually harm the company responsible for the greatest ecological disaster of this young century, and it will harm people who are only tangentially related to the disaster, but it’s still happening, and I’m still going to buy gas elsewhere, and I’m still going to sneer at people who do fill up at BP stations, at least until the next disaster hits the headlines and my ire is transferred to a new company. No, it doesn’t make sense. But it’s all I have right now. It’s all anyone has. We can’t hit BP, so we lash out at someone who’s connected to them. It’s not personal.

No, that’s a lie. It is personal. Oil is coating the beaches I skipped school to go lay on 25 years ago. Oil spewing out of the sea floor has forced me to change my diet and give up some of my favorite things to eat, most notably shrimp and oysters. And don’t tell me they’re safe because I don’t trust it. Nothing that comes out of the Gulf right now is safe to eat as far as I’m concerned. Oil is going to further weaken the already meager hurricane defenses protecting New Orleans, one of the cities which helped me become who I am. And eventually, oil is going to wash up on the beaches near where I live now, so yes, it’s personal, and if I can’t take it out on Tony Hayward, I’ll have to be satisfied with someone who’s connected to him. Sorry, Mr or Mrs BP Station Owner, but that’s what happens when the company you’re contracted to deal with screws up. That’s the chance you take. That’s the price you pay.


June 28, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. We’re all screwed to the extent we live our lives through oil. When you choose to become a franchise owner, you certainly have the option of opening a Subway or something instead of a gas station — you don’t HAVE to throw in (directly) with petroleum. In fact, you could have bet against them and wagered your capital on some risky new green technology. And I could have chosen to live walking distance from work. I didn’t, so I pay the penalty every time gas prices rise. Gas station owners CHOSE to run gas stations. And they didn’t choose to hide their corporate affiliation and call it “Bob Smith’s Fill N Stop.” Of course not: because up to now they benefitted from the mass marketing and name recognition that comes with a corporation like BP or Chevron or Texaco etc. This is the way the world works. You don’t like it, buy a helmet. There’s no crying in business.

    Comment by amy | June 28, 2010 | Reply

  2. Even if we could take them down, the same people and the same machinery will come back and continue their work under a new moniker. If it makes you feel better to boycott them, smile and nod and buy their gas while they’re cleaning up and paying businesses, and when that well runs dry boycott them and any other business they hide behind. If you’re not willing to go that far then shut up about the boycott and focus on the future. As we speak someone could be out there inventing new and better ways to clean up this type of environmental hazard. We have to realize that there is an install base of hundreds of millions of gasoline dependent vehicles and a responsible transition to clean energy isn’t going to happen overnight. In the meantime we have to develop better technology to ensure this doesn’t happen and laws to make sure the gasoline companies put their energy in to making that technology a reality before they continue to be irresponsible.

    Comment by Eric | June 28, 2010 | Reply

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