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The Great American Oil Spill

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“An oil spill is the release of crude oil into the natural environment, usually the ocean.”

“A release event is described as a discharge of oil in harmful quantities that violate
applicable water quality standards; caused a film, sheen, or discoloration of
the water surface; or cause a sludge or emulsion deposit beneath the water surface.”

These are some of the standards by which we measure what counts as an oil spill.
One might formulate a broader definition, one that includes “release events” affecting solid
land, affecting plant life, animal life, even affecting our cultural landscape.
A broader definition of an oil spill is any discharge of a petroleum-based product,
whether deliberate or accidental, that adversely or measurably alters a natural
or cultural landscape

Founded in 1970, the EPA strictly regulates oil spill cleanup.
In 1968, the government drafted
“The National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan”, which
established an infrastructure for reporting and dealing with ecological disasters.
The Clean Water Act of 1972 granted authority to both the EPA and to the Coast
Guard to establish prevention and clean-up programs to deal with oil and other
hazardous chemical spills. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 expanded the EPA’s
and the Coast Guard’s authority, in addition to establishing a clean up trust
fund — derived from oil taxes. This is a mere sampling of the legislation.

Yet even in the face of such legislation, and for more than a century, Media news organizations,
local and federal governments, even environmental watchdogs have been covering up
the largest oil spill in the history of humanity.


“Today, 96% of all paved roads and streets in the U.S. – almost
two million miles – are surfaced with asphalt. Almost all paving asphalt
used today is obtained by processing crude oils.”

So claims the inadvertent origin of our exposé, “The History Of Roads And Asphalt”.
Indeed, there is an oil spill in America over two million miles long. It’s time we
did something about it.

A long-standing policy of dumping and pressing asphalt on to the Earth’s
surface unquestionably counts as an oil spill. What makes the act all the more
criminal is its deliberate nature — we have intentionally
orchestrated a controlled dump, knowing the historically horrific impacts of
chemical and oil spills.

One component of the spill-damage is, clearly, environmental. It is difficult to
find a location in America where a road is not visible. Certainly, the
overwhelming majority of Americans have never been anywhere that there
aren’t roads. Of necessity, this has an enormous impact on a peculiarly
American attitude toward the natural world — there is no state of nature.

Another component of the spill-damage is both cultural and epistemological. The
two are intimately connected. Roads are facilitators of travel. To lay roads in
Ur was to enable ancient peoples easier access to each other; they were, in a sense,
a cornerstone of modern civilization. In the US, roads string suburbs to
urban areas, thus creating metropolitan districts, between which highways
are the lifelines of commerce. Roads, then, are the foundation upon which
modern living has been built.

Epistemologically, the way that we come to know
the world around us depends deeply on asphalt infrastructure. We see cities
and suburbs from the road — in school busses, in the family station
wagon, even from bicycles. Beat poets wrote about how they came to know life
on the road, be it walking or riding. Roads underlie the possibility of
connecting empirical knowledge of one place with empirical knowledge of
another. Surely, without such fast and easy travel available, our
knowledge of the world and the peoples in it would not be what it is.

Given the apparent necessity of roads, the pressing question is:
what actions can we take?

There are many approaches to the problem, but it is
imperative that we begin to dismantle this ecological
disaster as quickly as practicably possible. First, we need to raise awareness
of the most obvious, yet unobserved, problem in human history. We can do this
by advertising the broad and agreeable definition of an oil spill.
Advertisements might take the form of bumper stickers, billboards, airplane
banners, even blimp advertisements — the important thing is, ironically enough,
to open the eyes of America’s drivers while they’re driving. Tell them
to take a step back and think about the toxicity of the substance upon which
they are driving.

Next, we need to begin the formation of citizens’ action groups. These groups
will have to be trained in a new form of spill-cleanup. This is not like squeegeeing
a film from the ocean’s surface, or bathing a slick sea lion. This is a solid,
entrenched spill that will require jackhammering and back breaking labor. Citizens’
action groups should pair up with local health clubs and develop physical training
programs to ensure that the citizenry is duly prepared for the enormity of the
task that they face.

To adequately dismantle and properly dispose of the road system, we will need
one of the largest work-forces ever known on the planet. This workforce will
have to be subsidized by the federal government. The strongest and sturdiest
among the citizenry will be called upon to alter their lives and lifestyles,
quitting their day-jobs to take on a new role in the clean-up effort. The
government will have to promise at least equal pay and benefits to all
who voluntarily sign up for the campaign.

Absent a large enough (paid) volunteer effort, the government will have to
institute a conscription of sorts. Reasonably, we could expect those who have
historically driven the biggest automobiles to be drafted first. This could
be determined by vehicle registration records.

That group could be cross-referenced
with the those aged 18-34 — the overlapping citizens being the
first to go.

Military involvement cannot be discounted. In fact, military involvement will
probably be necessary, as they possess the largest fleet of off-road vehicles
in the world. These vehicles will be necessary to transport workers to their
new jobs, since the roads as we know them will gradually disappear.

Once the spill is reduced to piles of crude rubble, we must “harvest” the piles and
remove them to remote locations — ideally back from whence they came.
We should consider refilling quarries as much as practical. Once filled,
we will have to identify sound storage locations, far enough from drinking-
water sources, forests and farms that the toxins of the asphalt can no longer
infect the citizenry.

Once the asphalt roads have been removed and properly disposed, then we can
address the possibility of building alternative roads, such as those made of
timber in Glastonbury, England, or responsibly constructed cobble-stone roads
found throughout the world — sometimes called “macadam” roads.

Doubtless, this project will be a tough sell to a populace who has never
known a different means of transportation.

Perhaps this is the news that will motivate the populace the most: In late 2003,
“The National Chemical Cleanup Task Force” (NCCTF) announced the results of a
12 year study tracking asphalt residue in ground and drinking water and on farmlands.
Staggeringly, run-off from roads contains petroleum-based contaminants, some say,
from the asphalt itself. Alternative interpretations emphasize roads’ sponge-like
qualities: i.e., oils and lubricants from automobiles soak into the tar and
wash away in rain storms. Whatever the case, there is no denying that drinking
water is contaminated with road-asphalt-based by-products.

Given this spate of facts, the general population should be convinced that it is
beyond time to begin cleaning up the biggest ecological disaster in the history
of our country.

Furthermore, an educated citizenry will likely begin to adopt similarly
ecologically beneficial green programs. For example, elected officials might look to
closing recently opened holes in environmental laws that provide the possibility
of drilling for more oil on federally protected lands. The need to drill more oil
will be reduced when the grand oil spill has been cleaned up.

Consider: The United States consumes 20 million barrels of oil every day, almost
half of which goes to fueling automobiles. This implies, after the roads have been
cleared, that the US would use 10 million fewer barrels of oil a day. On top of this
obvious environmental benefit, this represents the only major suggestion buzzing around
the media today that promotes true energy independence.

One could argue more abstractly that a national road-removal program will help to
bolster America’s educational record. Currently, the products of our educational
systems are well below standards. Acts such as “No Child Left Behind” have
failed both in conception and in implementation — particularly in funding.
Abstractly, we might argue that
the family of reasons for these failures is surnamed “community”. Road removal
programs, of necessity,
will tie communities closer together. Suburban sprawl will be
recognized as the culturally divisive phenomenon that it is, and localism will once
again take hold of communities. Closer familial and communal ties, historically,
have been directly linked to improved school performance.

Closer community bonds will inevitably reduce individualized senses of “entitlement”,
sometimes called “entitlement egoism”, that lead to poor student performance and
irresponsible urban development. When entitlement egoism is sufficiently purged
from the American conscience, then progress will again be possible in arts,
education, hard sciences and social reforms. America will be reborn
while the residue of a misunderstood and divisive infrastructure
is banished from the landscape.

Millions of miles of black ribbon severing ties across America are squarely to
blame for abstract social divisions and ecological disaster. The desperate need to
clean up this environmental and cultural mess cannot be understated.


A Brief History of EPA’s Oil Spill Program

The Oil Pollution Act, 1990, summary

The History Of Roads And Asphalt

Consumer Factsheet on: BENZO(A)PYRENE

Ground Water Contamination By Crude Oil Near Bemidji, WI


Department Of Energy Oil Consumption Reports

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About Brian Sorrell

Writer, Storyteller, Philosopher, Expat, Father
  • Road removal is up on blocks, dude. Going nowhere.

  • Jay

    At first, I didn’t notice the SATIRE heading, and thought maybe Merv Fingas had slipped on a patch of oily asphalt and spilled his own oily gray matter all over the highway. Then, upon noticing “populous” and “populus” … by which I’m sure you meant populace … I went back to re-read the article and found the SATIRE heading of your review. Great out-of-the-box thinking, although I’ll bet dollars to in-the-box doughnuts that any number of readers will think ripping up the asphalt and burying it somewhere on the lone prairie REALLY IS a great idea! So, maybe you’ll need to think about changing the SATIRE to FLATIRE, since that’s what wooden highways and cobblestone roads would give us (what about a cobblestone-wood hybrid?). The idea about owners of “biggest automobiles” being first in line with picks and shovels is a good…especially if they’re closely followed (or maybe preceded) by those money-grubbers who invent and sell them.

  • Jay, thanks for the eagle-eye on my typos. All fixed now 🙂 I’m glad that you enjoyed it — I’m thinking that maybe there should be a “SATIRE” alert on satire blogs — I would not bet my doughnuts against your dollar.

    Your idea about who should be second in line is quite nice. I have another satire cooking about what they will do…. Stay tuned.