Unsavory acts part of oil addiction

By all means Congress should keep pursuing the question of whether BP was "willing to trade justice in the murder of 270 innocent people for oil profits," as four Senate Democrats put it.

Whether, and to what extent, the British oil company protected a $900 million exploration deal off Libya's coast by pushing for release of the Lockerbie bomber should be a topic of public interest on both sides of the Atlantic.

Confirmation that Abdel Baset al-Megrahi was freed for oil would be especially painful to those who lost family or friends in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Scotland.

But would such a revelation be shocking? Not really.

In the annals of what the West has been willing to do for oil, freeing the Lockerbie bomber wouldn't rank anywhere near the most outrageous.

Just off the cuff and thinking only of the U.S., we come up with the shah of Iran, whom the CIA installed in power after toppling a democratically elected government and whose brutal repression ignited the Islamic revolution of 1979, which produced the nuclear-ambitious regime that's one of the biggest thorns in America's side.

Then there's Sadaam Hussein, the Iraqi tyrant we helped make but then had to break, at a very high cost in human blood and U.S. debt. The high toll on Iraqi citizens mounts even as the U.S. prepares to leave.

Our thirst for oil also led us to befriend the repressive regime in Saudi Arabia, whose elites helped finance the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and the schools where poor Muslim youths are taught that turning themselves into bombs is a holy act.

The West's thirst for oil has wreaked ghastly environmental damage on poor places.

Each year since the 1960s, there has been a spill the size of the Exxon Valdez's into the Niger Delta, reports Julia Baird in Newsweek.

"Large purple slicks cover once fertile fields, and rivers are clogged with oil leaked decades ago. . . . A stain of thick, gooey oil . . . has oozed over vast tracts of land and poisoned the air for millions of Africans. In some areas fish and birds have disappeared: the swamps are silent."

Nigeria's government estimates there were 7,000 spills between 1970 and 2000. About 2,000 sites are in need of cleanup. Locals suffer the health effects, which include sore eyes, breathing problems and skin lesions. Amnesty International has reported that oil pollution has stripped many Nigerians of their health and their access to food, clean water and work.

About 10 percent of the oil that Americans consume comes from Nigeria.

It's cheaper for the drillers to take the kinds of shortcuts that produce massive pollution. It's cheaper too for consumers at gasoline pumps. And it's easy to forget when the environmental ruin is far from Americans' eyes, lungs and food chains. Addiction often produces such unconscionable acts.