Oil Fume

Originally appeared in the September 2001 issue of the ABA Journal.

Harmless Error - A Truly Minority View on the Law

Oil Fume


Following a summer of high gas prices, blackouts in California, and record oil company profits, some worriers think we might need to tweak our nation’s energy policy. Since many of the proposed solutions will entail considerable legal wrangling, lawyers need to be well-informed about this vital issue. Here are some of the most commonly-asked questions:

Q. Who’s to blame for our current energy woes?

A. Unfortunately, U.S. supplies of persons to blame for the energy crisis are running dangerously low. Experts predict that if we don’t begin conserving blame soon, we will run out by 2010. In the meantime, politicians and pundits have taken to bashing Etienne Lenior for inventing the internal combustion engine in 1860.

Q. What happened to President Bush’s campaign promise to pressure OPEC to “open the spigots”?

A. Aides claim the President never used that term, but rather, said “gropen la friggets,” which aides describe as “just one of those things the President says sometimes.”

Q. The Administration favors reducing clean air standards as a way to boost the economy. Would it work?

A. Possibly. Such a move could lower gas prices, as well as stimulate lagging markets in throat lozenges, asthma inhalers and oxygen tents.

Q. Is seems like a lot of these questions are picking on President Bush. Do the Democrats have anything better to offer?

A. Yes. A prime source of alternative energy: hot air.

Q. Should we be worried about the proposal to drill for oil in the Alaskan wildlife preserve? What if there’s a spill?

A. Oil companies say not to worry because they’ve come up with a new plan for protecting the Alaskan environment, which is to paint everything black. The companies claim they’ve been judged unfairly for spills simply because oil shows up badly on snow and water. An oil company exec likened the plan to buying a dark sofa to hide red wine stains.

Industry officials have also criticized local wildlife for not engaging in more self-help. As one industry official put it, “If a seal can balance a ball on his nose, why can’t he learn to rub a Handi-Wipe® on the ground. It’s not rocket science.”

Q. I read that American consumers are so fed up with high gas prices that they’re staging protests. True?

A. Yes. Millions of SUV owners recently converged on soccer fields around the nation to rev their engines and talk on their cell phones about the problem. To prove their commitment to being part of the solution, they turned down their AC units to medium for five minutes.

Q. There’s been speculation that recent oil company mergers have contributed to the problem by limiting competition. Is that true?

A. “Nonsense,” says Wink Gouger, new CEO of Amoco-Chevron-Exxon-Mobil-Texaco, Inc.

Q. A lot of people think a complex conspiracy lies behind gas price hikes? What’s the real story?

A. $omething $impler.

Q. Maybe I’m missing something, but 28 years ago an OPEC embargo practically ground the nation to a halt. Since then we’ve been consuming 17 million barrels of oil a day, while paying almost no attention to conservation or the development of alternative fuels. Don’t we as a nation bear part of the blame?

A. No. That’s very unreasonable of you to even ask that question.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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