Forty miles and five thousand feet of comeuppance.

In what is surely one of the cruelest ironies in marketing history, British Petroleum has spent millions promoting its initials as standing for “Beyond Petroleum.” In ads with a lot of white space and sporting a logo in soothing shades of yellow and green, British Petroleum has been at pains to publicly distance itself from the oil industry.

One ad reads, “In 25 years, we’ve never heard of a solar crisis.” Another leads with, “Thinking outside the barrel.” All of this is intended to convince you that British Petroleum has finally come to its senses and has realized that it has been in the wrong business all along and must work day and night to set it all to rights. Solar and wind power – these are now, according to the advertising, the daily business of British Petroleum. Thus they don’t actually say their name in their own ads, preferring instead the initials “BP” and the words, “beyond petroleum.”

The company’s 2009 annual report paints a somewhat different picture. Even a cursory read of the annual report reveals that BP is indeed an oil company. A big one. You learn by reading the annual report that BP is a huge player in oil exploration and production and that the company incidentally derives a nearly imperceptible percentage of annual revenue from solar, wind and other alternative energy sources.

Why is British Petroleum, one of the biggest oil companies in the world, pretending to be something else?

The answer is because western democracies, and particularly the United States, have succeeded in demonizing oil companies to the point that one of the biggest has to hide its very name from public view.

When we finally know what happened on April 20, I am certain that it will be clear that British Petroleum screwed up. When the well that is spewing thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico every day is finally capped, I am certain that billions of dollars worth of commercial and ecological damage will have been done.

And when policy makers get through exploiting this disaster solely for political purposes, I am equally certain that we will get even more bad policy to layer upon existing bad policy.

Few will ask the obvious question. If it costs thousands of dollars a day to drill for oil on land, tens of thousands of dollars per day to drill in a few hundred feet of water a few miles off the coast and millions of dollars per day to drill in thousands of feet of water 40 miles from the coast, why is anyone drilling for oil in thousands of feet of water 40 miles from the coast?

The answer is because there is no practical alternative to oil and yet we have made it nearly impossible, out of politically driven environmentalism, to explore for oil in less expensive, less risky locations. And thus we shove an oil company that is pretending not to be in the oil business way out in the ocean so that certain of us can pretend that the environment is being protected. The irony is nearly unbearable.

Take this problem, put it alongside our other problems such as the mortgage meltdown, the resulting crushing recession, the unaffordability of health care, the bankruptcy of Social Security, Medicare and soon the U.S. Treasury itself, and you will find this common thread:

Our biggest problems are the result of federal policy informed by left-leaning political calculus ahead of sound economic logic.

If a nasty environmental accident ever had to happen in the Gulf of Mexico, it didn’t have to happen in 2010. The government that is now blustering and pointing fingers at British Petroleum is the same government that put BP out in the ocean at the edge of the envelope in the first place.

Will we ever learn?

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Paul Gleiser

Paul L. Gleiser is president of ATW Media, LLC, licensee of radio stations KTBB 97.5 FM/AM600, 92.1 The TEAM FM in Tyler-Longview, Texas.

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