Recently, my mom sent me a news clipping containing yet another searing image of a raging petroleum fire. The bright yellow inferno at the burn site is belching an ugly, black plume of smoke into the sky.
Only this picture was not one of the many shocking photos to come out of the Gulf oil disaster. This photo was taken at a petroleum tank farm in my hometown of Greensboro, N.C. It is an area I remember well because one of my dad’s jobs when I was a boy was working at just such a gas and oil storage facility.
When Phillips 66 decided to move dad to Texas, that proved the end of his “oil career.” A hometown boy, my dad soon found another job and we stayed put, but those massive, round petroleum tanks – each holding nearly 200,000 gallons of gasoline – left an indelible impression on my memory.
The recent near disaster at a tank farm facility in Greensboro started when a storage tank was struck by lightning. While sophisticated lightning rods deflect most such threats, a stray bolt slipped by to ignite a five-alarm fire. With 75 huge tanks of gasoline in the immediate vicinity, a deadly, out-of-control wildfire was imminent.
Fortunately, a highly skilled fire department acted quickly and decisively, sparing lives and property and preventing a costly environmental disaster. Having trained repeatedly for just such a scenario, the firefighters had everything under control within a few short hours.
The parallels with the BP oil disaster in the Gulf are telling. From all reports, it appears BP was ill-prepared for the disaster their negligence largely created. Granted, putting out a petroleum fire above ground is not nearly as daunting as stopping an oil geyser 20,000 leagues under the sea. But any corporation daring enough to drill such a well must have fail-safe and oft-practiced plans for addressing the inevitable accidents. Tragically, BP did not.
Of course, in addition to all the finger-pointing and outrage rightly directed BP’s way, I too played a bit part in the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history. Oil money paid for my diapers after all, and every time I drive when I could walk or ride a bicycle, or excessively heat or cool my home, I help create the economic climate where it is profitable for companies to take insane risks to feed my addiction to fossil fuels. Early on in the Gulf oil disaster, I read that the oil billowing from the bottom of that sea would fuel America’s highways for 15 minutes. Obviously, that number has climbed since, but the sickening shock of the realization remains.
The first job God gave Adam and Eve was to be good stewards of the creation they held in trust. Our first forbearers failed miserably at their task and, judging from the soupy sea of oily sludge wreaking havoc with the Gulf’s helpless creatures and heartsick citizens, our generation has fared no better. No wonder the Apostle Paul proclaimed the creation as “groaning” for redemption (Romans 8:22). Apparently, only God can save God’s once beautiful world from the likes of us.
Or maybe God is waiting on us, counting on us to do something radically different in light of this disaster. What is your best Spirit-filled guess as to what that might be?
Bob Setzer Jr. is pastor of First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Ga.