WASHINGTON, May 24 – The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has some Americans thinking twice about their reliance on gasoline, but most still seem unwilling to give up gas-guzzling cars and relatively cheap fuel.
There may be some beginning ripples of consumer resentment as a result of the massive spill which has become one of this country\’s worst environmental disasters.
For the most part, however, public discontent has not registered in sales at BP gas stations.
"We haven\’t seen any notable changes," company spokesman Robert Wine told AFP.
BP customer Nikolay Filchev, 28, said he would have rather stopped elsewhere, as he filled his tank with British Petroleum gas.
"Oh, I\’m the one who\’s keeping them up," he said, with a bit of remorse in his voice at a BP station in Washington, DC.
Still, he said, he tries not to make it a habit to use BP gas when he can.
"I never use this station but I just needed gas," Filchev said. "I thought about it, I did."
Other customers also said they would prefer to tank up someplace other than a station selling gas from BP, the oil giant which leased and ran the devastated Gulf oil platform.
"I was completely out of gas, if not I\’d have stopped somewhere else," said motorist Lynda Mann as she pumped gas at a BP station in downtown Washington.
The catastrophic spill sullying the Gulf is hundreds of miles away, but nevertheless hits close to home, Mann said.
"There is not enough focus on the ecology of the water, the oceans," the 60-year-old businesswoman said. "I\’m very worried for the long term."
Still other American drivers shrug their shoulders, unhappy about the mounting ecological and environmental damage in Louisiana and elsewhere on the southern US coast, but feeling resignation at the same time.
"Gas is gas — it\’s all the same," said another BP customer, when asked if he had qualms over tanking up there.
There are a relatively few voices strongly insisting that BP pay a price for the disaster and how the company has responded to it.
One group on Facebook, "Boycott BP", garnered 46,000 "friends" by Friday and the leftist activist group Code Pink has organized anti-BP rallies.
But by and large, reaction to the spill has been relatively mild compared to what oil giant Exxon faced after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill, which soiled the pristine Prince William Sound off the coast of Alaska, so far the worst US oil spill disaster.
BP has 22,000 stations around the world, about half of them in the United States. At the retail level, most BP owners said they have seen little difference or none since the spill.
"I haven\’t seen a change," said Casey Kazamzaden, while adding that he thought it would "take some time" for Americans\’ displeasure to register at the cash register.
Some environmental groups such as Greenpeace said they see no point in calling on consumers to steer clear of BP gas stations.
"We will continue to call on BP to be held accountable, but we don\’t call for a boycott," said Kert Davies, director of research for the group.
"A boycott is a tricky environment. To have it be credible with the public you have to demonstrate what you are asking for, and not just pick on somebody," he said.
"We think the scrutiny should be on the oil industry overall — all of them changing the rules or avoiding safety measures".
Mark Cooper, director of research for the customer advocacy group Consumer Federation, said that at the retail level there has been little change, but said that may change as the crisis drones on.
"The initial reaction shows a sharp changing of public attitude about offshore drilling. That may be the big impact in the long run and even more stronger support to reduce the consumption," he said.
Still, a few dealers said they are beginning to feel the pinch as some customers opt to buy their gas at stations operating under another brand name. "Business is down," groused BP gas station owner Jay Zaidi.
"Since the spill," he said, "it\’s not the same."