NEXT time I need gas, I am looking for a BP station.

No joke. A Ralph Nader group wants you to boycott BP - I plan to fill up with it.

The way I see it, we can pay at the pump now, or pay the piper later. When it comes to boycotting BP, those are the choices.

Public Citizen, founded by Nader, is asking people to bypass BP pumps for three months. As of this writing, that petition had garnered more than 15,200 signatures. A "Boycott BP" Facebook page had amassed more than 274,400 supporters. Public Citizen president Robert Weissman said: "Eleven oil workers are dead. One of the largest oil spills in U.S. history continues to worsen. Yet BP continues to double-talk on its responsibility and its liability. BP must pay."

Of course, BP is already paying - dearly. Since the April 20 explosion that triggered the spill, the company's stock has fallen 40 percent, equating to a $74.4 billion decline in market value.

The Dow dropped 113 points on Tuesday, the first business day after the "top kill" strategy failed to plug the leak.

Those losses don't even reflect the financial burden that the likely maelstrom of litigation could have on BP's bottom line. Or the damage to its reputation that will no doubt hamper the company for years after what is now the worst oil spill in American history.

But I'm not content to watch the ship sink. I intend to drive out of my way to fill up at a BP pump.

Why? Because it's imperative that the company doesn't tap out before plugging the leak and cleaning up the tens of millions of gallons of crude oil marring the Gulf of Mexico.

If BP goes under before either of those tasks is complete - or if the company can't afford to complete them itself - the federal government will be sucked into picking up the tab. Or worse, actually taking the lead in trying to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf and mop up the mess. The president himself has admitted that the feds don't have the resources or expertise to do that.

The company's failure would also mean increased market share for competitors whose product flows from most dangerous region in the world. BP is a rare oil giant operating outside the Arab world. Gulf oil spill or not, the United States still has a cracklike dependence on foreign oil. So any business the U.S. doesn't do with BP will likely fall to another company whose location in the Middle East makes it an indirect funder of groups that wish harm to Americans.

Indeed, if there's any silver lining to the crisis in the Gulf, it's this: The live feed showing untold gushers of oil pouring into the Gulf could be the wake-up call the U.S. needs to kick its dependence on foreign oil.

The gas lines of the 1970s didn't work. Nor did the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. Or the collapse of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001. So maybe the largest environmental disaster subject to the 24/7 glare of our modern media will do what high gas prices and high unemployment have failed to thus far.

The transition away from foreign oil and toward new energy sources won't happen overnight. Which means a company like BP, which doesn't draw its product from the Arab world, will need to be part of it. That's why a boycott is foolish.

Luckily, there are dozens of BP stations in the Daily News' circulation area. I've listed 10 below. You can also find the one closest to you by visiting the station locator on the company's Web site.

So let's boycott the BP boycott. Otherwise, it'll be American taxpayers' bottom line taking the hit. And our safety put even further at risk. Here are some local BP stations:

In Philadelphia:

4400 Market St.

1850 S. Columbus Blvd.

9998 Frankford Ave.

813 N. Broad St.

Also:

Bensalem: 2375 Street Road.

Norristown: 223-227 W. Main St.

Media: 446 E. State St.

West Chester: 1001 Wilmington Pike.

Cherry Hill: 1212 Kings Highway.

Wilmington: 400 Martin Luther King Blvd.

Listen to Michael Smerconish weekdays 5-9 a.m. on the Big Talker, 1210/AM. Read him Sundays in the Inquirer. Contact him via the Web at www.smerconish.com.