7 Secrets BP Doesn’t Want You To Know

Huffington Post |  Gazelle Emami First Posted: 05- 5-10 07:53 AM

BP made its name synonymous with “Beyond Petroleum” in 2000, rebranding itself as a company that sees a future past dependence on fossil fuels. But ten years later, the oil company is as committed to furthering their oil expansion as ever. And as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill emphasizes only too well, there are serious environmental and human concerns when it comes to drilling for oil. The Gulf spill, which left 11 workers dead and 17 injured, is about the size of Rhode Island, running across the northern Gulf of Mexico between the mouth of the Mississippi River and Florida. It runs wide, threatening the coastlines, and deep, traveling beneath about 5,000 feet of water and 13,000 feet under the seabed. The Deepwater Horizon well is leaking 5,000 barrels per day, shutting down fishing across the affected areas, damaging fragile habitats and putting animals in peril.

This may be BP’s largest disaster, with many claiming it will be larger than Exxon Valdez’s spill, but it is certainly not the first. We’re taking a look at BP’s most questionable actions both past and present– which do you think is most inexcusable?

Looking Out For #1

BP’s announcement that they’re taking responsibility for the response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, not for the accident, sounds more like they’re patting themselves on the back. BP CEO Tony Hayward said Monday they are dealing with the cleanup and compensation to those affected, and while they have been dealing with it, their initial efforts also highlight that they’re ultimately looking out for themselves. The company offered settlements to coastal residents of no more than $5,000 if they give up their right to sue. This extends to out-of-work fisherman they’ve hired to help with the clean up. BP has since removed the language from the contract, once they were criticized for the move. They also initially attempted to downplay the seriousness of the the spill, saying the rig was leaking 1,000 barrels a day when in fact it was leaking five times as much.

Greenwashed

BP’s green logo and multimillion-dollar green rebranding are meant to fit in with the company’s motto of going “beyond petroleum.” But this has just distracted from years of a horrible environmental record. In 2007, a customer survey found that BP had the most environmentally-friendly image of any major oil company. But even back in 2006, their greenwashing game was apparent– Guardian analysis found that their green campaign overemphasizes their investments in alternative forms of energy, when those investments are just a blip on their history of huge investments in and profits from fossil fuel energy. In the first quarter of 2010, they made $73 billion in revenue, $72.3 billion of that came from the exploration, production, refining and marketing of oil and natural gas. Only $700 million came from solar and wind energy.

Long History Of Disasters

A ProPublica report last week chronicles BP’s involvement in some of the biggest oil and gas disasters of the past five years due to their negligence. In 2005, an explosion at BP’s Texas oil refinery left 15 workers dead and injured 170 others. The cause? BP had ignored its own safety regulations and left a warning system disabled. In 2006, 267,000 gallons of crude oil spread onto the tundra of Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay due to a tiny hole in the company’s pipeline. The company had been told to check the pipeline in 2002, but ignored the warning. The spill was not even discovered until five days after it occurred, and was the largest in the region’s history. The list goes on.

Ignored Possibility Of A Spill

BP filed a 52-page plan with the Minerals Management Service for the Deepwater Horizon well, outlining its explorations and environmental impact. The company concluded that it was unlikely, or virtually impossible, for an accident to occur from its activities that would lead to serious damage to beaches, fish, mammals and fisheries. According to an AP report, BP repeatedly stresses that it was “unlikely that an accidental surface or subsurface oil spill would occur from the proposed activities.” Though they concede that a spill would impact all the aforementioned areas, it argues that “due to the distance to shore (48 miles) and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant adverse impacts are expected.”

Fought Off Safety Regulations

Just last fall, BP fought off safety regulations, continuing with business as usual. In a September 14, 2009 letter to MMS, Richard Morrison, BP vice president for Gulf of Mexico production, fought against an MMS proposal that would require operators to have their safety program audited at least once every three years, instead of the voluntary system that is currently in place. Morrison wrote: “We are not supportive of the extensive, prescriptive regulations as proposed in this rule. … [the voluntary programs] have been and continue to be very successful.” MMS has estimated that the proposed rules would cost operators about $4.59 million in startup costs and $8 million in annual recurring costs.

A Wall Street Journal report also found that BP’s oil well in the Gulf of Mexico did not have a remote-control shut-off switch that is used by two other oil-producing nations as a last-resort safeguard against underwater spills. The device is voluntary in the U.S., and while it is not clear whether it could have prevented the spill, it is another indicator of BP’s lax safety measures and proclivity for convenience over caution.

Fines, Fines, And Profits Up

BP has proven time and time again that they’d rather pay off their mistakes rather than take steps to prevent them. They have paid $485 million in fines in the U.S. alone in the past five years. BP paid $87.43 million to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in October 2009 — the largest fine in OSHA’s history — for the Texas refinery explosion. They paid an additional $50 million to the Department of Justice for the same explosion. Last month, BP paid $3 million to OSHA for 42 safety violations at an Ohio refinery. The company was also fined $20 million by the Department of Justice for the Alaska Prudhoe Bay spill (pictured), which violated the Clean Water Act.

Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard notes that all this is pocket change compared to the company’s $5.65 billion in profits in just the first quarter of this year, up 135 percent from last year. According to CNBC, while this increase in profit does have to do with an increase in oil prices, it is also due to the company’s extensive cost-cutting.

Human Rights/Environmental Violations

In 2006, BP made a multimillion pound payout to Colombian farmers after being accused of benefiting from a regime of terror carried out by the Colombian government paramilitaries to protect their 450-mile pipeline. 1,000 farmers and their family members, working on 52 farms, were affected by the development and said they were pushed into surrounding towns, forced into lives of destitution due to the development.

BP’s recent involvement in the Canadian tar sand development has also stirred controversy for both its human rights and environmental violations. Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, from Fort Chipewyan, which is a center of the tar sand development, told the Guardian: “It is destroying the ancient boreal forest, spreading open-pit mining across our territories, contaminating our food and water with toxins, disrupting local wildlife and threatening our way of life.” Many fear the development is risking the lives of locals, increasing the likelihood of cancer. Furthermore, the project would release enough carbon in total to tip the world into unstoppable climate change.

A Guardian analysis the day after the Gulf oil spill details how BP shareholders turned a blind eye to the myriad problems with BP’s Canadian tar sand development in a shareholders meeting on April 15, which was a prime opportunity for them to demand transparency. Instead, they chose ignorance, allowing BP to carry on with its actions without any accountability.

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