Since the Gulf oil disaster in 2010, BP has spent hundreds of millions of ad dollars to cleanse its image as a dirty-energy giant. In the company’s latest TV ad, wind turbines whirl in the sun as a voiceover touts the number of American jobs created by BP and promises, “We’re working to fuel America for generations to come.” There’s just one problem: BP’s commitment to wind energy is virtually nonexistent.
In April, BP announced that it is selling off its entire $3.1 billion U.S. wind energy business – including 16 farms spread across nine states – as “part of a continuing effort to become a more focused oil and gas company,” according to a company spokesperson. Indeed, though it famously rebranded itself “Beyond Petroleum” in 2000, BP also exited the solar energy business back in 2011. Today, its alternative energy investments are limited to biofuels and a lone wind farm in the Netherlands.
And BP is far from alone. You wouldn’t know it from their advertising, but the world’s major oil companies have either entirely divested from alternative energy or significantly reduced their investments in favor of doubling down on ever-more risky and destructive sources of oil and natural gas.
Not that those commitments to alternatives were ever particularly grand. Using very generous estimates, BP holds the oil industry record for the highest percentage of expenditures committed to alternatives, with just 6 percent of its overall expenditures in 2011, right before it started selling off its solar operations. Chevron and Shell run a distant second with highs of 2.5 percent; none of the others have ever even cracked 1 percent.
“The bottom line is that oil companies only invested a drop in the bucket [in alternatives] even in the ‘heyday’ of the early 1980s,” says Douglas Cogan, vice president of investment firm MSCI ESG Research. “Most of the largest [oil company] investors have dropped out in recent years, following the precedent that Exxon set 30 years ago.”
Take ConocoPhillips, which highlights its “emerging technologies and alternative energy sources” activities on its website – but fails to mention that in April 2012 it divested all of these activities to focus exclusively on its “core business” of exploring for and producing oil and natural gas, and specifically to take advantage of the North American “shale revolution” and tar sands production in Canada. “ConocoPhillips is an independent oil and gas company,” says a spokesperson. “We do not have an active renewable energy segment within our portfolio.”
The newly created Phillips 66 (already the third-largest U.S. oil company) took over ConocoPhillips’ “downstream” activities – meaning everything after exploration and production. Other than limited investment in second-generation biofuel research, Phillips 66, too, has abandoned alternatives.
How about Shell – the world’s largest corporation, according to Fortune? In 2010, the company launched an ad campaign called “Let’s Go,” hyping its efforts to “broaden the world’s energy mix.” The ads are still running today. But the numbers tell a different story. Shell reports spending about $400 million a year on alternatives, out of the $23 billion it spent on all expenditures in 2012. At its peak in 2007, Shell was spending just 2.5 percent of its total capital expenditures on alternatives. Today it’s down to 1.5 percent.
Shell abandoned solar in 2006 and maintains only minor investments in wind and some hydrogen research today. The bulk of Shell’s alternative investments today are in biofuels. Meanwhile, it presses ahead with the world’s deepest offshore oil well in the Gulf of Mexico and refuses to do more than “pause” plans for drilling in the U.S. Arctic – even after one of its drilling rigs ran aground in Kodiak, Alaska in January.
As with all these companies, the expenditures that Shell reports publicly on alternatives are difficult to pin down or verify. Shell includes the money it spends on carbon capture initiatives and “other CO2 related work”; both are commendable, but neither one is an alternative energy source. BP, similarly, uses the mysterious phrase “lower-carbon businesses.” In fact, no major oil company has ever spent enough on alternatives for it to amount to even 10 percent of its revenues or assets – the Security and Exchange Commission‘s threshold for public reporting requirements on financial expenditures.
In 2010, Chevron launched its “We Agree” public relations campaign, with ads announcing “It’s time oil companies get behind the development of renewable energy,” that still run today. Yet Chevron’s alternative investments have been falling as a proportion of its total expenditures, not rising, for years: From 2.5 percent of overall expenditures in 2008, alternative energy dropped to 2.3 percent in 2010 and 1.5 percent in 2012.
In 2011, Chevron’s Corporate Responsibility report – which for years had been an alternatives showcase – announced that the company would take “a pragmatic approach” to these investments, focusing on geothermal energy, next-generation biofuels and efficiency solutions. Yet wind and biofuels are conspicuously absent from the 2012 report; the words “alternative energy” and “renewable energy” do not appear anywhere in its pages. “Chevron spent $5.4 billion from 2002 to 2012 on alternative energy,” says company spokesperson Morgan Crinklaw. That’s about $500 million a year, out of $34 billion total expenditures in 2012 alone. (This figure includes the work of its private subsidiary, Chevron Energy Solutions, which does work on solar, but does not have to provide public disclosure of its finances.) Meanwhile, Chevron remains one of the world’s oiliest oil companies, with one of the highest percentages of oil assets among the majors.
Like ConocoPhillips, Marathon, the nation’s fifth largest oil company, divested all its downstream activities in 2011, for similar reasons – in order to expand its U.S. shale and Canadian tar sand operations. Today, it maintains partial ownership of a methanol plant that converts natural gas into motor fuel, while the newly spun-off MPC includes ethanol in its portfolio.
Of course, some companies were never into alternatives. Since 2002, Exxon Mobil, which took in $45 billion in profit last year alone, put a grand total of $188 million into its alternative investments, compared to the $250 million it dedicated to U.S. advertising in the last two years alone. (This figure and previously cited advertising data were provided by Kantar Media.)
It’s worth mentioning one slight exception to the trend: France’s Total, the world’s 9th-largest oil company, which greatly increased its solar operations in the last year. But Total, too, had a long way to improve. The latest available figures from MSCI ESG Research put its alternative investments at just about $84 million a year from 2005 through 2010, or, at best, less than 0.6 percent of total expenditures. Moreover, the company’s fairly extensive coal operations stand in contrast to the good it’s doing in alternatives.
There are clear reasons why some biofuel investments remain while wind and solar have all but disappeared. Since 2009, both the U.S. and the European Union have had policies in place requiring biofuels in motor fuel, compared to on-again, off-again tax credits for wind and solar energy. And why bother putting real investments in alternatives at all, when polished ad campaigns have already convinced the public that the companies are still “green”?
In reality, all of the companies are putting more and more resources toward dirty energy sources that were never before accessible – or never before considered acceptable. With limited regulation and oversight, and with plenty of subsidies and tax breaks, all of the companies discussed here are upping their oil and natural gas antes by drilling deeper than ever into the oceans (including Exxon in the Russian Arctic), increasing operations in the Canadian tar sands, dramatically expanding hydraulic fracking in ever-more parts of the U.S. and the world, and drilling for oil in Iraq and Kurdistan. It all makes perfect sense, if you go by what Exxon vice president J.S. Simon told Congress in 2008: “[T]he pursuit of alternative fuels must not detract from the development of oil and gas.”
Would would have thought that oil barons — of all people! — would be involved in dirty back-room dealings to gorge their gobs with even more swill from the trough? From the Guardian:
“The London offices of BP and Shell have been raided by European regulators investigating allegations they have ‘colluded’ to rig oil prices for more than a decade. The European commission said its officers carried out ‘unannounced inspections’ at several oil companies in London, the Netherlands and Norway to investigate claims they may have ‘colluded in reporting distorted prices to a price reporting agency [PRA] to manipulate the published prices for a number of oil and biofuel products … It warned: ‘Even small distortions of assessed prices may have a huge impact on the prices of crude oil, refined oil products and biofuels purchases and sales, potentially harming final consumers.'”
Of course, these manipulations of “self-policing” mechanisms for setting prices are endemic across the economic heights commanded by our most illustrious financial and industrial elites, as Matt Taibbi noted last month. And I’m sure the dastardly deeds of the oil companies in fixing prices will be dealt with just as harshly and thoroughly as the recent Libor scandal was: with a few chump-change fines that put not the slightest crimp in the criminals’ operations nor impeded their ready access to the inner circles (and outer fundraisers) of government power.
So while continuing a fierce vigilance against the relentless encroachments of an unhinged, unrestrained and openly murderous government, let us also recognize that the “free market” — often posited as some kind of purer alternative to the state, a mystic realm where the free play of individual desires and activities combine ineffably to produce the best of all possible worlds — is, and always has been, a rigged game where vicious predators seek tyrannical control, by hook, crook and vast corruption, shackling the “free play of individual desires and activities” in every way possible to squeeze out more unjust advantage for themselves.
Of course, the “state” and the “free market” are simply two halves of the same rough beast. The modern “free market’ is the result of massive, continual and pervasive state intervention on its behalf — that is, on behalf of the vicious predators exercising tyrannical control of economic activity — while the state is in practice little more than a vehicle for elite aggrandizement. (Yes, even in America, even from the very beginning. For more, see this piercing piece by Arthur Silber, in which he points us to the remarkable book by Terry Boulton, Taming Democracy: “The People,” the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution, which I highly recommend .) If they don’t get you with one head, they’ll get you with the other.
Or as the old song says: “nobody save you now.”
Do you remember the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010? It was all over the news for months and months… and then seemed to simply disappear from the media once BP announced they’d stopped up the gushing oil well.
Whistleblowers are claiming that’s no mistake — and in a recent report from the Government Accountability Project, cleanup crew members have painted a sinister picture. To obscure the true amount of oil spraying into the Gulf on a daily basis, they say, BP immediately began unleashing huge amounts of dispersant. Over 1.84 million gallons of the stuff.
The problem? The dispersant used by BP, a chemical called Corexit, is known to be highly toxic to humans. Exposure can cause a laundry list of symptoms, including kidney and liver damage, seizures, memory loss, and even cancer.
Not only were as many as 47,000 workers potentially exposed to this dangerous chemical, but former oil cleanup crew are reporting that BP intentionally withheld information on how to safely handle Corexit and failed to provide any sort of protective gear to workers.
One maid tasked with cleaning a mixture of seawater, Corexit, and crude oil from the floors of BP’s “floating hotel” for workers was told the dispersant was “as safe as Dawn dishwashing liquid.” But within days of exposure, she found herself coughing up blood suffering from nonstop headaches. Her symptoms only continued to get worse with time, transforming into uncontrollable muscle spasms, a severe loss of short-term memory, and even random swelling of her leg that would come and go.
Cleanup workers on the water claim they were literally hosed down with Corexit by planes overhead during the day. When they complained about the caustic fumes and asked for respirators and protective clothing, supervisors threatened to fire them.
Even government-contracted scientists are reporting health problems from Corexit exposure. One diver, Steve Kolian, was part of a team assigned to assess the impact the spill might have on surrounding marine life. He claims that officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration assured him that it was perfectly safe to swim in Corexit-treated water — and suggests the agency may have been collaborating with BP to downplay the toxic effects of the dispersant. In the years since the spill, he’s experienced painful skin rashes and peeling, dizziness, nausea, bloody stools, and cognitive issues.
The GAP report is filled with similar stories — and, in the end, concludes that the use of Corexit to clean up the spill has been more harmful to human health and marine life than the crude oil alone would have been. In light of the report, GAP and its partners in the Gulf are demanding that the EPA ban Corexit from use in future cleanup efforts. They’re also trying to establish medical treatment programs to help the thousands of people now suffering from what they’re calling “BP Syndrome.”
Want to know what you can do to seek justice for the workers BP poisoned with Corexit? Read the full GAP report here, and then sign the petition to ban Corexit for good.
In Shell’s case, a vast amount of information, which fully met Wikipedia guidelines, but was deemed damaging to Shell’s reputation, has been either covertly removed, or removed in dubious circumstances by editors hiding their identity behind an alias, as they are allowed to do. Royal Dutch Shell articles on Wikipedia are, in my experience, regularly patrolled and edited by individuals sympathetic to Shell. Most of the articles have been deleted in their entirety.
According to a recent cnet.com news report, BP’s press office has been accused of a behind the scenes operation allegedly rewriting an estimated 44 percent of the oil giant’s Wikipedia page: BP accused of rewriting environmental record on Wikipedia
BP is not directly editing its page, but instead has apparently inserted a BP representative into the editing community who provides Wikipedia editors with text.
The text is then copied “as is” onto the page by Wikipedia editors. Readers might assume its unbiased information when its, in fact, vetted by higher-ups at BP before hitting the page.
BP is a mere novice and a paragon of virtue compared with Royal Dutch Shell when it comes to the manipulation of Wikipedia articles, when negative information is deleted without the public being aware of such censorship by the company that is the subject of the article.
In Shell’s case, a vast amount of information which fully met Wikipedia guidelines, but was deemed damaging to Shell’s reputation, has been either covertly removed, or removed in dubious circumstances by editors hiding their identity behind an alias, as they are allowed to do.
Such practices should not be permitted in relation to articles about companies.
Articles about Royal Dutch Shell published on Wikipedia are, in my experience, regularly patrolled and edited by individuals sympathetic to Shell. Most of the articles have been deleted in their entirety.
I first warned about such activity on 12 October 2010. I published an article (extracts included herein) containing the warning: “…it is only a matter of time before the culture of subterfuge and deception at Wikipedia results in a scandal.”
This is the complete paragraph:
Commonsense suggests that anyone who wishes to edit a Wikipedia article in which monetary considerations are involved should be compelled to disclose their identity and background so that the information can be exposed to public scrutiny. Otherwise it is only a matter of time before the culture of subterfuge and deception at Wikipedia results in a scandal.
My prediction soon came to pass.
The following is an extract from a December 2011 article headlined: “PR Firm Rewrites Clients’ Wikipedia Entries“
So much for reliable Wikipedia content. A high-powered British PR firm routinely rewrites Wikipedia content relating to its clients, reports the Independent. Bell Pottinger made hundreds of changes in Wiki entries over the last year, either adding positive comments or deleting negative ones about clients. At least ten contributing writer accounts linked to the firm have been suspended by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, who blasted the firm’s “ethical blindness,” reports the Financial Times. Undercover reporters for the British Bureau of Investigative Journalism posing as clients were told by representatives of the PR firms that “sorting” Wikipedia entries is part of the service the company offers, notes the newspaper.
Removal of negative information means that the public, including current and potential shareholders, are presented with incomplete, censored information, providing a distorted picture of a featured company.
This is a quote from what he said:
As the founder of MyWikiBiz, I am someone who has, and continues to, manipulate information in Wikipedia on behalf of paying clients. Call it dirty work, but for the most part, I think the way the Wikimedia Foundation is scamming the public about how it is (not) governing the worlds knowledge is a far worse state of affairs.
I have also noted a more recent related article published in September 2012 under the headline: Corruption in Wikiland? Paid PR scandal erupts at Wikipedia
It is obvious from moves made by Shell that the oil giant attaches great value to its online reputation, which is badly tarnished due to a succession of scandals.
Shell appointed a specialist agency to carry out a makeover of Shell’s online reputation.
Shell was obsessed by my editing of Wikipedia articles relating to the company and wanted to edit the articles itself, but was concerned about being caught.
Shell employees were caught doing so from Shell premises.
Shell secretly censored postings made on its own Internet forum – “Tell Shell” – set up on the basis of inviting “open and transparent dialogue”.
Shell has attempted to seize our domain name and close this website down.
My comments are based on my own experience over several years of originating and editing Wikipedia articles.
Wikipedia articles are supposedly written by open and transparent consensus. In reality, Wikipedia is built on a platform of secrecy and concealment, which leaves articles wide open to censorship and manipulation by anonymous parties, with commercially driven motives.
Unpaid volunteers who act as Wikipedia administrators and editors are supposedly the bedrock on which Wikipedia has been built. It is a mostly-secretive community in which the vast majority of volunteers edit using aliases and are free to edit any articles, without anyone having a clue about who they are and what their background is. Thus it is impossible to determine if they have a potential conflict of interest.
This cloaked army has power and influence, but no realistic accountability. If banned from editing they can return under a new alias using a new IP address, with no bad odor attached. In other words, a completely fresh start. I was banned for making strong representations about the dark side of Wikipedia on this website and internally on Wikipedia.
The strange Wikipedian culture has some similarity to the Ku Klux Klan (fortunately without the racist element) but is actually more secretive. The privacy of those choosing to keep secret all information about who they are is maintained within the Wikipedia community, which is even developing its own unique language, partly in response to skulduggery by some editors.
In April 2008, I published a discussion from our Live Chat facility revealing that WikiScanner had detected that Wikipedia articles relating to Royal Dutch Shell had been anonymously edited from Shell premises. According to a posted comment “Information critical of Shell was systematically removed”.
As to Shell’s obsession with my past editing of Wikipedia, here is the proof in authentic Shell internal documents. Some information has been redacted for legal reasons.
LINKS TO SHELL INTERNAL EMAILS & DOCS IN WHICH ROYAL DUTCH SHELL WIKIPEDIA ARTICLES ARE MENTIONED IN RELATION TO JOHN DONOVAN
1 March 2007
2 March 2007 16:13 & 18.56 Plus 3 March 18:01
2 March 2007 16:51
19 March 2007 18.43 20 March 2007 8:10
23 March 2007
6 June 2007 12:51
SUNDAY 29 July 2007 11:31 & 30 July 2007 8:19 AM
30 July 2007 22:38 & 7 August 2007 14.24
31 August 2007 16:17
12 October 2007 15:21 & 15:58
16 October 2007
26 December 2007
19 February 2008 4 Pages
4 April 2008
9 March 2009
8 April 2009
8 July 2009
18 December 2009 11.34:
18 December 2009 12.07
Shell Focal Point document Donovan Campaign Against Shel
By John Donovan
Bradley Manning & The Deepwater Horizon
Three years ago this month, on the 20th of April, 2010, the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig blew itself to kingdom come.
Soon thereafter, a message came in to our office’s chief of investigations, Ms Badpenny, from a person I dare not name, who was floating somewhere in the Caspian Sea along the coast of Baku, Central Asia.
The source was in mortal fear he’d be identified – and with good reason. Once we agreed on a safe method of communication, he revealed this: 17 months before BP’s Deepwater Horizon blew out and exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, another BP rig suffered an identical blow-out in the Caspian Sea.
Crucially, both the Gulf and Caspian Sea blow-outs had the same identical cause: the failure of the cement “plug”.
To prevent blow-outs, drilled wells must be capped with cement. BP insisted on lacing its cement with nitrogen gas – the same stuff used in laughing gas – because it speeds up drying.
Time is money, and mixing some nitrogen gas into the cement saves a lot of money.
However, because BP’s penny-pinching method is so damn dangerous, they are nearly alone in using it in deep, high-pressure offshore wells.
The reason: nitrogen gas can create gaps in the cement, allow methane gas to go up the borehole, fill the drilling platform with explosive gas – and boom, you’re dead.
So, when its Caspian Sea rig blew out in 2008, rather than change its ways, BP simply covered it up.
Our investigators discovered that the company hid the information from its own shareholders, from British regulators and from the US Securities Exchange Commission. The Vice-President of BP USA, David Rainey, withheld the information from the US Senate in a testimony he gave six months before the Gulf deaths. (Rainey was later charged with obstruction of justice on a spill-related matter.)
Britain’s Channel 4 agreed to send me to the benighted nation of Azerbaijan, whose waters the earlier BP blow-out occurred in, to locate witnesses who would be willing to talk to me without getting “disappeared”. (They didn’t talk, but they still disappeared.)
And I was arrested. Some rat had tipped off the Security Ministry (the official name of the Department of Torture here in this Islamic Republic of BP). I knew I’d get out quick, because throwing a reporter of Her Majesty’s Empire into a dungeon would embarrass both BP and the Azeri oil-o-crats.
The gendarmes demanded our film, but I wasn’t overly concerned: Before I left London, Badpenny handed me one of those Austin Powers camera-in-pens, on which I’d loaded all I needed. But I did fear for my witnesses left behind in Azerbaijan – and for my source in a tiger cage in the USA: Pvt Bradley Manning.
Manning could have saved their lives
Only after I dove into deep water in Baku did I discover, trolling through the so-called “WikiLeaks” documents, secret State Department cables released by Manning. The information was stunning: the US State Department knew about the BP blow-out in the Caspian and joined in the cover-up.
Apparently BP refused to tell its own partners, Chevron and Exxon, why the lucrative Caspian oil flow had stopped. Chevron bitched to the office of the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. (George Bush’s cabinet member should not be confused with the 129,000-tonne oil tanker “Condoleezza Rice”, which Chevron named after their former board member.)
The US Ambassador in Baku got Chevron the answer: a blow-out of the nitrogen-laced cement cap on a giant Caspian Sea platform. The information was marked “SECRET”. Apparently loose lips about sinking ships would help neither Chevron nor the Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, the beneficiary of millions of dollars in payments of oil company baksheesh.
So what about Bradley Manning?
Manning has been charged with “aiding the enemy” – a crime punishable by death.
But Manning’s sole and only purpose was to get out the truth. It wasn’t Manning who wrote the cover-up memos, he merely wanted to get them to the victims: us.
And since when did the public become “the enemy”?
Had Manning’s memos come out just a few months earlier, the truth about BP’s deadly drilling methods would have been revealed, and there’s little doubt BP would have had to change its ways. Those eleven men could well have been alive today.
Did Manning know about this particular hush-hush cable about BP’s blow-out when he decided he had to become Paul Revere and warn the planet?
That’s unlikely, in the thousands of cables he had. But he’d seen enough evidence of murder and mendacity in other cables, so, as Manning, under oath, told a court, he tried to give it all to the New York Times to have knowledgeable reporters review the cables confidentially for life-saving information.
The New York Times immediately seized on this extraordinary opportunity… to ignore Manning. The Times only ran it when the Guardian was going to scoop – and embarrass – the New York hacks.
Though there are limits. While reporter David Leigh put the story of BP’s prior blow-out on page one of the Guardian, neither the New York Times or any other major US news outlet ran the story of the blow-out and oil industry cover-up. No surprise there, though – the most “prestigious” US news programme, PBS Newshour, was sponsored by… Chevron Corporation.
Hanging their source while taking his applause
As a working journalist, and one whose head is likely to be in the foggy gun-sights of some jet jockey or a dictator’s goon squad, I have more than a little distaste for toffs like New York Times’ former executive editor, columnist Bill Keller, who used Manning documents to cash in on a book deal and land star turns on television while simultaneously smearing his source Manning as, “troubled”, “emotionally fractured”, “vague”, “inchoate” and – cover the children’s ears – “gay”.
Furthermore, while preening about their revelations from the Manning documents, the Times had no problem with imprisoning their source. I do acknowledge that the Times and Keller did editorialise that a sentence of life imprisonment without parole would be “overkill”. How white of them.
When it was mentioned that Manning is no different from Daniel Ellsberg, the CIA operative who released the Pentagon Papers, Keller reassured that the Times also told Ellsberg he was “on his own” and did not object to their source being charged as a spy.
And the Times’ much-lauded exposure of the My Lai massacre? My late good friend, the great investigative reporter Ron Ridenhour, who gave the story to Seymour Hersh, told me that he and Hersh had to effectively blackmail the Times into printing it.
Manning: aid to the enemy?
Times man Keller writes that Manning, by going to “anti-American” WikiLeaks, threatened the release of, “information that might get troops in the field or innocent informants killed”.
This is the same Bill Keller who admits that he knew his paper’s reports in 2003 that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction were completely false, but that he – as editor – covered up his paper’s knowledge their WDM stories were simply bogus. Those stories validated the Bush propaganda and helped tip the political balance to invade Iraq. Four-thousand US soldiers died. I guess the idea is that releasing information that kills troops is criminal, but that dis-information that kills troops is quite acceptable.
Maybe I’m just cranky because I wouldn’t have seen my own sources vanish and my film grabbed if the Times had only run the Manning facts about BP and Caspian when they had the chance.
Look, I’m only picking on the New York Times and PBS Newshour because they are the best in America, God help us.
What other lives could have been saved by the Manning revelations? Lots. Watch this space: I promise more aid to the enemies of the state – which is YOU.
Greg Palast investigated the BP Deepwater Horizon deaths for Channel 4 Television UK. Those dispatches are contained in his highly acclaimed book Vultures’ Picnic, named Book of the Year 2012 on BBC Newsnight Review.
His other books are the New York Times bestsellers Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Armed Madhouse
In recent years, BP has spent a lot of money trying to convince the world it had moved ‘Beyond Petroleum’. But having junked its solar energy programme, and been responsible for one of the largest oil spills in history, the only thing left that’s green about this huge multinational corporation is its famous logo. With its entrance into the tar sands, it’s safe to say that Beyond Petroleum has gone Back to Petroleum…
BP has recently dived into its first big Tar Sands extraction venture. The Sunrise Project, a partnership with Husky Energy, will pump out a planet-destroying 3 billion barrels of oil, whilst polluting the local environment and creating serious health and safety concerns for local First Nations communities.
Despite opposition from environmental groups, First Nations communities, climate activists, pension groups and concerned UK citizens they have decided to go ahead with the Sunrise Project. However, no oil will be extracted until at least 2013, so there is still time to stop the project from going ahead.
The Sunrise Project is set to produce 200,000 barrels per day by 2014. Sunrise will use so-called SAG-D (Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage), where water is superheated into steam with vast amounts of natural gas, then injected deep into the earth to melt” the oil from the sand and clay.
US government prosecutors spent the first day of a long-delayed trial into the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster arguing that corporate greed was the cause of the explosion that killed 11 people and created America’s worst offshore oil spill.
A tense day in a federal court in New Orleans saw all four companies involved in the disaster accused of systematically disregarding safety as they sought to extract oil from ever greater depths in the Gulf of Mexico. The Macondo well was called “the well from hell” by a worker, the court heard.
The US government is seeking fines of almost $18bn (£11.8bn) from BP. Its lawyers claimed the bulk of the blame for the disaster lay with the UK company. Most legal experts thought BP would settle with the government over the weekend, but the company has vigorously denied it was grossly negligent in the spill.
The first part of the trial will apportion blame for the disaster between BP; Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig; Halliburton, which cemented the well; and Cameron, the manufacturer of a piece of safety equipment designed to prevent a well from blowing up.
District Judge Carl Barbier said he expects the first part of the trial to last three months. Government lawyers insisted before the trial that evidence would prove their accusation that BP was grossly negligent, a finding that would see the oil giant fined the maximum amount under the US Clean Water Act.
In his opening statement, Mr Underhill cited an email sent from John Guide, who was BP’s manager of the Macondo well, to his manager, David Sims, four days before the explosion on April 2010.
In it, Mr Guide says that his team are “flying by the seat of our pants” and that pressure from above is creating “paranoia” as they pushed to complete a well that the US government claims was $50m over budget by the time it exploded.
In an email response read in court, Mr Sims replied that he was off to “dance practice”, where he would be dancing to the Village People.
BP, which is one of the largest deepwater drillers in the Gulf of Mexico, has always denied that it cut corners to speed up the lucrative flow of oil from the region.
However, Jim Roy, a lawyer representing local businesses damaged by the spill, said BP’s senior management had applied heavy pressure in early 2010 on its Gulf of Mexico operations to speed up production, because it needed to find another $7bn to help pay for a dividend to shareholders.
BP shares closed up 1.6pc at 451½p in London on Monday, but investors who wanted the oil giant to settle before the matter reached court may be bracing for a lengthy trial. BP has set aside $42.2bn to cover the cost of the spill. The trial continues.
BP has been blocked from seeking new contracts with the US government because of the oil company’s “lack of business integrity” during the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, the Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday.
The temporary order bans BP from competing for new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico – such as the auction of 20m acres taking place on Wednesday – or from bidding on new contracts to supply the Pentagon or other government agencies with fuel.
While the ban does not affect existing business, it raises wider questions about the company’s future in a crucial market.
The type of suspension imposed by the EPA typically does not last more than 18 months. But an official said that in this case the ban could be extended because of the ongoing legal proceedings. That could mean BP, the largest oil producer in the Gulf of Mexico, would remain under an extended moratorium until all criminal charges and law suits are resolved.
BP was clearly taken by surprise and struggled to explain the impact on its business. Its shares fell nearly 2% in London as investors reacted with dismay to the news which puts a major dent in the company’s already battered reputation.
The order was handed down just two weeks after BP agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter and other charges arising from the April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, as well as pay a record $4.5bn in fines.
The oil company, in announcing its plea deal with the Justice Department earlier this month, had specifically said it did not expect to be barred from future business dealings. “Under US law, companies convicted of certain criminal acts can be debarred from contracting with the federal government,” the company said in its statement at the time. “BP has not been advised of the intention of any federal agency to suspend or debar the company in connection with this plea agreement.”
The EPA said the suspension was based on BP’s conduct at the time of the blow-out as well as the 87 days it took to contain the well. Some 4.9m barrels of crude gushed into the Gulf of Mexico before it was finally capped.
“EPA is taking this action due to BP’s lack of business integrity as demonstrated by the company’s conduct with regard to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, explosion, oil spill, and response, as reflected by the filing of a criminal information,” the announcement said.
The announcement went on to describe the oil spill as the “largest environmental disaster in US history”.
It said BP would remain under suspension, and barred from new federal government contracts and transactions, until the company can demonstrate that it meets federal business standards.
“Federal executive branch agencies take these actions to ensure the integrity of federal programmes by conducting business only with responsible individuals or companies. Suspensions are a standard practice when a responsibility question is raised by action in a criminal case,” the EPA announcement said.
The agency gave no further details about the duration of the suspension, and the potential costs to BP were not immediately clear.
In its response, BP said the ban would not affect existing business. “The temporary suspension does not affect any existing contracts the company has with the US government, including those related to current and ongoing drilling and production operations in the Gulf of Mexico,” BP said.
The company said it was working with EPA and the US Justice Department to lift the suspension. “The EPA has informed BP that it is preparing a proposed administrative agreement that, if agreed upon, would effectively resolve and lift this temporary suspension. The EPA notified BP that such a draft agreement would be available soon,” the statement said.
The press release also noted that BP had been granted more than 50 new leases in the Gulf of Mexico since the oil disaster.
Peter Hutton, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, said the EPA action had “real significance”, especially as it came days after Lamar McKay, the head of BP in America, was promoted to head of global exploration and production.
“The critical question is whether this is a shot across BP’s bows to get a settlement, or a more sustained stance, in which case the importance of the context is underlined by comments from BP’s chief financial officer, Brian Gilvary, in a recent conference call that such actions could ‘affect BP’s investment thesis in US’.”
But Joe Lampel, professor of strategy at the Cass Business School in London, said while the ban was a blow to BP the damage should be relatively limited.
“This suspension should be seen as an additional penalty rather than a pressure tactic that the US government often uses when it wants to force firms to concede liability. We do not know how long the ban will last, but I suspect that it will be lifted after a sufficient grace period has passed.”
In its attempt to consign Deepwater to the past, BP has agreed to pay $7.8bn to settle private claims stemming from the spill, and with the plea deal reached earlier this month, had hoped to limit its criminal liability. It is still on the hook for up to $21bn for environmental damage to the Gulf. Wednesday’s move by the EPA presents an additional complication.
Meanwhile, two BP rig supervisors appeared in a New Orleans court on Wednesday to be formally charged with manslaughter in the deaths of 11 workers aboard the rig. The supervisors, Donald Vidrine and Robert Kaluza, are accused of ignoring abnormal pressure readings seen as a red flag of a well blow-out.
Kaluza told reporters just before his hearing that he was innocent of the charges. “I think about the tragedy of the Deepwater Horizon every day. But I did not cause the tragedy,” he told reporters at the court. “I am innocent and I put my trust, reputation and future in the hands of the judge and jury.”
A former BP executive David Rainey was charged separately for allegedly lying to Congress about the amount of oil that was gushing from the well. All three men were expected to plead not guilty.
The EPA action was positively received by a number of key players, including former senator Bob Graham, who had chaired the White House oil spill commission. “I can’t put a dollar figure on what that would mean but I would assume that access to one of the larger reserves of petroleum in the world – which the Gulf of Mexico is – would have some economic consequences. And the longer the prohibition, the greater the consequences,” Graham told the Guardian.
He went on to praise the Obama administration for holding the oil company to account.
“I think sending a very strong signal that the federal government is going to be a much better steward of public property and that those who are permitted to explore and then potentially exploit those public properties are going to have to conduct themselves by world-class standards,” Graham said.
Campaign groups also applauded the move by the EPA. But the Oceana conservation group said the tough line from the Obama administration was undercut by its decision to go ahead with new lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday.
“We are pleased that BP is being penalised for the irresponsible actions,” said Matt Dundas, the campaign director. But he went on: “Overall, President Obama is missing the lesson of the Deepwater Horizon disaster which is that offshore drilling is inherently dirty and dangerous and needs to be phased out.”
LONDON—After his company agreed to plead guilty to 14 criminal charges in connection with the Deep Horizon accident and oil spill, BP chief executive Bob Dudley released an official statement Thursday expressing his “profound and heartfelt remorse” over the loss of $4.5 billion in fines. “All of us at BP deeply regret any negligence on our part that may have led to this tragic oil spill and the tremendous damage it has inflicted upon our profitability,” Dudley said of the disaster that may eventually cost his company more than $40 billion in settlements and penalties. “We never intended to upset the incredibly delicate balance of our finances, and efforts to restore the billions of dollars lost in this unspeakable catastrophe will continue until we ensure ensure just compensation for every last shareholder.” Reached for further comment, Dudley told reporters that while he feels “tremendous sorrow over losing $4.5 billion,” he’s just thankful it only amounts to 1 percent of the company’s gross revenue for 2011.