Where your money goes: BP, corruption, spills, and “gross negligence”

By Emilie Tricarico

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Gilberto Torres speaking in Edinburgh, 20 October 2015. Photo by Ric Lander.

“In a country where death, corruption and state terrorism are the law truth becomes a synonym for terrorism. Therefore solidarity is the strength that the powerless need.”

These were the words Gilberto Torres spoke on his release on 7 April 2002.

He recited them to an audience gathered in Edinburgh on the Divest Scotland Tour, part of Friends of the Earth Scotland’s campaign to divest funds from fossil fuels.

Former trade union leader Gilberto Torres was kidnapped and tortured by paramilitaries in Colombia. Those same paramilitaries later told a court they were sent by oil company Ocensa, BP’s then business partner in Colombia. Oil giant BP, via a subsidiary BPXP, started drilling for oil in the region in 1992, in a time of ongoing conflict background between a guerilla movement and paramilitaries supported by the government.

British NGO War on Want and Deighton Pierce Glynn law firm hosted Gilberto’s tour around the UK to gather support for his court case linking BP to the torture, murder and disappearance of more than 12,000 people the oil-rich Casanere region of Columbia.

BP is a major sponsor of the Edinburgh International Festival, in 2014 Scottish local government pensions had a £39 million direct stake in BP, and other public and private funds alike have large sums invested in the company. Here we consider three other aspects to BP’s irresponsible practices.

Low Carbon Policies: Phasing out Renewables & EU lobby

Recently, BP’s chief economist argued in a speech in London that fossil fuel reserves are unlikely to be fully exploited if climate change concerns are to be taken into consideration.

In spite of this, BP has successfully campaigned for the phasing out of both subsidies, and nationally-binding targets, for renewables at the European level, advocating instead for large-scale use of gas.

Although the company recently committed to provide greater transparency regarding its impact on climate change, it declared it would not make any attempts to curb its own greenhouse gas output. This strategy comes at a time of drastic budget restrictions to what was previously allocated for renewables.

The Guardian reports that BP has considerably reduced its research activities in renewables and low carbon alternatives in comparison with 1980’s and early 90’s levels. While BP’s investments in green energy once accounted for the equivalent of £300 million a year, the company steadily sold off its renewable businesses and filed away research in a private corporate archive.

BP’s £20 billion budget for 2015 continues its major investments into gas and oil exploration including the ultra-carbon heavy tar sands.

Repressive regimes: The case of Azerbaijan

Detailed investigations by Platform London show that the close relationship between the BP and the government of Azerbaijan has continued for more than 20 years. Among all the other corporations, BP is the largest investor in the country and Azerbaijan is BP’s fourth most productive province.

BP’s operations in the region have proven ever more crucial to the company.  Shortly after the Deepwater Horizon spill (see below), the Obama administration issued a moratorium for deepwater drilling in the US seas. In the meantime, BP reassured a long-term partnership with the Azerbaijan government by agreeing over a 30-year exploration project in the Shafag-Asiman field, with risky high-temperature and high-pressure drilling technology.

The repressive Alyiev government in Azerbaijan is known for sentencing political opponents to the regime in prison. Political prisoners include investigative journalist Khadija Ismayil who had spoken against BP and the UK government’s support of the Azeri regime. Her sentence of 7.5 years in prison comes shortly after the murder of journalist Rasim Aliyev who had documented the Azeri police’s commonly violent practices.

Despite calls for BP to stop funding Alyiev’s government the company continues to negotiate with the the regime to secure a Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline project running from the Caspian Sea to Northern Italy.

Largest spill in history: Deepwater Horizon

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BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig on fire, 2010. Photo: US Coast Guard, Flickr.

Four years after one of the biggest accidents in marine history BP were found to have been “grossly negligent” by a US court for the disaster at the Deepwater Horizon platform.

The region affected by the incident is part of one of the world’s most productive marine and coastal ecosystems, for which the Louisiana wetlands provide a variety of ecological services crucial to the surrounding biodiversity.

BP will pay $18.7 billion, the largest environmental fine in US history, for breaching the Clean Water Act and in compensation for the damage to the natural resources.

Ronald Ducote, a worker involved in the oil clean-up following the incident, brought BP to court for alleging negligence and breach of duty. The plaintiff, who suffers from severe health issues, such as respiratory and dermatological disorders, accuses the company of deliberately neglecting workers’ safety and dismissing government warnings by failing to provide adequate training and protection to the workers hired in the clean-up process. The chemicals dispersants Corexit 9500 and Corexit EC9527A, to which the workers were in direct contact with, are both banned in the UK due to their negative effects on people and natural systems. Those oil dispersants are known to be 10,000 more lethal to life than crude oil and each contains a chemical involved in respiratory and skin irritation effects on humans.

  • About the Author: While studying for a Masters in Corporate Environmental Management at the University of Surrey, Emilie started taking part in the fossil fuel divestment movement by helping setting up a Fossil Free campaign at the university. Living in Edinburgh, Emilie campaigns for divestment from fossil fuels and against TTIP, and she is particularly concerned with the ways local communities are impacted by multinationals and their strategies to resist corporate abuse.
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