BP plc, formerly known as British Petroleum, is a British-based global energy company. It is the United Kingdom's largest corporation, the third largest energy company, and the fourth largest company overall in the world. BP is also one of the six supermajors, which are the largest non-state owned energy companies.
Originally created to exploit oil operations in Iran in the 1950s, BP was forced to explore other options when Iran’s oil production was nationalized in 1979. In response, the company began exploring other possible oil producing methods and areas including offshore drilling. Currently, BP is focused on deepwater offshore drilling and is the leader in exploration and production in that field. BP operates oil fields in the North Sea, Norway, Trinidad and Tobago, the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Angola, Columbia, Australia, and Norway.
Throughout BP’s history there have been a number of human rights, environmental, and safety catastrophes. In 2005 BP was responsible for an explosion at a Texas City refinery that killed 15 people and injured 180 others (details below). It was later found that maintenance and safety at the plant had been cut as a cost-saving measure. The most recent catastrophe is the ongoing Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which killed 11 people when the rig initially exploded and has already caused extensive environmental devastation due to the oil spilling from the well.
Though BP was one of the first supermajors to openly promise to combat global warming, they have made little in the way of substantive investment in renewable energy. While adopting the slogan “Beyond Petroleum” and changing their logo to a green flower pattern, they have only committed 3% of their profits to renewable energies. This has led to accusations of greenwashing, or rebranding to give the illusion of environmental concern.
BP was named by Mother Jones Magazine as one of the ten worst corporations in both 2001 and 2005 based on its environmental and human rights records. The Political Economy Research Institute ranks BP 25th on their list of the 100 worst air polluters in the U.S. BP's polluting facilities disproportionately affect minority communities. CARMA reports that BP PLC releases over 8.7 million tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide each year.
In 1991 BP was cited as the most polluting company in the US based on EPA toxic release data. BP has been charged with burning polluted gases at its Ohio refinery (for which it was fined $1.7 million), and in July 2000 BP paid a $10 million fine to the EPA for its management of its US refineries. According to PIRG research, between January 1997 and March 1998, BP was responsible for 104 oil spills.
BP won a satirical award for best greenwashing campaign for rebranding themselves “Beyond Petroleum.” The company spent $93 million on advertising in response to the Macondo well blowout as of early September, 2010. Their total advertising relating to energy and environmental issues in 2010 by October 20 was over $125 million.
BP avoids compensating Inupiat community:
In February, 2011, BP was forced to compensate $4.9 million in unpaid rent to an Inupiat Eskimo family on the North Slope of Alaska. BP had been granted permission by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to use the family's land to access Raven oil field, which produced $35 million worth of oil to the company. BP also granted subsidiary ARCO and ExxonMobil access to the area without the permission of landowners.
Partnership with Rosneft in Russian Arctic:
BP has partnered with Russian state-owned company Rosneft to begin offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean, due to rapidly depleting oil from land operations ("We've already pumped the land dry," said one member of Russian Parliament). Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin claims BP is the best company for the job, having dealt with a major offshore disaster (see "DEEPWATER HORIZON DISASTER," below). This has not proven true in other cases of repeated safety failures by the company, most notably in the case of the company's Texas City Refinery.
Safety Violations and Disasters resulting in loss of life:
Two weeks before the infamous Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP’s Texas City refinery began leaking over 500,000 pounds of hazardous chemical gases over the course of 40 days. Chemicals released included carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and benzene, a known carcinogen. When the accident became public, the Texas City refinery was already under scrutiny for failing to improve safety conditions in the refinery after a deadly accident in 2005. After heavy effort to cut safety costs, an explosion at the refinery killed 15 employees and injured another 180 people. Since the accident, four more workers have died in accidents at the same plant and over 100 more have been hospitalized. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined BP $87 million in late 2009 for 270 violations of their agreements to improve safety after the 2005 blast, as well as 439 new “egregious and willful” safety violations. These fines were imposed on top of millions in fines immediately following the 2005 refinery explosion. BP is now selling the refinery.
DEEPWATER HORIZON Gulf of Mexico deepwater well blowout:
On April 20, 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded during a well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven employees and marking the beginning of the largest accidental oil spill in world history . As the disaster unfolded, it became increasingly clear that BP’s safety precautions on the Deepwater Horizon were inadequate; the company took advantage of poor federal oversight and even ignored its own engineers’ safety and operational concerns in matters that directly contributed to the accident. BP’s concern over the project falling behind schedule and going over budget appears to have been a major contributing factor to their failure to maintain a safe workplace; one employee famously referred to the project as a “nightmare well”. Still, former BP CEO Tony Hayward told Congress he had “no reason to conclude” that BP wasn’t following the strictest safety standards.
Over the course of three months, 4.1 million barrels of oil (over 172 million gallons) were released into the Gulf. Dispersants, used to break the oil into droplets, were heavily applied despite concerns over their health effects and the likelihood that they could make cleanup far less effective. This concern eventually materialized as reality when federal authorities announced the vast majority of oil had disappeared, while independent scientists began confirming the existence of vast underwater oil plumes and heavy crude pollution on the ocean floor. The company Nalco, producer of the Corexit dispersant BP exclusively used, has ties to BP through director Rodney F. Chase.
BP has been heavily scrutinized over its response to the Deepwater Horizon explosion, as the company was caught censoring reporters, putting cleanup workers at unnecessary risk, and controlling what scientific research could be conducted in response to the disaster. Revolving door concerns also became apparent as conflicts of interest were highlighted between BP and the Coast Guard, judges in lawsuits, and even the White House Oil Spill Commission.
Less than a year after the disaster began, without completing compensation payments and far from successfully cleaning the 4.9 million gallon oil spill, BP sought permission to resume offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.