Gulf Voices Silenced as BP try their hardest to move on from an awful year
By Matthew Butcher – reporting from inside yesterday’s BP AGM
It hasn’t been the easiest year for BP or their shareholders. First their was the disastrous Deepwater Disaster which killed 11 of its workers and spilled the equivalent of 60 000 barrels of oil into The Gulf of Mexico per day. Then BP cancelled its dividends to shareholders in 2010 and now its deal with Rosneft is looking in jeopardy.
The thing is most people don’t have much sympathy for BP and anyone who attended their AGM today might well understand why. The company, whose tone today surely should have apologetic, refused access to their AGM to a group of oysterman and fisherman who had flown over to tell the board how their lives had been affected by the tragedy in The Gulf of Mexico. As Carl-Henric Svanberg, BPs smooth talking Chairman, spoke of BPs desire to change for the better his hired henchmen refused to allow those whose lives his company had hurt to be heard. As Bob Dudley, CEO, waxed lyrical about the amazing efforts BP had made to rectify their errors those who he claimed to be helping were denied a voice.
But it wasn’t just the residents of The Gulf of Mexico who were angry at BP today. Workers from the GMB union who had been ‘locked out’ of work by BP in Hull waved their banners as shareholders made their way into the AGM. Art Not Oil campaigners, who are campaigning to stop BP sponsoring art exhibitions, held banners outside The Excel Centre. Members of The UK Tar Sands Network, as well as eloquent First Nations representatives, made their impassioned cases both inside and out of the AGM. Some were dragged out of the main hall after revealing a human banner reading ‘No Tar Sands’ while Clayton Thomas-Muller and his colleagues informed shareholders of the immense damage that BP’s ‘In-Situ’ oil sands extraction was having on the lives and environment of first nation communities in Alberta, Canada.
It isn’t just activists who are angry at BP. Investors from across the globe joined together to vote against or abstain in key votes at today’s AGM. Around 43% of shareholders, an extraordinarily high number in the AGM world, refused to back the Chairman of the Safety Committee William Castell. Julie Tanner, from Christian Brothers Investment Services, told the board of directors that they simply hadn’t made enough efforts to improve safety after Deepwater to have the trust of shareholders.
The effects of all of this anger would, you might think, make BP stop and think about they way they are doing business. When fisherman tell you that their lives are ruined, indigenous people explain to you that your company is trampling on their ancient traditions and your own investors are worried about risk taking you would have thought that the BP board might be shaken. But they weren’t. Instead they insisted that Deepwater was the fault of ‘multi agency failure’, that the estuaries in Louisiana were ‘dead before the spill’ and that any industry brings with it certain amounts of destruction as in Alberta. The company that rebranded themselves as ‘Beyond Petroleum’ said that “[Their] 2030 outlook is based on supply and demand trends and [they] will continue to rely on fossil fuels”.
Next year BP may well be in a better position for its shareholders. It may well have had a year in which their was no major oil spill and they may well have signed a deal to start working in Russia but they have a huge task ahead if they are to fix their tarnished reputation. Bob Dudley might say that ‘BP is a different company from last year’ but, as I sat inside their AGM today and Gulf coast fisherman were locked out, I couldn’t help but sense the hollowness in his words.