If oil be the fuel for us, drill on

BP is sponsoring the Tate Galleries, British Museum and RSC. In 2012 it sponsored the World Shakespeare Festival and the London Olympics. But it is not doing this out of the goodness of its heart. BP wants to distract us all from its appalling environmental and human rights record and its considerable contribution to climate change.

Something wicked this way comes

In its 2011 Sustainability Review, BP admits that if we carry on down our current path of increasing global fossil fuel use, we will be committed to temperature rises of over two degrees.

A two degree rise will almost certainly trigger “runaway” global warming, bringing with it massive infrastructure collapse, a global food deficit leading to mass starvation, disease, population shifts, extreme weather disasters, and ultimately an unrecognisable planet. Rather than proposing an alternative path, BP seems to calmly accept this terrifying future, and bases its entire business plan on increasing fossil fuel demand and rising CO2 emissions. The company is unashamedly basing its future profits on the end of civilisation as we know it.

Double, double oil is trouble, oil rigs burn and tar sands bubble

On April 20th, 2010, an explosion at BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers and caused a rapid stream of crude oil to begin gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. It flowed unabated for the next three months, releasing just under 200 million gallons into the ocean – the largest marine oil accident in US history.

The effects of the disaster continue to devastate coastal ecosystems, local livelihoods and residents’ health along the Gulf Coast.

Bryan Parras, from Houston, explained at BP’s 2012 AGM: “BP claims that the spill has been cleaned up. This isn’t true. Oil is still impacting our communities, causing sickness, and triggering a collapse in fish stocks and local livelihoods. Many face overwhelming medical bills from illnesses associated with the spill and clean-up. To add insult to injury, local communities must bear the burden of proof that the 200 million gallons of oil and 2 million gallons of chemical dispersant released into the Gulf has caused lasting and detrimental effects, even though the most basic common sense would suggest exposure to raw crude oil and the dispersant Corexit is bad for ecosystems and people’s health. It’s important that people hear the truth.”

Soon after the drilling disaster, in December 2010, BP announced it was going ahead with a £1.6 billion investment in its first tar sands extraction project in Canada. As explained here, tar sands are one of the most polluting forms of fossil fuel on earth, and trample on Indigenous rights. They are a kind of oily deposit that take huge amounts of energy and water to extract and refine into usable oil. This extraction causes huge damage to the local environment, and has serious effects on the health of local people and workers. BP is now making major investments in this risky, capital-intensive, highly-polluting unconventional oil.

This move represents a final abandonment of any pretence by BP to be going “Beyond Petroleum”.

Lord, what fools we mortals be!

BP is determined to write off the Deepwater Horizon disaster as a tragic one-off. Unfortunately, these kinds of accidents are likely to become common occurrences if BP proceeds with its current business plans. Rather than shifting towards sustainable energy sources, the company is making ever-increasing investment in difficult “frontier” oil developments in inhospitable and fragile environments, such as deep offshore rigs and Arctic waters.

At the same time, it has sold off its solar energy division, and is pushing into large-scale biofuels, which have little or no climate benefit in their current form and have been linked to rainforest destruction, the violation of land rights and rising global food prices.

The International Energy Agency’s Chief Economist Fatih Birol recently admitted that all the cheap and easy oil has now been found. We stand at a crossroads – we can either switch to a more sustainable transport system (with better public transport, and vehicles powered by renewable electricity), or charge headlong into difficult and dangerous “extreme” oil sources. The risks of spills and leaks are far higher for deep offshore drilling, especially in the Arctic circle, and the damage to ecosystems could be devastating.