Saturday, 12 June 2010

Attacking BP isn’t helping anyone

I'm getting a big fed up with the vitriol levelled against BP. It's not helping anyone, but is doing damage to the pensions of many here in the UK. He's using the opportunity as a way to espouse thinly-veiled xenophobia; he keeps referring to it as "British Petroleum", which it hasn't been called since 1998, and it now consists of a merger of British Petroleum (UK), Amoco (USA), Arco (USA), and Burmha-Castrol (Castrol originally US-owned, but then bought out by Burmah - a UK company.) As far as I can see, BP have gone to great lengths to get the oil leaked stopped - as they should - so the attacks aren't useful; if anything, they're distracting the company by damaging their share price. Obama is in a situation of damned if he does and damned if he doesn't: reactionary Americans get upset if he doesn't sling mud at BP, and we get upset if he does and therefore causes our pensions to collapse for no reason other than his own popularity. I think it would be better for all concerned if he did something productive about this rather than just moaned.

The first qualm is that that company is not called British Petroleum. The only reason Obama and other American politicians keep calling it that is to pass the buck and stir up some anti-British feeling, as if everyone who lives in the UK was in cahoots to spill oil over the American coastline so we could watch your wildlife get covered in it. If BP was a company formerly called Indian Petroleum, and had merged with other companies and renamed itself to IP, I doubt Obama would be going on such an anti-Indian tirade because he'd know he risks being accused of being racist, but because we're his little white British lapdogs he seems to feel safe in attacking. Nor would you see US politicians saying "Whenever you hear someone with an Indian accent talking about this on behalf of Indian Petroleum, they're not telling you the truth." But replace "Indian" with "British", and the suitably named Anthony Weiner feels okay in doing so. For the record, BP doesn't stand for 'Beyond Petroleum' either - that's a slogan they use occasionally. The initials no longer stand for anything.

The holier-than-thou tone doesn't help either: these things happen, and the UK has experienced an oil spill when an Occidental Petroleum rig exploded, spewing out hundreds of thousands gallons of oil per day, making it the worst environmental disaster of its kind at the time. My understanding is that Thatcher - then PM - didn't spend her time slinging muck at the company. It would have been pointless and inflammatory for her to attack the company and start an American hate campaign, so she didn't. That's proper leadership for you.

Of course the Gulf of Mexico spill is a terrible accident, but that's precisely what it is: an accident. Judging by the way some Yanks are talking, you'd think the company had deliberately caused this leak for the pleasure of seeing its oil wash coat the sea and wash ashore. There may have been negligence, and there are allegations that the company didn't listen to warnings that parts were faulty or weak; potential failures of the company must be looked into after the leak is completely stopped and the oil is cleaned up. At the moment, the focus should be upon stopping the oil and getting it cleaned up. But that hasn't convinced reactionary idiots, who have begun an overzealous campaign to Seize the assets of BP to pay for the cleanup and compensation of those affected. This typically over the top reaction would perhaps be valid if the company had done nothing to sort out the mess, but BP has been trying various different techniques to stem the flow of oil; they've hired workers to clean up the oil washing ashore; and have been honouring compensation claims. I don't see that seizing assests and therefore potentially causing the company to collapse would be in anyone's interests.

Regarding the workers on the beaches cleaning up the oil, a silly complaint I've seen from some chaps is that BP are selling they oil that their contractors collects. Of course they're selling the oil. What did they expect them to do? Have it all collected, neatly bagged up, and then thrown into the bin? Would they rather BP just left the oil on the beaches?

I was hunting around Twitter yesterday and came across a long-haired American Pastor contributing in his own little way to the hatred of BP. (At least he recognised it's not called British Petroleum). Apparently the UK should have been telling this company what to do - we should have told BP they weren't allowed to drill off the coast of the USA. It has nothing to do with the UK Government whether BP is allowed to drill off the coast of the USA: it's a matter for the US Government, and I wonder how happy they would have been if our Government phoned the President and said "Actually, you're not allowed to let BP drill for oil off the coast of your country." The US Government has the power of regulation and controlling oil drilling on their coast; we don't, and there is no possible way our Government can be blamed for not sticking their noses in and banning BP for drilling. Also, apparently BP is a "rouge company." I've seen no evidence of that; oil spills happen, and even if a company takes tremendous precautions accidents sadly will still occur.

There's also been some reactionary talk about stopping all offshore oil drilling. I'm sure we'd all love that, but until renewable resources replace fossil fuels, and the products made from oil - such as plastics - are replaced, we need the thick black goo. The USA is a massive consumer of oil, so it plays a part of the large demand for fossil fuels and can't simply wash its hands of this. It is easy to demand that drilling stops until the effect hits: no fuel and a shortage of products. We all consume oil or use products created from it, and demand needs to be reduced and alternatives found if it is going to be phased out.

Having discovered the American Hypocrites blog and done a bit of quick research of my own, I think it's also worth pointing out that American companies have been responsible for their fair share of oil spills in their time. (Since America seems to judge the BP is a British company because it was founded in Britain, I'm going to use the same logic for them). For example: this one, this, this, this, this, and this.

The pensions of many Brits are being affected by the plunging share prices of BP, and Obama's attacks and the risk of him taking foolish drastic action aren't helping matters. I've seen these concerns dismissed with the assumption that it's only wealthy middle-class people moaning about their pensions (mainly by pretentious commenters on the Independent website, who just love environmental disasters because it gives them something to get on their high horse about.) It's may be affecting my Dad's pension, and it would be no fault of his. (I cannot be sure since he refuses to check his pension fund whilst this is going on) Since he doesn't choose where his pension is invested, his funds may have been used to invest in BP, which means the value of his savings will have gone down. He's not wealthy: being a mechanic for all your life does not make you a rich man, but he is potentially being affected by this just as many other workers are.

There are clearly lessons to be learnt from this: there may need to be higher safety standards and checks, and it highlights the damage that our consumption of oil can do to the environment. Whilst it's clearly impractical in the short term to be rid of oil, I think this event is firm reminder that we need to be doing all we can to be moving towards renewable and less damaging sources of energy.

At any rate: buy shares in BP; fill up your car with BP petrol - even if it's full already; and buy a whole trolley-full of snacks at your nearest station. At least it'll upset those Americans who have jumped on their high horses and are calling for a boycott of the company, and maybe help some pension funds grow.

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