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BP greenwashes as climate dangers grow

Guest Opinion: BP's careful control of image hides a record that should be alarming.
From the start, BP has underestimated the spill and failed in its responsibilities to deal with the Gulf catastrophe.

From the start, BP has underestimated the spill and failed in its responsibilities to deal with the Gulf catastrophe. U.S. Coast Guard/via Wikimedia Commons

With spring fully sprung and another Earth Day past, it is critical the public stay alert to corporations that wrap themselves in a green patina while acting to the contrary. King among the “green-washers” is British Petroleum, BP — going as far as to assert to having gone “Beyond Petroleum.”

In future years — on future Earth Days — BP should forever be associated with this nation’s largest oil spill, caused by the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oilrig. While the Deepwater Horizon blew up on April 20 three years ago, it was not until two days — Earth Day — later that a five-mile slick was reported. That was attributed only to the 700,000 gallons of fuel carried on the rig at the time. It wasn’t until April 25 that a gusher over a mile subsurface was revealed.

Spill rate estimates grew from 40,000 gallons per hour hr to 200,000 gallons as data became available to conduct independent estimates. It took three months to “kill” the well, but not before more than 210 million gallons were “spilled” and numerous fish and wildlife were killed, along with the 11 crew members that died. BP added an additional 2 million gallons of dispersants at depth and on surface in an unprecedented ecological experiment to minimize surface manifestations.

Unlike the numerous iconic images of the Exxon Valdez spill that has remained in the public eye and consciousness for the past 24 years, BP masterfully controlled broadcast and Internet coverage of the Deepwater disaster, downplaying the impacts while restricting the ability of reporters to provide independent documentation. As a result of this and domination of the electronic and print media, the legal hearings to determine the degree of BP’s culpability in the Gulf of Mexico debacle concluded last month in Louisiana with little notice.

BP has spent millions attempting to counterfeit green credentials, while we sweat it out during this perilous time in the earth’s history. Whether it intentionally withheld flow rate information in the early days of the explosion — just one of the many issues BP is being tried for in an apparent attempt to reduce its liability — or not, its actions serve as a teachable moment for a world where carbon dioxide levels have just reached a critical point. BP should come to epitomize the term “green washing” in order to prevent its singular moment in our nation’s fossil fuel dependency from succumbing to a corporate barrage of bluster and slipping silently beneath the waves of public awareness.

While the world worries about carbon levels, BP recently announced a halt to its solar program, the very program behind the change to its current sun-inspired corporate logo. BP is now heavily invested in the highest carbon content tar sand-derived oil, for which it pays nothing into state or federal response accounts because the federal government does not consider it to be “oil.” Washington state does not tax oil entering the state by pipeline or rail, despite the risks posed.

By overlaying a self-righteous, green façade on the British company's aggressive corporate acquisitions in the United States, BP ‘s “Astroturf” campaign effectively deflected attention and regulatory scrutiny at a critical time in their expansion. Not to mention the short-term profit-taking the mergers afforded.

During this time, BP was on probation not only for serious accidents they had in Texas and Alaska, but for manipulation of the propane market. This manipulation was documented by Jeanne Pascal, the former EPA Region X officer assigned to BP in Seattle  in ProPublica reporter Abraham Lustgarten’s excellent book, Run to Failure.  Pascal's views need to be heard during this critical time. At least, we must find out what happened to the file she was about to present regarding EPA’s debarment of BP from federal contracts before her abrupt retirement. Since retiring, she has been quoted expressing dismay as to how the Department of Defense had interfered with her investigations.


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Comments:

Posted Sun, May 12, 10:32 a.m. Inappropriate

While I greatly appreciate the editors at Crosscut, my bio should read:

Fred Felleman came to the Northwest in 1980 to study killer whales for his graduate research at the University of Washington. He championed creation of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, the Neah Bay response tug, the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve and has been critical of BP's Cherry Point refinery operations. He is currently a consultant for Friends of the Earth. You can reach him in care of editor@crosscut.com.

Posted Mon, May 13, 9 a.m. Inappropriate

It is doubtful the Neah Bay Tug can ever pan out as a useful adjunct to maritime safety. Total and complete engine failures are rare on modern ships and even rarer in stormy weather when a rescue tug would be hard pressed to even get a line aboard let alone tow a 300,000 dwt tanker to safety. As for the Cherry Point Refinery criticisms, what are they? Do they have any merit?

seebee

Posted Sun, May 12, 12:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Ah, yes . . . more railing against those evil corporations that are not “green” or “progressive” (i.e., the badges of distinction the democratic party functionaries around here pin on themselves).

One of the state democrats’ top dogs – Norm Dicks – now is off to overtly lobby for the oil and tar sands companies he covertly has been supporting while in office:

http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2020941378_dicksjobxml.html

The fact of the matter is that all the self-identified progressive entities around here, including the democratic party, the WEA, the SEIU, urban land speculators, entities that get rich off muni-bond sales and public works contracts, and the rich corporations and individuals tout decidedly UNprogressive taxing, financing, and municipal structure policies.

What the democrats around here do in terms of serving their rich base is a mirror image of how the “progressives” at the national level behave:

http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/03/15/the-progressive-movement-is-a-pr-front-for-rich-democrats/

And no, it doesn’t help cover up that reality to trot out some guy like this columnist to suggest only corporations engage in hypocritical behavior.

crossrip

Posted Sun, May 12, 2:32 p.m. Inappropriate

According to a May 15, 2005, article in Seattle PI, with 22 deaths, BP led the US refining industry in fatalities in the preceding decade, representing more than a quarter of the nation’s total. They're a bit worse than hypocrites.

TJW

Posted Mon, May 13, 11:31 a.m. Inappropriate

Remember. Sen. Maria Cantwell failed in her oversight responsibilities. She was Chair of the Senate Energy Subcommittee overseeing offshore oil drilling. Fred, you may think greenwashing is the issue, but by ignoring Cantwell's culpability, you're whitewashing Cantwell's guilt.

Posted Mon, May 13, 11:37 a.m. Inappropriate

Congratulations to BP! It has now surpassed Exxon Mobil as the reigning petroleum Dark Force. I mean, who even remembers the Alaska spill? It just seems so very very long ago. Personally, I think that Chevron and Texaco have never received all the credit they are due for destroying South American ecosystems. But I guess that's the price you pay for operating in obscure foreign lands where environmental disasters somehow seem a little less important.

Closer to home, I often wonder if there is some historical connection between BP's Ferndale refinery operations and the disappearance of the herring off Cherry Point. In coming years BP's position as top dog is likely to be threatened by the Keystone Pipeline and all that toxic oil sands sludge from Canada. I'll bet BP is holding Cherry Point (and a dozen other minor disasters) in reserve to repel upstart challengers and defend their preeminent position. They're pretty smart guys; I'm sure they've got a plan for the future.

woofer

Posted Mon, May 13, 7:39 p.m. Inappropriate

As an "owner" of BP, I feel it is somewhat important for accuracy to point out the environmental damage really is not that bad. It could have been bad, but really wasn't, was it? Nearly non-existent, fortunately. As for "greenwashing", it sort of leads one to believe there are a lot of "greenwashable" followers of the environmental movement. HMMM.

One could characterize the environmental movement as follows:

1. The evil leadership-- they want to nationalize the energy industry for power and control
2. The "smart" dupes, these are the professors and intelligent greenies who really believe they are saving the world.
3. The media, who work for #1 on the list, and count #2 among their membership
4. The "greenwashable" who really don't actually have an original thought, but take advice from #2 and #3 and think it's hip to have an opinion. This group is a vast majority number-wise, especially in Seattle and Hollywood.
5. Old School Conservationists

But the article is kind of about #4, and I think it's a chastisement of #3 by a #2. My opinion, only the #5 is right, and we all ought to oppose the #1 instead of being fooled by them. They will ignore all of us once we give them what they have been striving for. The end game of the current environmental movement will kill the world, end progress, and enslave us all. The next 100 years will solve today's environmental threats (remember, 100 years ago we didn't really even have cars or refrigeration, it is an error to assume the world will remain static),we must be wary we do not end progress itself by giving the "man" what he wants with the energy industry.

Posted Tue, May 14, 12:25 a.m. Inappropriate

I will try to address the comments as they came in:

Sebee - the Neah Bay Tug has proven its value repeatedly as documented on the Dept of Ecology's website.

Crossrip - in no way can you infer from my assertion that BP's image is not representative of their track record to mean that others are not also capable of such deeds.

Randydutton - No where in my article do I mention Senator Cantwell, but there is no arguing that the MMS was literally in bed with the oil industry. For many years now the US government has approached regulations as being met because a company signs off that they are. In the event of a spill, the responsible party stays in charge as long as they are acting responsibly. The public's discomfort with this was obvious during the debriefings by Adm Thad Allen, but are of merit as long as all parties have access the critical information.

However, one of the few substantive things Congress did in response to the Gulf disaster was to reform the Minerals Management Service - attempting to separate its enforcement and revenue divisions and giving it an un-pronouncable acronym BOEM. If that is your issue I think you could thank our Senator who has shown little hesitance in asking tough questions of the sector.

TJW - thank you for the supporting statistics. I urge folks to read Run to Failure for additional documentation.

Woofer - While the Exxon Valdez spill had more obvious impacts to wildlife than has yet been able to be documented in the Gulf, Exxon never claimed to be a green oil company - BP did and the fact that the spill landed on Earth Day offered a teachable moment.

CranCreature - its a bit late for me to be following your numbering system, but please do not make your conclusions on the impacts to the Gulf until the information is made public. It is critical that long term toxicological measures of the dispersants used are sustained.

Thanks for bothering to comment. Fred

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