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British Petroleum (BP) Shames Itself With Green Ads and Disastrous Policy

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I’ve written before about oil companies, chemical firms and pharmaceutical giants who grease the double-page spreads of magazines with ‘green-speak’ while they poison and flim-flam the public in the day-to-day reality of their business practices. It's a favorite subject of mine.

There is no relaxing. In between leakages and poisonings, mass deaths and side-effects, the beat goes on. British Petroleum leads the A-list most grievous offenders. Kari Lydersen writes in today’s Washington Post;
WHITING, Ind. -- A proposal to allow BP to greatly increase the amount of pollutants it discharges into Lake Michigan from its refinery here has prompted a bitter war of words between officials in Illinois and Indiana.
Illinois officials have accused their neighbors to the east of fouling the lake, which has grown steadily cleaner in recent years. Indiana officials say the planned discharge is within the federal limits and accuse their Illinois brethren of grandstanding.

At issue is a plan by BP to upgrade its oil refinery in northwest Indiana to increase the amount of heavy crude oil from the Canadian province of Alberta that it can refine at its Whiting plant. To help, state regulators have granted the company a permit allowing it to dump 50 percent more ammonia and 35 percent more suspended solids into Lake Michigan.

Indiana officials can say what they like, but Indiana merely touches the bottom of Lake Michigan and what it throws in there mostly slides around to wash up against Chicago’s swimming beaches. In the bad old days we had consistent closings of beaches due to Gary and Hammond steel mills. The mills have mostly gone broke, so the lake has really improved more by history than regulation. But the bad old days are back with BP’s refinery expansion.

BP and Indiana officials say the $3 billion plan will boost the struggling local economy. Ah, the local economy. Was there ever a time when pissing in society’s punch-bowl didn’t boost the local economy?

But BP is more politically correct than that, right?
(BP website) A 32-year industry veteran, Bob Malone (chairman and president, BP America) admits that when he stepped into the position last June he was surprised by the breadth of the issues he faced. “After the Texas City incident, Alaska oil spill, pipeline corrosion problems and propane trading issues, people were angry,” says Malone.

“A senior member of Congress told me, ‘we’re very disappointed in you, but we believe you’ll get it right because of the kind of company you are.’ Members of the Baker Panel expressed similar sentiments.”

The Baker Panel? You got it. The same. Good ol’ former US Secretary of State James A. Baker, III. When he’s not over in Iraq, figuring out what went wrong, he’s shilling for an oil company. Busy guy, ol’ Bob.

But senior members of Congress get over their disappointment pretty quickly when they are lined up for PAC money and ‘because of the kind of company you are’ takes on multiple meanings. Here’s a sample of the kind of company BP is, from outside the hallowed halls of Congress;
(Wikipedia) BP was named one of the "ten worst corporations" in both 2001 and 2006 based on its environmental and human rights records. In 1991 BP was cited as the most polluting company in the US based on EPA toxic release data. Greenpeace International named BP one of Scotland's two largest polluters in 1992. Since branding itself an environmentally sound corporation in 1997, 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. If one combines BP's own emissions with the emissions of the products it sells, then BP's emissions are greater than those of Central America, Canada or Britain.
But the Environmental Protection Agency is protecting the lake, right?
The permit, which allows BP to release 1,584 pounds of ammonia and 4,925 pounds of suspended solids daily into Lake Michigan, was awarded on June 21 after a public comment period and took effect Aug. 1. Ammonia feeds oxygen-sucking algae blooms that kill fish, and the suspended solids in treated wastewater include mercury, lead, nickel and vanadium.
In the face of that, no one but a Chamber of Commerce type could possibly be in favor of dumping crap in the lake. We damned near killed Lake Erie that way from pollution at Cleveland. Next thing you know, someone will ‘question the science’ like the bad old days.
Vincent Griffin, vice president of energy and environmental affairs for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said BP has been unfairly targeted.
"They're the unwilling victim of a political agenda, and that's just too bad," he said. "People in other states are seeing this as an opportunity to grandstand on an issue that has no scientific basis. If something should happen to rescind this permit, that will have potential implications on every permit along the Great Lakes. This is of great concern and is being watched closely by industry and states up and down the Great Lakes."
Well yeah, Vince. Implications are the idea. Industry and the states that cater to it, up and down the Great Lakes, are just exactly who we hope will watch closely. If you have any concerns at all about the neighborhood, you try to avoid taking a dump in the guy next door’s pool.
  • On March 23, 2005, an explosion occurred at BP's Texas City Refinery in Texas City, Texas. Over 100 were injured, and 15 were confirmed dead, including employees of the Fluor Corporation as well as BP. BP has since accepted that its employees contributed to the accident.
  • In March of 2006, one of BP's pipelines in the North Slope of Alaska ruptured, causing a major environmental hazard. BP had spilled over one million litres of oil in Alaska's North Slope.
  • On July 19, 2006, BP announced that it would close the last 12 out of 57 oil wells in Alaska, mostly in Prudhoe Bay, that had been leaking. The wells were leaking insulating agent called Arctic pack, consisting of crude oil and diesel fuel, between the wells and ice.
All of that in a period of less than 30 months. In early August, according to the Post article, BP agreed to research other ways to make the upgrade without increasing discharges into Lake Michigan. Company officials will report to Congress on Sept. 1. James Baker will no doubt be busy elsewhere.

But BP ought to be able to squeak by from their 2006 $275 billion net profit.

It's just a matter now of how they choose to present it in the next double-page spread featuring Bambi on a BP drilling site.
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Jim Freeman's op-ed pieces and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The New York Review, The Jon Stewart Daily Show and a number of magazines. His thirteen published books are (more...)
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