BP just released their 2010 Sustainability Report. The 50-page glossy presentation is filled with sincerity, regret and promises to do better. It is clear that the company is eager to win back the public’s trust. According to the Chairman, Bob Dudley,
We are determined that BP will be a safer, more risk-aware business. We will deliver on our commitments from the Gulf Coast incident and work hard to earn back the trust in our operations.
The report opens with a sobering table of statistics. The 14 contractor fatalities last year were less than the previous year’s 18. The 142 oil spills were only slightly more than last year’s 122. Environmental expenditures, listed as $18.4 billion, was well above the total from the previous four years, yet the amount paid in environmental and safety fines, $52.5 million, was less by $14.1 million from the year before. Clearly the company, which lost $4.5 billion last year on revenues of $297 billion, has their work cut out for them when it comes to safety and environmental compliance.
Direct greenhouse gas emissions were essentially unchanged from the year before, while gas flaring dropped by 22% from the previous year. The number of dismissals for non-compliance and unethical behavior was up slightly from the previous year but down significantly from the three previous years, suggesting a recent move towards laxity. Total hydrocarbons produced (3.8 million barrels per day) was down slightly from 2009, about the same as 2008.
The chairman’s letter acknowledges the wrongs and pledges improvement, stating that safety has become their number one priority. Specifically, he says, “We have set up a new safety and operational risk function that has its specialist personnel embedded in BP’s businesses, working alongside the line management to guide, advise and, if needed, to intervene.” As if trying to put their past behind them they will be divesting their Texas City refinery, site of a 2005 explosion in which 15 workers were killed and 170 injured, as well as the Carson refinery in California.
The report details the heroic efforts that they have made in the Gulf area including: $4.32 billion paid in claims (as of the end of 2010), 2500 miles of boom laid and 1.84 million gallons of dispersant sprayed three miles or more from shore. The company has established a Gulf Coast Restoration Organization and a Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative to study and monitor the long term effects of the spill on the environment and on human health. BP has also pledged to share their lessons learned across the company and with their industry peers and they have also joined an initiative called the Marine Well Containment Company established to respond to other deep water emergencies.
Meanwhile the company is forecasting a 40% increase in energy demand over the next twenty years, much of it from developing countries. “This is why BP will continue to move farther into harsh, remote and complex geographies, from deep water to the Russian Arctic; from oil sands and unconventional gas to giant fields. And while they acknowledge the risks associated with deepwater drilling and the public concerns, they expect its contribution to grow from 7% to 10% by 2030.
BP is a big believer in renewables in principle, but in practice they are forecasting only 6% of their portfolio will be in renewables by 2030. Preemptively answering the question “why not more” they say, “We believe renewable energy policy and investment decisions should be based on realistic assessments of their costs, performance and demonstrable progress toward commercial viability relative to conventional fuels.”
Clearly, the word realistic here is code for the conservative prop that is unable or unwilling to acknowledge either the urgency of the climate crisis, or the ability of human ingenuity to come up with the radical solutions required, particularly when pressed. It is doubtful that this mindset would have considered the iPhone or the plug-in hybrid realistic even a few years ago.
Instead, the company is making a major investment in Canadian Tar Sands, even while acknowledging the practice has a higher overall GHG footprint when compared to conventional drilling.
BP’s efforts in renewables will focus primarily on biofuels (which they project will comprise up to 30% of transport fuel by 2030), with additional investments in wind (which is growing at 30% annually), solar (research scale installations in Saudi Arabia) and Carbon Capture and Storage (aka carbon sequestration).
Overall, while it is clear that BP is very concerned about being good citizens and doing the right thing, they are overwhelmingly committed to a business-as-usual mentality. That is not hard to understand, given the enormous profits still to be made in delivering hydrocarbons, which is why they can’t seem to get out of their own way.
And this is why, just as it was non-automakers who took the lead in developing and producing the first electric cars (which BP, not surprisingly, says are no better than hybrids), it seems likely that it will be non-traditional energy companies determining future direction in energy, with the big players getting onboard later on.
Watch this space for more news on BP’s activities.
RP Siegel, PE, is a writer and consultant on various aspects of sustainability. His most recent book is the novel, Vapor Trails, the first in a series co-authored with former Ford VP and Plug Power CEO Roger Saillant. The book addresses issues around global warming and energy.
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