Oil over troubled waters

It’s only Thursday, but it’s already been a week to remember for the folks at oil giant BP. The not so unexpected news that the company’s group chief executive Dr Tony Hayward would be standing down in October was followed swiftly by an announcement that the company is now setting aside a whopping $32.2bn (£20.5bn) to cover the cost of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

It was inevitable that Dr Hayward would leave the company. Someone ultimately had to take the blame for the Gulf of Mexico explosion, and as the man in charge of BP when it happened, he was the obvious candidate, no matter where the blame for the disaster ultimately lies.

With the oil flow now capped, the doctor pensioned off, and with more money splashed out on the spills, the company is doing everything within its power to make amends for the disaster, with the American Robert Dudley, presently the president and chief executive of BP’s Gulf Coast restoration organisation, moving to the UK to put the company back on the road to recovery.

With all these good goings-on, you might have thought that things were now looking a bit brighter for the executives at the troubled UK outfit. But no. Just when they thought it was safe to go back in the oil-free water, along came the folks at Greenpeace to put yet another spanner in the works.

That’s right. On Tuesday, in fact, Greenpeace immobilised numerous BP petrol stations in London by dispatching small teams of activists who used shut-off switches to stop the flow of fuel. The switches were then removed and taken away to prevent the stations from reopening.

The Greenpeace activists took this somewhat irresponsible action to persuade Robert Dudley to point the company in a new environmentally friendly direction after what it says was his predecessor’s obsession with high-risk, environmentally reckless sources of oil.

Greenpeace says that despite the fact that BP has set aside a massive amount of money to pay for the oil spill, the company still plans to extract oil from risky deepwater wells in the Arctic as well as from tar sands in Canada. The outfit claims that extracting oil from such tar sands is around three times more damaging to the climate than drilling for regular crude, and a spill in the Arctic wilderness could have consequences even more devastating than the current disaster in the Gulf.

The green protesters are urging BP’s new boss to pull out of a trio of planned tar sands projects in Alberta that are due to be developed next year, and scale up the company’s investment in alternative energy.

While their hearts might be in the right place, I can’t help but think that the Greenpeace activists have got it all wrong. The fact of the matter is that the age of oil is not coming to an end tomorrow, and we still need oil giants such as BP to invest in high-risk, expensive projects to get more of the stuff out of the ground. Such companies will not, as Greenpeace claims, be left behind unless they begin to adapt new environmentally friendly technologies – there’s still too much need for oil.

So recognising that fact, perhaps we should all take a more constructive form of civil action by pulling into whatever BP petrol stations are left open across the rest of the UK and express our support for one of our great British institutions by filling up with some of its oil-derived products.

After all, a lot of that money will inevitably end up in the pockets of those who have suffered losses on the Gulf coast as well as support the massive clean-up effort there. Not to mention help towards the good doctor’s pension as well as our own.

Dave Wilson
Editor, Engineeringtalk

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