Questions we asked BP at their 2013 AGM

1. On page 44 of your Sustainability Review, you say BP commits to respecting all internationally recognized human rights. Can you confirm for us whether this includes the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples? If so, this is significant, because it includes the right to free, prior and informed consent before the approval of any project affecting Indigenous peoples’ lands, territories and other resources – in other words, the right for an indigenous community to say no.

Would BP be willing to shelve a project if a local indigenous community says that they do not want it? If the answer to this question is no, then will you amend your reporting in future so as not to mislead stakeholders as to the extent to which BP respects internationally recognized rights?

BP’s response: Emphasised the company “absolutely respects UN human rights” but that it’s up to host governments to adequately regulate. Mentioned that the company has “consulted with the chief of the community”, without acknowledging that BP’s operations affect at least eight different First Nations, the majority of which strongly oppose tar sands development.

2. On page 66 and 67 of your Annual Report, you describe how BP is pushing ahead with its operations in the Canadian tar sands. However, none of the three projects where BP has a stake – Sunrise, Pike and Terre de Grace – are yet in commercial production, and these investments are facing increasing economic, legal and regulatory risks.

  • Pipelines, which are essential in getting the landlocked tar sands oil to market, are facing huge opposition and look unlikely to be built any time soon. The Keystone XL pipeline has become a matter of huge political controversy for President Obama, while in Canada over 130 First Nations along the proposed route of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline are challenging it every step of the way. As a result, the price of tar sands crude has fallen.

  • The tar sands industry has presided over several high-profile spills in just the last two weeks, and separate reports by Canada’s Auditor General, the Royal Society of Canada, and a government-appointed panel of experts have revealed a decade of incompetent pollution monitoring, paid for by industry.

  • The Beaver Lake Cree First Nation’s legal challenge against tar sands exploitation on their lands could call into question all future tar sands leases in Canada.

  • The Fuel Quality Directive in the EU, though delayed, looks set to increase the costs of importing tar sands oil to Europe, and will encourage other countries to follow suit with regulations of their own.

Just a fortnight ago, Total pulled out of one of their three Canadian tar sands projects, citing the high costs and fragile profit margins that are besetting the whole industry. Total were willing to take a $1.65 billion loss rather than press ahead with a bad investment. So why you think it is appropriate to continue to invest shareholders’ money in a venture where the financial returns are so uncertain?

BP’s response: none. By grouping together all the tar sands questions, BP was able to ignore this pointed question.

3. As we have already heard, on page 16 of your sustainability review you predict that global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels will be 26% higher in 2030, and are honest in your admission that this will make it impossible to limit global warming to under 2˚C. According to the International Energy Agency, this will make runaway climate change almost inevitable. You are careful to state – as you did at last year’s AGM – that ‘these are projections of what we think is likely to happen, not what we would like to see.’

My question, therefore, is why – if this is not what BP would like to see – does the company consistently lobby against policy initiatives to tackle climate change?

Just to give a few examples, BP has, either directly, or through its multiple industry associations:

  • successfully lobbied for an ineffective EU Emissions Trading Scheme that does not reduce overall EU emissions
  • lobbied against the US Climate Bill,
  • financed candidates for the recent US midterm elections who deny climate change,
  • blocked a more ambitious 30% emissions reduction target in the EU,
  • pushed for the highly controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in the US.
  • funded a fake US grassroots front-group called the “Consumer Energy Alliance,” to push for deepwater drilling

Right now in Europe, BP is lobbying against the implementation of the Fuel Quality Directive article 7A, contributing to further delays for this vital piece of EU transport legislation which is designed to reduce emissions from the EU’s transport sector.

Do you acknowledge that BP continues to play a very active, costly and unscrupulous role in keeping the world locked on a trajectory of high carbon emissions and runaway climate change? If you really don’t want to see a six degree world, will you commit to supporting the inclusion of a separate tar sands value in the Fuel Quality Directive, and its swift implementation?

BP’s response: Disputed claims of “unscrupulous” lobbying but admitted the company sometimes “shapes” legislation where it thinks it is “not right”. Ignored the issue of the Fuel Quality Directive, and climate change.

4. In your sustainability report you state that “We believe that governments must set a stable and enduring framework for the private sector to invest and for consumers to choose wisely. Governments need to provide secure access for exploration and development of energy resources; define mutual benefits for resource owners and development partners; and establish and maintain an appropriate legal and regulatory environment.”

We see that Canadian tar sands are playing an increasingly important role in your future plans. However, the Canadian government is currently in an unstable legal environment with inadequate regulations.

In the past few months we have seen how the Canadian government has come under international scrutiny for its violation of the UNDRIP (UN Declaration of Rights for Indigenous People). Significant changes to the Canadian legal framework, such as Bill C-45, have seen the erosion of the ability of First Nations communities to engage in meaningful consultation with industry on projects on their traditional territory, leading many communities to take legal action against the Canadian Crown, and significant civil unrest.

We are seeing increased international scrutiny around the lack of environmental regulation and sustainability in the tar sands. Reports by Canada’s Auditor General, the Royal Society of Canada, and a panel of experts appointed by then Environment Minister Jim Prentice revealed a decade of incompetent pollution monitoring, paid for by industry. There is significant awareness in Europe now that the tar sands are essentially an unsustainable source of fuel. German scientists with the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research recently pulled out of working in the Tar Sands after deeming that waste-water management, carbon capture, geothermal power and land reclamation were unsustainable, and out of concern over what their association with the industry would do to their credibility amongst the environmental science community.

Are you aware of the dramatic legal shifts taking place in Canada? How do you intend to ensure that there is adequate environmental monitoring of BP tar sands projects, and to navigate the dramatically unstable legal environment in Canada which could see projects halted by First Nations communities and regulation failures?

BP’s response: Repeatedly hurried and interrupted the activist and then came to Canada’s defence, saying it was a great democratic country.

5. On page 14 of the Sustainability Review, you state that BP will be using Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage – SAG-D – to extract oil from the Canadian tar sands. You note that this method has a smaller land impact than open-cast mining, but you fail to mention that this extraction method still causes great damage to the local environment, by fragmenting habitats with seismic lines, drawing heavily on local aquifers and polluting the groundwater. The recent report by William Donahue states that there is currently incomplete knowledge about the geological terrain where BP is carrying out its in-situ projects. Therefore how can BP assure shareholders that there will not be groundwater contamination which could cause devastation to local wildlife, communities and freshwater bodies? In-situ also carries the significant risk of steam blowouts, which could cause death or serious injury to staff, community members and wildlife.

Because SAG-D requires the burning of large amounts of natural gas, it has a significantly higher carbon footprint than conventional oil. In last year’s annual report, you quoted a surprisingly low emissions figure for this process – just 5-15% of extra emissions per barrel, rather than the peer-reviewed Stamford University average of 23% extra per barrel, which is the official figure that has been accepted by the EU. In this year’s annual report – and indeed on your oil sands information portal and online presentations – all reference to this 5-15% figure seems to have disappeared, and the likely greenhouse gas emissions from your tar sands projects are now not stated. So my questions are: why are the board playing down the risks and impacts of SAG-D technology? And by dropping the 5-15% figure, is BP acknowledging that it is not actually possible to extract oil from tar sands on a commercial scale without much higher carbon emissions than conventional oil?

BP’s response: Stood by the 5-15% figure and ignored most of the rest of the issues raised.

6. On page 16 of your Sustainability Review you state that you believe there will be a 26% rise in annual CO2 emissions globally by 2030. On the same page, you note that the world will fail to keep global temperature rise below two degrees. As you are no doubt aware, although I note no reference is made to this in the annual report, such a failure will mean that we will pass the tipping point on climate change and the world will almost certainly be on the path to a six degree temperature increase. Your current business plan seems to not just accept this fact, but to actively promote such a future through the accelerated extraction of carbon-intensive fuels like the Canadian tar sands, which have been described by climate scientists as “game over for the climate”.

Does the Board foresee BP remaining a commercially successful company in a world with a dramatically unstable climate and the resulting global food deficits, mass population shifts, frequent extreme weather disasters, the loss of many major cities and other huge infrastructure problems? Can you provide any information, Mr. Chairman, on what plans the company is making to ensure its success in a 6 degree world?

BP’s response: Talked about how energy needs will increase by 25-30% due to emerging markets trying to reach our standard of living. Stated that renewables are an ‘encouraging development’ but that they will only provide 6-7% of our energy needs by 2030. Referred to the IEA scenarios, mentioning that even the toughest IEA scenario where we stay within 2 degrees relies on fossil fuels remaining our main source of energy. Gave standard response about what BP is doing on climate change: encouraging energy efficiency, promoting a global shift from coal to gas, and recommending a price on carbon to stimulate investment in renewables. Refused to acknowledge the main point of the question.

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