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How Green Is BP?

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    NHNE News List Current Members: 760 Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message. NHNE 2002 Fall/Winter Fundraiser: Money needed = $2090.00
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 14, 2002
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      By Darcy Frey
      New York Times
      December 8, 2002


      Last March, Lord John Browne, the group chief executive of the British oil
      giant BP, gave a speech at Stanford University. Had you stumbled into the
      auditorium partway through, you might be forgiven for assuming the man at
      the podium was not an oil baron, an industrialist, an extractor of fossil
      fuels from the tender earth but an environmentalist of the high church
      calling for the abolition of hydrocarbons, the very substance that had made
      his company and himself so fabulously rich. His subject was global climate
      change -- in particular, the process by which humans, by burning oil and
      gas, have been slowly, perhaps irreversibly, warming the earth's atmosphere.
      And instead of hewing to the line of industry, instead of calling (as
      President Bush and the head of Exxon Mobil have) for caution and further
      research, he said, ''I believe the American people expect a company like BP
      . . . to offer answers and not excuses.'' He also said, ''Climate change is
      an issue which raises fundamental questions about the relationship between
      companies and society as a whole, and between one generation and the next.''
      He even said, ''Companies composed of highly skilled and trained people
      can't live in denial of mounting evidence gathered by hundreds of the most
      reputable scientists in the world.''

      Around the time Browne was at Stanford, sounding strikingly unlike an oil
      executive, BP was trying its own kind of identity shift, sounding strikingly
      unlike an oil company. Two years earlier, at a cost of $200 million, it
      began an enormous corporate rebranding exercise, shortening its name from
      British Petroleum to BP, coining the slogan ''Beyond Petroleum'' and
      redesigning its corporate insignia. Out went the old British Petroleum
      shield that had been a familiar image in Britain for more than 70 years, and
      in came a green, yellow and white sunburst that seemed to suggest a warm and
      fuzzy feeling about the earth. BP press officers were careful not to explain
      exactly what ''Beyond Petroleum'' meant, but the slogan, coupled with the
      cheerful sunburst, sent the message that the company was looking past oil
      and gas toward a benign, eco-friendly future of solar and renewable energy.
      New Yorkers in particular were the target of a high-saturation ad campaign
      that felt, at times, like an overfriendly stranger putting his arm around
      you in a bar. In Times Square, a huge billboard went up, reading IF ONLY WE
      COULD HARNESS THE ENERGY OF NEW YORK CITY. Then the stranger, perhaps
      feeling the need to explain his intentions, went on: SOLAR, NATURAL GAS,
      WIND, HYDROGEN. AND OH YES, OIL. Finally, the stranger took his arm away
      with a bit of a shrug: IT'S A START.

      BP's print and TV ad campaign, which is winding down this month, represents
      one of the most dazzlingly high-profile corporate P.R. efforts in recent
      years. Created by Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, it aspires to a conversational,
      almost confidential voice that suggests, You know what oil companies do to
      the environment, and we do, too, but honestly, we're not like that at all.
      ''People are skeptical of oil companies -- go figure!'' says Jennifer Ruys,
      director of external affairs for BP. ''And the ad campaign was designed to
      get at that skepticism.'' As the billboards announce: BP was ''the first oil
      company to publicly recognize the risks of global climate change.'' BP
      ''believes in alternative energy. Like solar and cappuccino.'' BP has joined
      forces with New York's Urban Park Rangers to, of all things, release four
      bald eagles into the wilds of Upper Manhattan. At the end of each ad was the
      same winking tag line: ''It's a start.''

      Based in London, BP is the world's second-largest oil company (after Exxon
      Mobil), with gross revenues of $174 billion and 15,500 service stations in
      the United States. It operates in more than 100 countries and produces
      almost 3.5 billion barrels of oil and gas a year. Largely, this has been the
      handiwork of Lord Browne, who became group chief executive in 1995 (and was
      knighted 3 years later) and followed his own ascension by quickly expanding
      the once midsize company into a huge multinational. In 1999, BP merged with
      Amoco in a deal worth $140 billion; a year later, it bought Atlantic
      Richfield for $27 billion. These megadeals have more than paid for
      themselves. At press time, BP shares were trading at $38, which is an 80
      percent increase since Browne's rise to power seven years ago.

      If Browne, 54, has made a name for himself as a high-stakes deal maker, he
      has also shown that he is alert to the dangers of heading a colossal oil
      company in a world that -- because of climate change, murmurings of
      war-for-oil and a host of other global crises -- may hate oil companies, no
      matter how profitable they are. More than that, he has shown the ambition to
      redefine the very nature of Big Oil: pushing BP to confront global warming,
      candidly acknowledge the company's mistakes (environmental penalties against
      the company appear on its Web site), enter into dialogue with environmental
      groups, hire people with strong environmental ethics and opinions. ''John
      Browne would be the first to say, 'Even on our best day, we're still a big
      dirty company,''' says one person involved in BP's rebranding effort. ''But
      aren't there ways to do it smarter, cleaner, in a more surprising and
      forward-thinking way?''' He adds, ''This guy's swimming upstream.''

      BP's multimillion-dollar campaign is the public face of Browne's
      convictions. At a time when anxiety over dependence on Middle Eastern oil
      has sent other energy companies scurrying for cover, BP is rushing to center
      stage, betting that, as Michael Kaye, who worked on the campaign as an
      associate creative director at Ogilvy, puts it, ''BP can be a friend --
      listening to consumers, speaking in a human voice.'' BP is also betting that
      this will gain them a competitive advantage in the marketplace, that it will
      convince consumers that BP is, in the words of Anna Catalano, group vice
      president for marketing, ''the company that goes beyond what you expect from
      an oil company -- frank, open, honest and unapologetic.'' BP is the only oil
      company right now risking a huge advertising presence in this oil-wary
      culture. And this may turn out to be the richest deal of all.

      But to persuade the public that BP is no rapacious multinational, that it is
      instead an organization thinking first and foremost of the public good, may
      not come so easily as long as BP remains an oil company, deriving the vast
      majority of its profits from the black stuff that -- from drilling rig to
      oil tanker to refinery to gas station -- scars the earth, pollutes the air
      and eventually warms the planet. And once the company tried to convey its
      new identity in billboard form, the contradiction only deepened. How can an
      oil company be ''Beyond Petroleum'' without actively distancing itself from
      its core product, and how can a company that digs big holes in the ground
      possibly advertise itself as a sensitive steward of the environment? BP's
      rebranding campaign caused fits, not only in the environmental movement,
      which saw it as the highest form of hypocrisy, but also within the company
      itself, which embraced and then disavowed its P.R. message so many times
      that people began to wonder if the company was beyond petroleum or merely
      beyond belief. The Independent of London, a vigilant BP-watcher, concluded
      that the company was ''brimming with success, gushing with money, and very
      much wanting to be liked. Yet its image is confused, and its reputation is
      on the line as never before.''

      But its biggest challenge may come years, perhaps decades, from now, when
      the world turns to other forms of energy -- in part because of dwindling oil
      supplies but mainly because of the mounting and unimpeachable evidence that
      we have a profound carbon problem on our hands; that even if we discover
      billions of new barrels of oil in the ground, we cannot keep burning them --
      and pumping vast amounts of carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse
      gases into the atmosphere -- without potentially catastrophic consequences.
      According to the latest findings of the United Nations Intergovernmental
      Panel on Climate Change, in order to stabilize greenhouse gases in the
      atmosphere, global emissions must be reduced to at least 60 percent below
      1990 levels. That is a radical change in the way the world uses energy. And
      to accomplish that, many people feel, will require nothing less than a new
      industrial revolution, an overwhelming retreat from society's mass reliance
      on the carbon fuels -- oil, gas and coal -- that have powered the global
      economy for more than a hundred years.

      Browne is uncomfortable speculating about a future completely without oil.
      ''My view is that hydrocarbons will be the bulk of the energy supply for the
      next 30 to 50 years,'' he said when I met him last spring. But clearly
      Browne is trying to prepare BP for the end of the fossil-fuel game -- by
      cutting the emissions of carbon dioxide that it creates while producing oil
      and gas, by shifting to cleaner fuels like natural gas, which emits about
      half the volume of CO2 generated from coal and ultimately by positioning
      itself as a producer of alternative and renewable energy: hydrogen, wind,

      But whether the company -- which made its fortunes in the oil fields of Iran
      and later on the North Slope of Alaska -- can survive the shift to a new
      energy economy remains an open question. ''That's a huge level of wishful
      thinking,'' says one American scientist who has advised BP's senior
      management on climate change and renewable energy. ''Of course they say they
      see themselves that way, and of course they're going to try. But whether
      they will have any chance of successfully outcompeting newcomers in
      renewable energy is a very big question. Because historically, once those
      transformations have happened, the existing companies have not held the
      edge. These companies, some of which have existed for a hundred years, are
      essentially about extracting petroleum. And in a world where you don't
      extract petroleum anymore, the first order of expectation is that you're

      The Dalton Highway is a two-lane gravel road that runs some 400 miles from
      Fairbanks, Alaska, to the coast of the Arctic Ocean. Built by BP with a
      consortium of other oil companies after the huge 1968 strike at Prudhoe Bay,
      it has been open to the public for more than 10 years. After the highway,
      known as the Haul Road, descends the north slope of the Brooks Range, it
      begins to cross the open, boggy tundra of the Arctic coastal plain.
      Gradually, as the landscape grows prairie flat, natural objects lose their
      dominance and industrial ones take their place: pipelines, pump stations,
      piles of gravel. By the time you reach Prudhoe Bay, industry has completely
      consumed the view: wellheads, compressor stations, seawater processing
      plants, roads, flares, landing strips and overhead power lines stretch as
      far as the eye can see. Here, some 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, in
      the middle of a vast boreal wilderness, is one of the largest industrial
      developments in the world.

      Browne had overseen the company's Alaska division for many years, and when
      he became group chief executive in 1995, he revealed himself to be one oil
      man who did not believe that the oil business could -- or should -- go on as
      it had before. Soft-spoken and slightly built, with a manner more befitting
      a university lecture hall than an offshore oil rig, Browne consulted with
      dozens of scientists and took what he describes as a ''deep dive'' into the
      confusing, sometimes contradictory science of global warming. Back then, BP
      (along with Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch/Shell and a few other oil companies)
      was still a member of the Global Climate Coalition, an international
      lobbying group set up specifically to cast skepticism on climate-change
      science and, later, to undermine support for the Kyoto Protocol, the
      international pact in which industrialized nations agreed to reduce their
      greenhouse gas emissions. But in 1997, Browne gave a speech at Stanford (a
      precursor to the one last spring) in which he acknowledged that there was
      now an ''effective consensus'' among the world's leading scientists
      regarding the human influence on the climate. ''The science wasn't complete
      -- but science is never complete,'' he said last spring. ''But they knew
      enough to say that there were long-term risks and that precautionary action
      was necessary if we were to avoid the greater risk -- of the evidence
      mounting to the point where draconian action was unavoidable.''

      In the continuing, ever-changing study of global warming, five years is an
      ice age, so it is hard to remember exactly how revolutionary this was,
      coming from the C.E.O. of a major oil company in 1997. But at the time, the
      American Petroleum Institute, of which BP had been a longstanding member,
      announced that Browne had, as he recalls, ''left the church.''

      ''BP was the first to say that climate change was a problem, the first to
      take responsibility and the first to have an internal target'' for reducing
      their emissions, says Eileen Claussen, the president of the Pew Center on
      Global Climate Change. ''They were pretty brave.''

      In some respects, it was an act of corporate bravery for BP and, later,
      Royal Dutch/Shell and a handful of other companies, to buck their own
      industry. Unlike the tobacco companies, which for years denied that their
      products were causing harm -- or Exxon Mobil, which ran ads trying to
      discredit global-warming science -- BP and the others have been willing to
      confront the unpleasant truth that not only their business practices but
      also their core products are probable causes of global warming. In 1996, BP
      resigned from the Global Climate Coalition, then offered its support of the
      Kyoto Protocol and joined Claussen's Business Environmental Leadership
      Council, a program set up by the Pew Center to encourage private-sector
      involvement. In 1998, Browne publicly committed BP to cutting its
      carbon-dioxide emissions by 10 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2010,
      which was a 40 percent cut from business as usual and a target far more
      ambitious than the Kyoto Protocol itself.

      But it is not just altruism that has convinced Browne and these other
      C.E.O.'s to seize the moral high ground. Despite the Bush administration's
      stubborn refusal to deal with the issue, Browne says that he thinks there
      will soon be government regulation of greenhouse gases. And companies that
      have anticipated regulation will not only know how to use it to their
      advantage; they will also, as Browne puts it, ''gain a seat at the table, a
      chance to influence future rules.''

      And so, in order to meet its target for reducing its greenhouse-gas
      emissions, BP sought the advice of NGO's like the Pew Center and
      Environmental Defense and set up a system in which each of its 150 business
      units, spread across more than 100 countries, would be assigned a quota of
      emissions permits and encouraged to trade with one another. The company gave
      each business unit the choice of bringing itself into compliance by cutting
      its own emissions, buying emissions credits from other units or making
      enough greenhouse-gas reductions to have leftover permits that could be sold
      to other business units that violate their emissions ceilings. The
      motivation was simple enough: business units that reduced their emissions or
      cut their fuel consumption would have those savings count toward their
      bottom line, which, in turn, would be reflected in pay scales and bonuses at
      year's end.

      Many environmentalists are skeptical of such market-based solutions to
      global warming. For one thing, with such a vast number of different
      emissions sources and no single method for measuring emissions, enforcing
      compliance becomes hard, tempting companies to fudge the numbers. Then
      there's the matter of mitigation: why should polluters be allowed to trade
      emissions instead of being forced to solve the problem at its root? And will
      trading programs merely slow the growth rate of emissions when society's
      goal should be to engineer a fundamental shift away from fossil fuels?

      But emissions trading, which is part of the compliance mechanism of the
      Kyoto Protocol, is supported by the vast majority of economists, who believe
      that market-based mechanisms may be the most cost-effective -- and therefore
      most viable -- method of cutting greenhouse gases. And though it doesn't
      shift the energy basis of the economy, it does cut down on carbon emissions
      in absolute terms. When Browne stood up at Stanford this past spring, he was
      there to report hard numbers: BP had not just met its target -- to reduce
      its emissions of greenhouse gases by 10 percent below 1990 levels -- it had
      exceeded it, done so eight years ahead of schedule and with no net economic
      cost. In fact, because of energy efficiency measures, the emissions
      reductions amounted to a net gain of $600 million. ''And we are not,'' he
      told me later, ''an inefficient company.''

      BP's achievement complicates matters for Bush, who has pronounced the Kyoto
      Protocol ''fatally flawed'' because regulating carbon-dioxide emissions
      ''does not make economic sense for America.''

      That line of argument does not persuade Browne. ''If you say to people, 'Do
      you want to develop the world and have a good living standard, or do you
      want a safer environment?' people are terrified by the choice,'' Browne said
      to me last spring. ''That is a failure of leadership.'' Speaking of
      leadership, I asked, what did he think about Bush's position on the issue --
      that caps on emissions would be too costly for American businesses? Browne
      paused, then answered, careful not to mention any names in particular:
      ''Well, it's unfair to the world to say that none of this is possible when
      it is.''

      Last summer, BP celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Trans-Alaska
      Pipeline. The company put on a big barbecue; speeches were given. But those
      celebrations were overshadowed by the fact that BP's North Slope production,
      which peaked at two million barrels a day in the mid-1980's, has dwindled to
      less than a million today. As production has declined, BP -- already the
      largest operator on the slope, with roughly 30 percent of the state's
      oil-extraction industry -- has lobbied to open the Arctic National Wildlife
      Refuge to the east and built the first offshore oil projects in the Arctic
      Ocean to the north. BP's mantra is to make ''zero environmental impact'' and
      to leave only a ''small industrial footprint.'' And by most accounts, it
      does wield its ground-eviscerating equipment with great care. But the bottom
      line is that BP's stock price -- and its obligations to shareholders --
      hinges on locating more oil fields. And any new field, subjected to the
      drill bit, is a potential insult to the earth.

      In the fall of 2000, Browne made it clear that if the Arctic refuge -- an
      iconic 19-million-acre tract of land in northeast Alaska that is home to
      polar bears and grizzlies, wolves, musk oxen and a 125,000-strong herd of
      caribou -- was opened up under a Republican administration, BP would be
      interested in exploring there. After all, the United States Geological
      Survey estimates that the refuge contains anywhere from 3 billion to 16
      billion barrels of recoverable oil. Again on Feb. 13, 2001, three weeks
      after Bush took office, Browne acknowledged that BP openly supported efforts
      to drill.

      BP's stated intentions for the refuge happened to coincide with its ''Beyond
      Petroleum'' campaign, and environmentalists had a field day pointing out the
      inconsistencies. Greenpeace announced that until BP started seriously
      investing in renewables, a more fitting corporate logo would be, in the
      words of one spokeswoman, ''a miserable polar bear on an icecap shrinking
      because of global warming.'' John Browne himself was honored by Greenpeace
      for giving the ''Best Impression of an Environmentalist.'' And referring to
      the company's interest in the Arctic refuge, The Independent wrote that it
      was ''strange that a company boss with prominent green pretensions should
      advocate -- openly -- what many people would see as the industrial rape of
      an unspoiled wilderness.''

      The protests over BP's position on the Arctic refuge could not have come at
      a worse time. Just a few months earlier, the company's new advertising
      campaign was met in some corners with howls of derision and even
      demonstrations outside its London offices. Stung by the controversy, the
      company tried to pull several TV spots, and where that time was locked in by
      contract, BP lost ''several million dollars,'' according to two people
      involved in the ad campaign. In cases where ads could not be pulled, the
      company removed the words ''Beyond Petroleum.'' ''It's funny,'' says one of
      them, ''I never doubted that they were the most progressive oil company
      around, but they didn't think through what it would require from a P.R.
      point of view. By pulling the ads, they showed weakness rather than having
      the courage of their convictions, which is what the whole rebranding effort
      was all about.''

      Later, when the time came to prepare for the campaign's second phase, BP
      once again waffled over whether to use the phrase ''Beyond Petroleum.'' ''I
      was in so many meetings when the answer was no, yes, no, yes,'' says one
      member of the ad team. And the company's concern over how its P.R. message
      was being perceived delayed the campaign for more than a year.

      Eventually, the company once again embraced the phrase ''Beyond Petroleum.''
      But according to one member of the ad team, BP, fearful of exaggerating its
      claims and opening itself to further criticism, worried the ad copy to
      death. ''All the definitive points they were making in the ads got slightly
      watered down,'' the ad-team member says. Finally, the company decided to use
      the tag line ''It's a start'' -- which can sound frank and refreshing or,
      depending on your point of view, hedging and defensive.

      Meanwhile, the issue of whether or not to drill in the Arctic refuge, at a
      time when BP's Alaska oil reserves are dwindling, still has the company tied
      up in knots. On the one hand, Browne no longer openly advocates drilling in
      the refuge, as he did in 2000 and 2001. On the other hand, when asked after
      his Stanford speech last spring what the company's position was, he
      disappointed environmentalists by refusing to rule out drilling altogether,
      saying, ''I believe we should have no part in that debate.''

      A BP consultant on environmental policy says of Browne, ''The impression he
      wants to leave is that it's all a process -- first Congress has to vote for
      drilling, then the company needs to assess its value, etc., but that even if
      it's opened, the company probably won't drill.'' But others who work with
      the company have privately heard just the opposite. ''One of their vice
      presidents told me flat out,'' another consultant says, '' 'If it's opened,
      we'll drill.'''

      BP's position on the refuge is ''evolving,'' according to Ronald Chappell,
      who was head of press relations for BP Alaska and who now works in its
      London headquarters. In the early to mid-90's, BP was engaged in lobbying to
      open the refuge. ''But,'' Chappell says, ''I think that the company has sort
      of decided that the role of corporations in public life is one of standing
      back and letting governments make decisions, trying to inform public policy
      but not making political contributions.''

      But, in fact, the company did make political contributions -- $560,000
      through its employee political action committee in 2000, according to a BP
      spokeswoman. Moreover, at the time that Chappell and I spoke, the company
      was a member and contributor to Arctic Power, a prodevelopment lobbying
      group whose Internet site highlights ''top 10 reasons to support development
      in A.N.W.R.,'' and had a representative on the Arctic Power board. When I
      pointed this out to Chappell, he demurred, then sought me out a few minutes
      later, when I happened to be standing with Eileen Claussen of the Pew
      Center, one of John Browne's closest environmental advisers. ''I misspoke,''
      Chappell said to us. ''It's true, we give to Arctic Power. We gave $50,000
      last year but none so far this year. We also give to the American Petroleum

      Claussen, looking at him, said what others - including many within the
      company -- think but will not say out loud: ''Shame on you.'' (Last month,
      BP withdrew from the group.)

      The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which will once again be vulnerable to
      industry assault under the new Republican Congressional majority, is just
      one place BP may be interested in doing business. In recent years, it has
      also built Northstar, an artificial drilling island in the waters off
      Prudhoe Bay and the first offshore oil-exploration site in the Arctic Ocean,
      the oil flowing to the mainland through a six-mile undersea pipeline. And
      the company owns a 2.2 percent stake in PetroChina, the state-owned firm
      that is building a controversial pipeline across Tibet. These projects, as
      well as its interest in the refuge, have all been the subject of shareholder
      resolutions seeking to force BP to divest, to bring its actions in line with
      its rhetoric. And the resolutions (and BP's sometimes strong-arm legal
      tactics to quell them) all point out how difficult it is for an oil company
      to grow its business without also harming the environment. After violating
      federal clean-air laws at eight refineries across the country, BP, in
      January 2001, paid a $10 million penalty and agreed to spend $500 million
      modernizing its pollution-control technology. After delaying to report that
      its contractor had illegally dumped hazardous waste in northern Alaska, the
      company, in 1999, was fined $7 million in civil and criminal penalties.

      It may seem unfair that BP is the target of environmental and
      social-responsibility movements. Shouldn't Greenpeace et al. be going after
      Exxon Mobil, which still tries to sow public skepticism toward global
      warming theories and has reportedly worked behind the scenes to remove a
      prominent scientist from the United Nations climate change panel and still
      refuses to pay $5 billion in punitive damages ordered by an Alaska court
      after the 1989 Valdez oil spill? But BP has, by virtue of its slogans and
      its actions, tried to seize the moral high ground and so is judged by a
      different standard.

      Browne seems to understand this, and at Stanford last spring he outlined his
      next set of goals, ambitious by any standard: to reduce global-warming gases
      from BP's own operations as well as from the products it makes, to maintain
      CO2 emissions at current levels even as the company doubles its production
      of oil and gas, to make 50 percent of the company's pump sales worldwide
      come from clean fuels. Anticipating the future, BP bought Solarex in 1999
      for $45 million, making it one of the largest solar companies in the world.
      It is also participating in fuel-cell technology research efforts with auto
      and engine manufacturers. And it is testing the viability of other energy
      sources like wind and hydrogen.

      Few question the idea that BP is now the most conscientious oil company
      around, or that Browne is deeply committed to cleaning up BP's act. One of
      Browne's closest colleagues suggests that he may go into the climate-change
      field after he retires from the oil business. Meanwhile, its competitors,
      according to a Royal Dutch/Shell executive, feel pressed by BP into taking
      ever-greener positions -- even Exxon Mobil has recently given a grant to
      Stanford University to study global warming. But while Browne and BP may
      show greater sensitivity to environmental concerns than any other company in
      its industry, it may also be impossible for any company that derives well
      over 90 percent of its revenue from fossil fuels to claim to be part of the
      solution. Despite its new sunburst logo and ''Beyond Petroleum'' slogan, BP
      still invests $12 billion, or 25 times more, on oil and gas than on its wind
      and solar division for the simple fact that, right now, there's a huge
      market for oil and almost none for solar panels. And that's not just BP's
      problem; that's ours. Ronald Chappell, the BP spokesman, says as much when
      he points out that all those environmentalists flying into the Arctic
      National Wildlife Refuge to save the planet are using up a lot of airplane
      fuel to do it. ''That,'' he says, ''is the devil's bargain we all have


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