The hatches have been battened down at BP
headquarters in London as angry shareholders, artists, campaigners and people from communities affected by its oil
spills converge on Thursday's annual general meeting - which comes just days before the first anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion
. The company, which spent more than $90m on PR in the first three months of the spill, is saying nothing publicly but has been running advertisements in the national press this week
In the adverts, BP claims that no oil has flowed into the Gulf since it
repaired the leak on 15 July, and says it has spent more than $13bn
(£7.9bn) on the clean-up. What's more, it says, it has committed $500m
to fund scientific studies on the impact of the spill, and more than
$280m to projects including wildlife rescue and the restoration of
This cuts no ice whatever with Diane Wilson, a fourth-generation
fisherwoman from the Texas Gulf coast. She was recently arrested for
protesting against BP and faces a prison sentence of 800 days. Wilson is
in London to try to present the "Black Planet" to BP in person. She
"I am here to call BP to account for its actions in the Gulf --
for the oil spill, the lies, the cover-ups, the skimping on safety, the
deaths, the non-existent documents, the 'swinging door' with regulators.
I am coming to articulate the anger of thousands of Gulf coast
residents whose lives and livelihoods have been destroyed while the BP
board continues to prosper."
Direct action groups including Art Not Oil, Climate Camp London, Climate
Rush and London Rising Tide are also deeply unimpressed by BP's PR.
They plan to publicly embarrass the Tate Modern gallery, the British
Museum and many other major cultural institutions in protest at their
sponsorship deals with BP. Flash mobs and a series of protests are
planned to damage the BP brand.
It also disgusts Antonia Juhasz, the author of Black Tide,
one of the first major books to examine the Gulf spill. Juhasz has
spent a year talking to the industry, affected communities, scientists
and others and says she has been shocked by what she saw and found. She
accuses BP of lying -- not just to the public, but to the regulators --
about how unprepared the world's fourth biggest company was for an
offshore spill of this size.
"The regulators let them lie, but they said they could handle a
spill 300,000 barrels a day. At its worse this was 80,000 barrels a day,
yet look what happened. Industry just had not invested. It still does
not know the effects of the dispersant and the impact of the spilt oil.
It did not know how to clean it up, let alone track it. Everything was
guesswork. No one knows just how much oil is still down there. What is
clear is that people are still suffering and the Gulf is not clean."
She was shocked too, she says, not just by BP's huge PR machine -- which
fell apart in the crisis as President Barack Obama and his
administration weighed in and the scale of the disaster became apparent
-- but by the way the wider industry tried to isolate BP and make the
disaster appear to be a one-off event.
"The industry tried really hard to convince the public that this
was a fluke, that it was isolated and that it happened because of a
foreign company. They had a very orchestrated strategy."
After a year investigating the spill, she is convinced there will be others:
"There are now 148 other deep water wells in the world. They are
going everywhere. Yet the ecological and financial costs of failure are
catastrophic. The lessons just have not been learned. Not a single piece
of new legislation has come out of it."
And she's not impressed by BP's claim that it is spending $500m to fund scientific studies.
"BP is requiring scientists to sign three-year confidentiality
agreements. The research should be made public immediately. It should be
publicly accountable with no strings attached."
The last straw, she says was when BP announced that it was moving into
Canada to exploit the dirtiest of all oils - the tar sands. "What is
really shocking is that BP has recovered so well," she says.