Guest Blog by Martin Porter
John Browne, former CEO of BP, was a hero of the Green movement.
Well, sort of.
He certainly said the right things. In 1997 he acknowledged that Climate Change “cannot be discounted”, which was actually quite something at the time. He was on the telly, he was on the radio, he wrote articles for worthy magazines and in 2000 he gave a Reith Lecture on Respect For The Earth, He was the poster boy for the sustainable corporation.
Most obviously he changed the name of BP to Beyond Petroleum and adopted a big green sunflower as their logo, thus helping to create the appearance of being a post-oil corporation.
But appearances, especially in the oil industry, can be deceptive. BP’s performance on sustainability was unfortunately just as bad as the other energy companies that went ‘Green’ at the same time, Enron and Shell. Basically, they went for the low hanging fruit. They put a bit of money in wind or solar, cleaned up their act in numerous little ways and got the staff to recycle their syrofoam cups.
As a BP share holder (i.e. I owned one share. And still do) I was a regular at their AGMs as we usually had something to gripe about, mainly oil drilling on Alaska’s North Slope. I thoroughly recommend the catering. One year there was a bit of a Spinal Tap moment when a banner, that had been ordered as five feet by seven feet, arrived measuring five meters by seven meters and required something resembling the rigging of a sailing ship to keep in up.
I don’t recall ever chatting to Browne myself, but at least one of their board would normally say hello. One even told me he could reduce the cost of solar panels six fold.
Well, that never happened. Indeed, neither did any of the other things Browne promised. To move any further would have required BP to actually turn down the chance to make money out of drilling for new oil, and that they would not do. Their renewable side line, which always cost them less than the board paid themselves in bonuses, was sold off and business as usual was soon restored.
Or rather something less than business as usual.
The first inkling that all was not well came in March 2005 when an explosion destroyed a refinery in Texas, killing fifteen people. A subsequent investigation revealed the company had cut the maintenance budget by 25% the previous year.
Almost exactly a year later an explosion destroyed an oil transit pipeline at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska causing exactly the sort of oil spill that we’d been campaigning to prevent. Once again cost cutting was a major factor.
All of which leads rather inevitably to the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, by which time BP had the worst safety record of any company operating in the USA. John Browne wasn’t in charge by then, having had to retire rather earlier than he planned after lying in court about his relationship, his only regret being he didn’t push harder for tar sands, the dirtiest of dirty fuels. However the Deepwater Horizon was very much his true legacy.
Having been lucky to escape perjury charegs you’d think an anonymous retirement would be on the cards but, no. Once you’ve reached the dizzy heights of the 1% you’re stuck there unless you actually murder someone. (And maybe even not then, especially if you’re Russian.)
And so, as well as his lucrative pension, and the proceeds of his self serving autobiography, Browne also got to enjoy a job in the government as Non-Executive Director in the Cabinet Office.
It also seems he hasn’t yet kicked his addiction to hydrocarbons. He has a 30% stake in Cuadrilla, who you may have heard of as their fracking operations in Lancashire, the one that cause the earthquake, and West Sussex, the one where Caroline Lucas got arrested.
Needless to say Cuadrilla stands to make a packet out of fracking, and the only thing standing in their way is the pesky Environment Agency who are reluctant to license fracking if it’s not safe - which it isn’t.
So it must be damn convenient for them to have one of their top dudes sat round the Cabinet table.
Young Friends of the Earth now have a petition to get rid of him.
Please sign it.