The BP board came under sustained fire from Indigenous people, Gulf Coast residents and major shareholders at its explosive AGM in London yesterday. Shareholders arrived to find a large colourful protest outside the Excel Centre, as fishermen and women affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill joined with Indigenous representatives critical of the company’s recent decision to enter into its first Tar Sands extraction project, to hold an impromptu press conference for the world’s media.
The group of fishermen and women from the US Gulf Coast were then, shockingly, barred from entering by BP, even though they had legitimate proxy votes. The company is clearly too scared to face its critics.
Diane Wilson, a shrimp farmer from the Texas Gulf coast who is already facing 800 days in jail for previous protests against BP, smeared oil-like molasses on her face to protest against being refused entry. She was promptly arrested and held for several hours. The other members of the delegation, Tracy Kuhns, Mike Roberts and Byron Encalade, said they were being treated ‘like criminals’ by BP, when in fact it’s the oil company that caused the spill that is destroying local communities’ lives, livelihoods and health.
Inside the turbulent meeting, a coalition of major US, UK and European shareholders holding 35 million shares explained their decision to vote against the company’s Annual Report, the remuneration package and the re-election of several board members and executives. Julie Tanner, from the Christian Brothers Investment Services, who had flown over from the US to be at the meeting, told the board that given the Deepwater Horizon disaster, there was too little information on safety and operational risk in the Annual Report for them to make informed decisions about their future investment in the company.
BP were then accused of failing to learn from their tragic mistakes by pushing ahead with another risky, expensive and environmentally destructive oil project: the Canadian Tar Sands. Clayton Thomas-Muller from the Indigenous Environmental Network read out to the board a statement from Fort McKay Cree First Nation community members who will be directly affected by BP’s ‘Sunrise’ tar sands extraction project:
“Fort McKay First Nation is situated in the heart of the oilsands. You can go in any direction and within twenty minutes, you will find an oilsands plant. How does the Husky Sunrise project impact us? Well to start with, there are several parcels of land dedicated to the use of trappers from the first nation. Because the animals have disappeared, these traplines are no longer used for trapping.
These traplines have become islands of cultural identity. We use them to escape the industrial activity and as a place to teach our children traditional ways. We are a people whose very cultural identity is linked to the land. The Husky Project has interfered with traplines in the area, reducing access for the local people and taking away the peace of the bush life. High traffic volumes and industrial activity have taken away the peace and quiet and in some cases, taken the land itself.
SAGD projects are touted as ‘clean oil’ but in fact the sheer volumes of water used impacts the surrounding land, drying up the muskeg and reducing animal habitat. We still get the air pollution and with it more sickness.”
He then asked BP how they were managing the rapidly changing legal landscape in Canada as more and more First Nations launch lawsuits agains the tar sands and opposition steadily increases.
Then Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a First Nations representative from the Lubicon Cree in Northern Alberta, challenged BP on its claims that the Sunrise project would be an environmentally responsible alternative to open pit mining because it will utilize ‘in situ’ methods of extraction.
“According to industry data and Environment Canada documents, producing the tar sands by in situ methods actually emits more greenhouse gas per barrel than surface mining does. In situ requires 4 times as much natural gas to produce a barrel of tar sands oil than open pit mining.
There are many ‘in situ’ injection sites on my First Nation’s territory. They contaminate the water, pollute the air, and dramatically disrupt local ecosystems by further fragmenting the boreal forest.
Given the reality of impending climate legislation, why is BP putting your shareholders’ investments at risk and falsely claiming that that In Situ extraction is an environmentally sound alternative to open pit mining?”
After she spoke, ten activists from the UK Tar Sands Network, wearing T-shirts that together spelt out “No Tar Sands” attempted to walk to the front of the hall and stand in front of the board, creating a human protest banner that remained for the rest of the meeting. However, BP’s burly security army jumped on them all and unceremoniously dragged them out.
The board then listened uncomfortably as US writer and activist Antonia Juhasz described the devastating impact the Deepwater Horizon spill has had on Gulf Coast communities and berated BP for denying the Gulf Coast delegation access. She demanded a response to the failure of the corporation to provide for the safety of its deep water operations and, despite BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg’s attempts to silence her, read a statement from Keith Jones, whose son, Gordon Jones, was killed when the Deepwater Horizon exploded:
“Why was Gordon taken from those who loved him so? This was no act of God. This was not a blowout that was inevitable. No, BP, Transocean and Halliburton could have prevented this blowout and still harvested the riches that lay below. But to complete the well safely would have taken a little more time and a little more money, and you were just too greedy to wait. You had to make more money faster — and if that put those who were on the rig as risk, well, sometimes one has to take a few chances, right? After all, none of you were on that rig. You weren’t rolling the dice with the lives of your sons and daughters, were you?”
Diane Wilson, if she had been allowed into the meeting, had planned to present BP with the ethecon Foundation “Black Planet” award for environmental destruction. But given she had been arrested, Lydia Will from ethecon presented it in her place, demanding that either the Gulf Coast visitors be allowed in, or the Chairman come outside to accept it. He refused both options.
Tar sands and the oil disaster were not the only issues riling shareholders during the meeting, which dragged on for over four hours as investors vented their spleen and large numbers voted against the board.
Afterwards, the press coverage was almost universally damning of the way BP had handled the day, with pictures of an oil-covered Diane beamed across the world and the tar sands issue given prominent coverage.
Here’s a selection of our favourite press stories. Our most favourite comes from the Financial Times, which judges the winners and losers of the day. And the winners were… Tar Sands Campaigners!