BP Pushed for Arctic Drilling Rights After Trump’s Election
BP stepped up its campaign to be allowed to drill for oil in the Arctic sea and an Alaskan wildlife refuge after Donald Trump was elected president, according to documents that detail the British firm’s lobbying efforts.
Documents written by BP and oil industry groups show how the oil “supermajor” seized on the opportunity presented by Trump’s 2016 election victory to expand its offshore business, just seven years after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Areas it targeted include the Arctic sea, where experts have warned an oil spill could be an ecological disaster, as well as the Arctic National
Despite the reputational damage it had suffered after successive spills, BP played a key role in lobbying the government to loosen restrictions on oil drilling, according to documents obtained by Greenpeace’s investigative unit, Unearthed and shared with the Guardian.
Within a year of taking office, the president sought to overturn drilling bansintroduced under the Obama administration in the wake of the 2010 spill, in which millions of gallons of oil spewed into the sea off the US south coast.
In February 2017, a month after Trump’s inauguration, the American Petroleum Institute (API), of which BP is a member, wrote to the Department of the Interior calling for the reversal of an executive order by Barack Obama in 2014 banning oil drilling in large areas of the Atlantic and Arctic.
Lobbying disclosures made by BP America show that the company also intervened independently, making representations on issues relating to “Arctic oil and gas development”.
Separate communication between BP and the Trump administration reveals that BP was not satisfied by Trump’s efforts to open up the Arctic.
In August 2017, BP’s regional president in the Gulf of Mexico, Richard Morrison, wrote to Kelly Hammerle, national programme manager of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which oversees offshore oil development, urging the organisation to expand the areas open for drilling.
Morrison also signed a joint industry letter which urged the BOEM to “make new areas in the Atlantic, eastern Gulf of Mexico, Beaufort and Chukchi seas off Alaska, and the Pacific available for leasing as part of the programme”.
In January 2018, the Trump administration unveiled plans to allow oil exploitationin almost all US offshore territory, including previously protected areas.
In March 2018, BP pressed for even more measures to support its offshore ambitions.
Starlee Sykes, BP’s regional president for the Gulf of Mexico and Canada, called on Hammerle to take “additional steps … to support this administration’s agenda of increasing exploration and production”.
She said these should include relief on royalties for less profitable oil fields, which she described as a “win-win”.
BP also took part in industry lobbying to permit oil exploration in the ANWR on the state’s north coast, home to polar bears, caribou, musk-oxen and migratory birds, the documents show.
Restrictions on drilling in the area were lifted as part of Trump’s tax reform bill in December 2017.
When the interior department kicked off the process of leasing areas for exploration in January last year, the BP Alaska president, Janet Weiss, wrote to officials welcoming the move.
A day after that letter was sent, BP America’s president, Susan Dio, told a meeting of the Resource Development Council of Alaska that the decision to permit drilling in the ANWR was a “big policy victory”.
The ANWR lies less than 120 miles (200km) to the east of Prudhoe Bay. In 2017, a BP oil well on Alaska’s North Slope blew out, venting natural gas and spraying a mist of crude oil over one acre of tundra of before the company plugged the leak.
API ran targeted Facebook ads, which did not mention oil industry sponsorship, urging Americans to support oil exploration in the area, which it said would have “minimal environmental impact”.
BP has claimed that development of new oil and gas fields is compatible with limiting global carbon emissions in line with the Paris accords intended to address the climate crisis.
A BP spokesman said: “We review access and exploration possibilities worldwide, and consider participating only if they are consistent with our strategy, competitive with opportunities we have elsewhere and we are confident that we can operate safely and responsibly, meeting regulatory requirements and our own high standards.”
Charlie Kronick, oil campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “This should put paid to any claim that BP are at all consistent with the Paris agreement. We already have far more oil and gas than we can afford to burn if we want to meet the Paris target. Yet BP still plan to spend billions of dollars a year for the next decade to add to their oil and gas reserves.”