Broken Promises: Globalization and BP Oil
Posted: May 23, 2014
Katie Tartaglia, Jocelyn Skrocki, Sean Hunt, Micah Houston, Wes Atkinson, Victor Onesi
In an ever-changing and interconnected world, there is opportunity for manipulation and exploitation. Global corporations have the power to do this, and history demonstrates that cutting corners allow companies to maximize profits. The globalized trading system allows for many countries to import goods they otherwise would not have access to. However, due to the rapidly globalizing market, transnational corporations move their sites overseas to developing countries. This enables them to take advantage of cheap labor and sell their products at a lower market price. By definition, transnational corporations have headquarters in one country, but conduct business in more than one country (Bornschier, 1985). Transnational, or multinational corporations (MNC's), operate in the following ways: franchising, branches, subsidiaries, joint venture, or turn key projects (Soni, 2012). There are three types of transnational corporations: horizontally integrated, vertically integrated, or diversified. The specific multinational corporation under scrutiny is British Petroleum, or "BP", which is an oil and gas company headquartered in London, England. BP is vertically integrated, meaning it has factories in certain countries making inputs for goods produced in factories in other countries (Soni, 2012). The purpose of this paper is to delve into the dangers of transnational corporations through analyzing British Petroleum's flaws in management and decision making, and to understand the negative impacts this has on developing countries, as well as the United States.
One could argue that many of the pillars of western society also represent the foundations of multinational corporations. The consumerist ideals of developed nations that produce these multinational companies indicate that economic success is a top priority. Western societies take part in the production, consumption, and disposal cycles, all functionary as parts of the materials economy (Leonard, 2007). Transnational corporations step in to meet the high demand by selling products at the lowest possible price. Oil is no exception to this trend. Every American president since 1974 has announced that the nation would depend less on foreign oil. However, as time went on, the United States only increased its foreign oil dependency from 36.1% to 66.2% (Freudenburg & Gramling, 2011, pg. 5). Multinational corporations have the potential to foster dependency through their institutions and investments in developing countries. This dependency could lead to corporations attempting to maximize profits through taking advantage of a nation's political system. They could do this in several ways: by having the government look the other way while the corporation mistreats or underpays its local labor force, by gaining access to natural resources that they would be unable to access without government intervention, or by having the government actually change its policies. In many cases, transnational corporations are able to privatize natural resources in a developing country, and then sell it back to the locals for inflated prices. For example, the banana industry in Jamaica exemplifies the seemingly inescapable cycle of debt and dependency that some nations find themselves in. MNC's have the power to lobby and influence international policies, such as trade agreements that make it virtually impossible for small-scale, independent farmers to make a profit. The profitable returns for the MNC's come at the expense of local farmers in the poverty-stricken nations, like those of the Caribbean (Black, 2001). Although many multinational corporations are characterized by their exploitation in developing countries, BP will always be known for the catastrophic oil spill the company caused in the Gulf of Mexico. British Petroleum's decisions undeniably altered the way the public views MNC's and their capacity to maximize profits at other environmental and social costs. The history of how this corporation came into the position is has today is crucial in understanding the extent of its influence and power.
When William D'Arcy heavily invested most of the money in an upcoming energy source, he took monumental risk. A man named George Reynolds convinced D'Arcy that massive amounts of oil, and subsequent wealth, lay hidden underneath the sands of Persia. However, it took them many years to set the operation in motion and actually get the necessary drilling equipment to the area. By May 26th, 1908, they reached an oil deposit located 1,180 feet below ground, and oil had finally began to flow. Less than a year later, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, later re-named British Petroleum, officially began business (BP, 2013).
Even after the initial discovery of oil, BP faced challenges with establishing refinery operations and proper transportation processes that are necessary when the raw materials of the product are so far removed from the intended market. The construction of refineries and pipelines proved to be a very expensive feat, and the company saw minimal profits at this point. Cars were still a very new invention that not many citizens owned yet due to their expensive price, indicating that the market for oil was just developing and there were simply not enough consumers of oil for BP to make a profit (Tharoor, 2010). However, the tide began to turn for the up-and-coming company when the British Navy needed a dedicated oil supplier in 1914. New innovations allowed ships to run on oil instead of the typical fuel source, coal, allowing for expansion in the energy market. When Parliament passed a resolution that made the British government a major shareholder of Anglo-Persian Petroleum, a major milestone for the company was reached. Two weeks later, the murder of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand catapulted Europe into World War I. By the end of the war, oil was seen as a necessity, and Anglo-Persian's profits soared (Tharoor, 2010).
During the 1920's and '30's, society adopted the automobile as the primary mode of transportation, as national income increased and cars became more affordable. BP oil pumps spread all across Britain and throughout the continent as the company expanded globally. By 1939, the world was at war again, and BP was called upon to support the war effort. All three of the British armed services now used petroleum, and BP subsidiaries supplied the American forces with fuel (BP, 2013). Once again, the western world enjoyed post-war prosperity as BP expanded throughout Europe and into new territories like New Zealand. This corporation has grown into an integrated oil and gas company, operating through two main upstream and downstream segments. The upstream segment represents the oil and natural gas market, and is responsible for exploration, field development, production, and midstream transportation, storage and processing. The downstream segment takes part in the refining, manufacturing, marketing, transportation, and trading of the products. BP's revenues allow the corporation to employ about 85,700 people. BP refines about 2,354 barrels of oil per day in their fifteen refineries, which is eventually transported to one of their 20,700 retail sites (The Wall Street Journal, 2013).
From a globally comparative standpoint, BP ranks sixth on the Fortune Global 500 list of the top largest corporations in the world, making a profit of 11.6 billion dollars in 2013 alone (Fortune Global, 2013). Based on their rankings within the oil sector itself and its locations in over eighty countries, it is easy to see why BP has the influence it does over the international market. Over the years, British Petroleum has risen up to become one of the largest corporations on the planet. BP's many successes also indicate that the power they possess to influence the global market is substantial. One of the most notable impacts is BP's ability to essentially determine the price per barrel of oil available for purchase on a global scale. The funds necessar y to enter the oil and petroleum business are massive, which means it is very difficult for a new business to enter the market when competing with a power- house like BP. The hefty capital investments, which are required in this field, create large barriers of entry into the industry- hindering the rise of other global organizations. Since BP is established and has long-standing political ties, they are past the point of the initial capital investment, along with a few other oil companies. Although BP is known for its domestic environmental disasters, there have still been issues in developing countries around the world. One example is the continuous effect British Petroleum has on Colombian farmers. Casanare is a large, rural state in Colombia that includes nineteen municipalities, and a population of approximately 300,000 inhabitants. The area is located in the foothills of the Andes and on the eastern plains (Human Rights Data, 2013). Casanare is a region characterized by extreme levels of poverty, regardless of the oil that flows out of the region to the United States. "This poverty has been worsened by the environmental degradation caused by the oil exploration and extraction, and the subsequent contamination and loss of water sources, according to local farmers whose livelihoods depend on water " (Hall, 2010). Based on the farmers' testimonials, it is evident that BP's presence in Colombia has created a plethora of problems for the local economy and farming industries, with minimal to no benefits for indigenous people. As an important side note, it was extremely hard to find any information on this situation. In 1988 and 1992, BP discovered two promising oil fields in Colombia. Later, in 1995, BP began construction of a pipeline to transport crude oil to an exportation terminal 515 miles away. The pipeline ran from the Cusiana-Cupiagua oilfields in the region of Casanare, to the port of Covenas. It crossed 192 villages, in which most of the land was owned by small-scale peasant farmers. It has a capacity to transport 620,000 barrels of crude oil a day. The local farmers claim that during construction of the pipeline, natural vegetation that once protected the soil from sun, wind, and rain was removed and replaced with vegetation that failed to do so. There has been serious soil erosion, and that sediment flowing towards lower ground has altered the land and aquatic ecosystem, affecting water sources, including reservoirs. As soon as the construction work began, the farmers said they noticed an impact on the local water table. Natural springs that local people had relied on for hundreds of years began to dry up, while other farmers complained of flooding. Crops failed, fishponds became unsustainable, and livestock perished in the fields (Verkaik, 2006). Because the land was not properly stabilized after construction of the pipeline, it is now subject to landslides. "The region has been profoundly and adversely affected causing many farms to close or drastically reduce production and causing some farmers to leave the land," the court documents state (Taylor 2009). With so many Colombian citizens relying on natural resources for their livelihood, the drastic changes to the landscape have caused alarming damages. BP has created negative environmental effects, and has also been the source of social problems. According to the claim lodged by the farmers' lawyers, an environmental impact assessment conducted by BP prior to construction of the pipeline acknowledged significant and widespread risks of damage to the land. Unfortunately, most of the farmers were illiterate and were not informed of these risks (Taylor, 2009). Looking back on the organizational and management procedures of BP, this project was a disaster for Colombia from the start. BP promised compensation to the farmers for damage that might occur, but said there would be no long-term environmental damage (Taylor, 2009). Colombia's oil pipelines have also become targets for insurgent groups. To stave off the attacks, government-aligned paramilitaries have been deployed close to the pipelines. The soldiers have killed farmers' livestock for food, and when the farmers objected, soldiers claimed they were threatened (Verkaik 2006). The Colombian lawyers assisting the farmers with their case claimed they faced intimidation by local paramilitary groups. Marta Hinestroza, one of the farmers' lawyers, fled Colombia for Britain when she discovered that her name was on a paramilitary hit list (Taylor 2009). The story of Marta Hinestroza was one of many similar stories incorporated in this Colombian case. There has been an upsurge in workers and community protests against BP in Casanare since the beginning of 2010. Starting January 22nd, workers at the Tauramena Central Processing Facility (CPF) participated in a strike supported by USO (the National Oil Workers Union of Colombia). "It is no secret that since BP arrived in the early nineties we have not been able to organize workers until now due to the presence of paramilitary groups operating in the oil fields," said Edgar Mojica from the National Oil Workers Union. At night the workers sleep chained to machinery under temporary shelters as a precaution against any further attempts to violently remove them (Hall, 2010). On February 15th, riot police brutally attacked the picket line, sending three workers to hospital. Demonstrations and popular assemblies in support of the stoppage took place in Tauramena and surrounding villages from February onwards. The USO union and many different community sectors came together to form the Movement for the Dignity of Casanare. A man named Ramiro from the Movement for Dignity of Casanare declared, "We will only leave here when BP signs an agreement on salary increases, more dignified working conditions, security guarantees for all involved in the mobilisations, and honors the pre-agreements made in the environmental, human rights, social investment and goods and services commissions" (Hall 2010). Even though the local population seems helpless against BP, it is their will and determination that has gained them attention and helped them to stand up for their rights. The strikes in 2010 ended after 30 days when BP promised to talk and compromise. BP agreed to enter negotiations and there have since been five commissions dealing with labor issues, the environment, local supply of goods and services, social investment and human rights (Briefing, 2010). Ramiro, from the Movement for Dignity of Casanare said, "Despite BP´s misinformation campaign, we are determined and united and we will keep resisting with dignity, and if we can unite with people from the USA, we will be even stronger and achieve much more." The pride and the honor the local population of Casanare share for their homeland has united them to stand up against one of the largest transnational corporations on the planet. Unfortunately, no further recent information could be found regarding this case. BP's was the largest oil spill in history. Lasting for an unprecedented eighty-seven days at a cost millions of dollars in expenses related to the clean-up attempts and efforts in repairing BP's public image. Many would argue that the BP oil spill is the single most significant environmental disasters of all time, as millions of barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico, and to this day, oil still washes up on shores and impacts the coastal communities that rely on the oceanic resources.
This occurrence began April 20th, 2010 on the Macondo Prospect oil field off the coast of Louisiana. Also referred to as the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion, this tragic accident cost eleven lives. Following the massive explosion on the water's surface, the drilling rig sank to the bottom of the gulf within a day, which lead to the oil's release out of the seafloor oil gusher. The flow of the oil was not stopped for a total of eighty-seven days, until it was finally sealed on July 15th, 2010. Experts estimate that around 210 million gallons of oil were released into the Gulf of Mexico following this explosion (Smith, 2010, pg. 26). After an investigation led by the United States government, it was discovered that inefficient cement linings of the well contributed to this massive failure. The investigation found that budget cuts sacrificed the overall safety of the operation in order to lower operational costs. The White House report also noted that an inefficient and ill-prepared emergency response plan, and the subsequent strategies employed, contributed to the length of time it took to stop the spill and prevent further damage. Several response strategies were implemented in response to the emergency status of this situation, all with various levels of success, effectiveness, and side effects. Countless attempts to stop or contain the oil from gushing failed. The inefficiency and ill-prepared actions of BP only worsened the direness of the problem for the wildlife and human populations impacted, and their public image. The use of skimmer boats and controlled burnings also took place in order to control the rapid surging of oil, but even their usage did not efficiently handle the problem at hand, as the rate the oil gushed into the ocean far exceeded the responding cleanup (Smith, 2010, pg. 27).
One of the main response strategies BP put into place was releasing a controversial chemical called Corexit. This worked as an oil dispersant and was sprayed on the surface of the Gulf in massive amounts. This chemical works by sinking the oil and spreading it throughout the water column and into the sediment. Corexit was previously banned in Britain and Sweden for its toxicity, making its vast usage questionable to many people (Fox, 2012). Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology found that this chemical actually intensifies the toxicity of the oil (Petillo, 2012, pg. 2). In April 2010, reports indicated that BP oil bought approximately a third of the world's supply of Corexit. By May, the EPA called for a decrease in its usage and a halt on its surface usage. Subsequently, the toxicity further harms aquatic organisms and has essentially destroyed habitats for fish species, devastating shoreline fishing communities (Fox, 2012). Productive and healthy ecosystems within the Gulf of Mexico were essentially lost, and those who depended on these natural resources had also lost their livelihood for the time being. In total, 1.84 million gallons of this oil dispersant were spread by spray being released by planes flying over the gulf (Petillo, 2012, pg. 5). Corexit sank the oil; however, this method did not truly solve the massive problem, but rather hid it from view. Many argue that this practice made the issue harder to tackle because it spread the oil and toxic chemicals out rather than remove them. Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish located in Louisiana, states that he struggled to get any answers or solutions from BP (Fox, 2012). BP's top officials' failure to answer questions and communicate effectively angered millions of Americans. Unfortunately, the people of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida are immediately impacted by the decisions of BP and will have to deal with negative consequences of their decisions for generations to come. The initial and predicted environmental damage proved to be merely the tip of the iceberg. In addition to the unfathomable contamination of vital ecosystems and wildlife, the fishing and tourism sectors diminished greatly, hindering the people who rely on those industries. Fishing communities faced catastrophic impacts. For example, almost three years after the spill, the state of Louisiana had to close its waters to commercial fishing due to a massive tar mat which was discovered near its coast (Eaton, 2013). A tar mat is essentially a mass of material, including hardened sludge and oil from the spill that collects and becomes extremely heavy and hazardous. No amount of money can repair the destruction of everyday life these locals face due to the spill. Thankfully, in the United States, wildlife representatives have somewhat of a voice against multinational corporations through the EPA and environmental activism groups. On the other hand, it's harder for communities in developing countries to stand up to such powerful corporations and have their arguments heard when there is less political structure or stability, and fewer organizations intended to protect their populations. In a nation that continues to grow its economy in a post-recession era, the complete decimation of vital industries in coastal towns hinders the nation as a whole from progressing. Millions of Americans lost not only their jobs, but also their cultural norms and lifestyles. Many would agree that Louisiana was arguably impacted the most, as it continues to feel the strong negative implications of the spill on an environmental, economic, and cultural level. Not only were residents' jobs and incomes taken away, but their entire way of life was decimated, with vast cultural implications. People hold sentimental value to the bayou and all it offers, making its contamination even more devastating. Kindra Arnesen, the wife of a Louisiana fisherman who was born and raised in that area, expressed frustration with the decisions regarding response and aid to those most affected. She witnessed first- hand the vast changes her entire community underwent, including many residents' declining health. Human health problems have also spread in the aftermath of the spill, as people were exposed to toxic chemicals on coastal towns. The negative effects are even stronger for children with developing bodies (Fox, 2012). The land and the way of life surrounding the bayou have been very negatively impacted through the oil contamination. Kindra expressed that many people were forced to move from areas where their family had resided for generations. With diminished property values, struggling families face even more obstacles in moving forward, protecting their overall health, and providing a decent life for their kids. No amount of money or funding can bring back these peoples' homes and livelihoods as they used to be and once loved. While they may be harder to quantify, the cultural changes in coastal towns are just as prevalent as economic and health related issues.
In attempts to restore their public relations, BP limited access to certain areas that were most dramatically impacted. Around the spill area, intense restrictions were in place to prevent access to surrounding beaches and areas that were hit the hardest after the spill. Most journalists and media outlets were restricted to only fly above 3,000 ft over the Gulf of Mexico, in hopes of shielding the public from further damaging reports on the extent of the damage. Many journalists would call the Federal Aviation Administration to clear their flights, and BP representatives would answer the phone and deal with the coordination efforts (Fox, 2012). This is a frightening confirmation about just how much power British Petroleum holds and the amount of influence they have over the situation. In the documentary Gasland Part II, Josh Fox describes the disturbing sight of seemingly never-ending oil streaks as far as the eye can see as he flew over the Gulf of Mexico (Fox, 2012). The grasp and control British Petroleum had over the access to the oil spill is another disturbing reality of their power as a corporation. The company recently released a report documenting the extensive environmental impacts in attempts to be more transparent with the public and "set the record straight" about the current state of the Gulf. Making this data open to the public and relatively easy to access allows this company to attempt to rebuild the broken trust with potential consumers. Assessed by government agencies, the report consisted of water chemistry data that accounted for the levels of crude-related chemicals present in ocean water, post-oil spill (Eaton, 2013). The report has also published the current state of the oil itself, and how the oil which was dispersed during the spill has changed or degraded over time. BP plans to release further data throughout 2014 that will address the current conditions of aquatic life, offshore sediments, birds, shoreline habitats, marine mammals, sea turtles, and overall environmental toxicity (Eaton, 2013). These reports are intended to demonstrate that BP fully understands the implications of what occurred post-spill environmentally, as well as displaying a full analysis of the multiple biological and chemical outcomes of the spill. However, the report does not include the social and economic implications, which can sometimes be harder to quantify. Thus far, the company has spent roughly $14 billion on the aftermath of the disastrous accident, with most of that going towards settlements with coastal residents and companies whose livelihood was destroyed due to the oil spill (Eaton, 2013). It is difficult to determine whether or not this is a fair restitution, as some impacts cannot be assigned monetary values, and some impacts still remain unknown. In the coming years, there will most likely be more research and reports on the long term social and economic impacts this oil spill has on local communities, although that is not a priority for BP's own investigations. Recently, coastal communities finally received the first payment from the company in order to attempt to rebuild and reestablish the dec imated towns. BP's extensive legal issues proved to be very costly, as lawsuits from affected shoreline residents piled up and cost the company millions. Grants and settlements adding up to about $113 million were given to shoreline regions in the five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico. This marks the first installment of $2.5 billion that BP will pay in fines to the five coastal states. Louisiana was allotted the most in settlements with $67.9 million, Florida received $15.7 million, Alabama received $12.6 million, Texas received $8.8 million, and Mississippi received $8.2 million (Kunzelman, 2013, pg. 11). This money will be allotted over the next five years and will go towards natural barrier and resource restoration, as well as river diversion projects in efforts to rebuild marshes and estuaries. The plans for Louisiana will be implemented first, and the following plans in the other states will follow in those footsteps, shaping their restorations on the successes of the initial plans. Officials say they will work on the most affected areas first and then work towards those with lesser impacts. Money will also go towards replanting native plant species in hopes of restoring natural habitats and ecosystems. This event as a whole symbolizes the negativity associated with oil dependency, and that as a nation we continue drilling and extracting oil despite the fact that its use is one of the worst contributors to worldwide pollution (Orme, 2009). The lack of concern for exacerbating environmental degradation due to the exponential economic benefits represents the skewed priorities held many of the most powerful multinational corporations. This perspective can have devastating consequences, as oil exploration and extraction continues with full- force, without sufficient safety regulation. BP's budget cuts factored into the defective management and regulation of Deepwater Horizon's safety and construction (Freudenberg, 2012, pg. 157). This oil rig originally was registered through the Marshall Islands, limiting t he government's ability of our government to impose regulations and oversee its operations. This is a perfect example of how large corporations find loopholes and ways around the American laws that impose stricter regulation on these practices. BP and its partners were able to use cheaper methods of construction, which ultimately contributed to the disastrous outcome. Prior to the oil spill, BP was guilty of a series of negligent actions in operations, ignoring crucial warning signs and cutting corners in terms of a budget, as it overlooked the long term damages in lieu of immediate profits. Some of their methods of cleanup proved to be essentially futile and obsolete by modern standards (Freudenburg, 2012, pg. 152). The technologies of disaster response plans should have been as up to date as the technologies of physically extracting the oil itself. Many people felt that the publicity following the spill was the primary focus, followed by the actual environmental restoration. Increased accountability and transparency is vital to prevent disasters like this from ever happening again. Historically, globalizing corporations relocate their factories to vulnerable globalizing nations that offer cheap labor. It makes sense financially to corporations to operate in a country that desperately needs jobs and where laborers willing accept low salaries. Based on the adverse effects that have taken place in developing countries due to transnational corporations, there is a clear need for organizational, political, and social change. Until western corporatio ns can operate responsibly, their global expansion will continue to have damaging side effects. The hunger for profit causes corporations to globalize, which results in the collapse of fragile ecosystems and damaged social and economic development. With an increase in globalizing corporations, more resources are being depleted and more greenhouse gases are contributing to climate change. Overall, globalizing tends to take taxation away from corporations, and onto individual citizens. Although beneficial to the companies' revenues, no one else benefits. In an ideal sense, globalization should lead to greater progression for all people, as access and shared innovations cross boundaries. Nelson Mandela offers a profound q uote on the subject, stating "Where globalization means, as it so often does, that the rich and powerful now have new means to further enrich and empower themselves at the cost of the poorer and weaker, we have a responsibility to protest in the name of universal freedom." Being in the top five of the Fortune Global 500, British Petroleum should set the example for other globalizing companies to stop the exploitation of developing nations. With great power comes great responsibility, and it is evident that MNC's have a great deal of power, and should have an equal amount of responsibility for their actions. The trend of exploiting resources, including the labor forces in developing nations, demonstrates the skewed priorities of countless large corporations, as maximizing profits come before ethical conduct and environmental protection. While the oil spill may be seen as a wake- up call to those with the authority to make viable and immediate changes, only time will tell if actions can speak louder than words. When accountability, integrity, and truth become the main priorities of large corporations like British Petroleum, then the world will see progression in developed and developing nations alike. Former President Bill Clinton explains the power of pursuing a better tomorrow by stating, "No generation has had the opportunity, as we now have, to build a global economy that leaves no-one behind. It is a wonderful opportunity, but also a profound responsibility."
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