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Some of the cousins across the pond aren't exactly embracing our loathing and deep disgust with all things BP.

According to one pundit in the UK, our bashing of BP could easily lead to pensioners losing their monthly support money. And he waggles a verbal finger at us, insisting we should remember a similar 1988 disaster that occurred in the North Sea.

I visit a long list of online news outlets every morning. It's sort of a ritual, tea, toast and headlines. Every now and then some text or blip will catch my eye...This one flat out slapped me.

BP-bashing Americans could jeopardise British pensions. They should remember 1988

It is the title of an Op-Ed piece in the UK Telegraph. Fellow named Ian Cowie wrote it, doesn't take long to figure out he's not happy about the lack of understanding and forgiveness BP's receiving in the US.

Cowie, points out that the British government makes quite a bit of money from the taxes BP pays on dividends, and that money is essential to the well being of various entitlement funds.

...BP paid £5bn tax in 2009 and £10bn tax the year before when oil prices were higher.

Indeed with the list of companies having invested in BP stock in what are essentially 401K funds, the UK could well have its own version of Enron forming.

This is not just a problem for City fat cats or a big bad oil company everyone loves to hate. BP paid £6.6bn in dividends last year –  equal to £1 in every £7 paid out by all the companies in the FTSE 100 – and remains a major holding in most income-hungry pension funds.

Independent statisticians Bloomberg list household name fund managers including BlackRock, Legal & General, Barclays, M&G, Scottish Widows, Threadneedle and AXA among major shareholders in BP. Some may have bought since the share price began to slide but most are sitting on massive losses


The Guardian further supports Cowie assertions:

BP's dramatic shares slump sparked a wider plunge on the FTSE 100 Index yesterday. The company is a major constituent of the FTSE, accounting for around 7% of the entire index, meaning that each 10p change in its share price moves the FTSE 100 by nearly 9 points.

Its stock market misery also spells bad news for many of Britain's pension funds, which invest heavily in BP shares. So far the group has lost around a third of its market value – some £40bn

This is serious money, seriously big money, that took a major hit when BP's stock values dropped like a rock on Monday and Tuesday of this week. And I'm sure Cowie is right when he points out the loss of BP's stock dividends will hurt the plans the new coalition government has for slashing spending and balancing the budget.

I do have great empathy for those in the UK caught in the fallout of BP's irresponsible choices. Bad choices made by the powerful and consequences paid by those with least, it's become a common theme in the current economic crisis. There are no easy answers for protecting the pensioners or anyone else enrolled in government sponsored programs depending on the dividends procured through BP profits.

From Cowie's perspective, the onus for the dropping stock revenues fall directly on American outrage and demand for retribution. The quoted Guardian article calls into question the viability of BP's future as a criminal investigation gets underway in the US.

I probably wouldn't have disagreed much with Cowie had he left his argument there...But he didn't. He decided to school the American public about our lack of gratitude when it comes to being forgiven for unthinkable disasters.

Cowie brought up thePiper rig explosion in 1988.If you aren't familiar with it, 167 lost their lives and many more were injured. The rig was a gas rig--oil to gas. A leaky gas compressor unit lead to an explosion and a fire that burned for days before finally being put out. The Piper rig explosion remains the worst rig disaster on record in lives lost to oil drilling and production. The 1988 tragedy had also generated the highest rate of insurance pay outs on record, a record that no doubt will fall to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill.

The most expensive oil rig loss in world history occurred with the explosion and fire of Occidental Petroleum’s Piper Alpha facility in the North Sea in 1988, which killed 167 workers...

Insured losses from the 1988 incident totaled $3.4 billion in 2009 dollars, "even though the event was not accompanied by a significant release of oil into the environment...

(Emphasis is mine)

Our behavior according to Cowie is appalling. He characterizes the then Thatcher government as having taken it on the chin. No political posturing, no stern rebukes by Thatcher and company...

But I do not recall Margaret Thatcher seeking to make political capital out of that tragedy by using inflammatory language about having her boot on the throat of Occidental Petroleum, the American oil giant which operated Piper Alpha. Oxy, as it was known because of the Los Angeles-based company’s New York Stock Exchange ticker, did not become the target of any government-sponsored hate campaigns in Britain.

Really? Everyone is entitled to a personal opinion. That said, there was a reason the Piper rig tragedy played out the way it did minus government strong arming and legal actions--- The owner of the Texas oil company Occidental stepped up and did the right thing within days after the explosion. The explosion happened on July 6th, monetary pay outs were announced on July 9th. The owner came forward to help the families left behind by offering "five years' salary, about 170,000 a person to be paid to the survivors of those who died". I will point out there were inquiries and the subsequent Cullen Report was scathing in regards to the gross negligence of safety procedures--but note here, the blame for the lack of safety procedures was in part the fault of the British Department of Energy's lack of regulations. Both Occidental and the Department of Energy were equally complicit. Occidental didn't face criminal charges because the company voluntarily took steps to right the situation from the beginning.(1)

There wasn't any talk about paying legitimate claims, or congressional debates regarding damage limits. The actions of the Occidental owner and BP's CEO Tony Hayward have been night and day different. Occidental got on with the business of making it right. BP on the other hand has made very public announcements about the funds already paid out without any real details, downplayed the amount of oil spilled, and engaged in quasi guerrilla tactics of forcing rig workers to sign disclaimers, sending clean up workers out to work in unsafe conditions and stifling the flow of information to public. All that to protect the balance sheet,rather than owing up to what happened out in the Gulf. It's hard to justify BP's act of hiring out of work fisherman to assist with the clean up as an act of good faith, when there are now reports of clean up workers becoming ill and BP is playing at yet another form of cover up. (Kos diarist scorpiorising posted an excellent piece on worker illness)

I take great umbrage with Ian Cowie in his assessment of the Gulf oil spill and the Piper rig fire. His intonation in reference to intelligent American politicians and journalists being aware of the dangers of deep water oil drilling entails is offensive. Of course they know, the American public knows it's dangerous. We are furious because there are  regulations in place, to limit the possibility of loss of life and environmental devastation. Regulations disregarded by BP and our own government officials. Even Cowie points out BP's past atrocity when 15 lives were lost in a BP oil refinery explosion due to noncompliance with set regulations. Hell yes we will demand accountability for this mess. This is not 1988. Lessons were meant to be learned from 1988, regulatory agencies were suppose to oversee and protect the public--and the global community; Not aide and abet corporations for personal or political gains.

No one, no entity should be exempt from taking responsibility, regardless of the monetary consequences. I believe it is feasible to argue the call to protect BP's financial stability as another "too big too fail" scenario in the making.

The Piper rig fallout was horrific, so many lives were lost. But the environmental fall out from the Piper rig "wasn't accompanied by a significant release of oil" and therein lies the difference between the Gulf disaster and the Piper rig disaster.

The Gulf oil spill will touch millions of lives before all is said and done. Already hundreds of fisherman have lost their livelihoods, tourism is down and the businesses supporting tourism are failing. The Gulf waters face the real possibility of entire eco-systems being damaged or worse--lost. Life along our Gulf coastline will never be the same. No one can say with any certainty how long the effects of the oil spill will last. Nor can anyone predict how far reaching the effects will be. And with hurricane season pressing in on us, another dimension of threat and unknown consequences is added to an already seemingly impossible situation.

While I respect Cowie's concern for the UK pensioners, I can't help but point out we have folks here who are hurting now and more will follow. I feel for you cuz and I am sincere in that sentiment, but right now, I'm more concerned about my American kin.

Cited Source
1.Paying for the Piper/The Cullen Report pages 246, 255-257

Historical Reference

20th Anniversary of the Piper Rig Disaster

Originally posted to left over flower child on Wed Jun 02, 2010 at 12:50 PM PDT.

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