One view from London

I’ve asked friends to find how their friends in Europe view the BP oil disaster. Here is one email that was shared with me:

It’s being portrayed principally in the sense of being a tremendous ecological and economic disaster, possibly the worst oil spill in history. The damage to BP’s reputation also features heavily – which will clearly be most affected in the US where’s it has had a number of safety problems in recent years. Look at BBC World and you’ll get a sense of the coverage here.

There has also been some reference to US protectionist tendencies reappearing – the fact that BP has been referred to as British Petroleum in Congress repeatedly, the aggressive stance of Obama etc (also reflected in your questions!). BP hasn’t been British Petroleum for over 30 years when it was privatized; it’s publicly-listed company with a shareholding like any other. Although the Board still sits in London, by the usual measures it’s largely a North American company these days – that’s where most of its assets are held. The UK Government will not have any say in BP’s commercial decisions; in fact the US Gov probably has more influence because it’s a more important customer/regulator.

My dad worked in oil for over 30 years and I’ve spoken to him about the spill. He says that drilling at that depth carries enormous risks and spills are almost inevitable. The wells offshore the US are being drilled to feed US dependency on oil. The Obama administration seems to be adopting an aggressive stance as an exercise in distraction to try and ensure attention does not focus on the huge number of deepwater wells for which it recently granted permission. If BP has breached safety regulations it will pay heavily in court and – even if is found to be blameless – it will pay financially and reputationally.

But your coastline will pay more than anything else, my friend.