Drilling Deeper Into BP's Sustainability Review

The graph that BP's Sustainability Review leaves out, and what else is missing from the oil company's report.

This morning Cord posted a startling chart about BP's oil spill accounting in their latest Sustainability Review. The chart shows BP's "volume of oil spilled" in 2006, 2008, and 2010, and was pretty infuriating as it didn't include numbers from the Gulf oil spill. Which, obviously, changes things.

Here are the numbers that the graph was culled from:

Right below the chart, BP makes this bombshell of a footnote:

Our data does not include the oil spill volume or the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the Deepwater Horizon incident. These are highlighted in green.


At the end of his post, Cord says that an accurate, "much bigger" graph would include the figures from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. I took that as a challenge. Here are a couple of graphs, one including all the oil spill volume data from BP's Sustainability Review, and the second one including Gulf spill data. (I should give credit to NCES for their very cool "Create A Graph" tool.)

Compare that to a chart that includes the best estimates from the team of scientists appointed by the government to calculate the total oil spilled in the Deepwater Horizon "leak."

That's the 1.7 million liters that BP "officially" confessed to, plus the roughly 779 million liters (or 205.8 million gallons) that the government-appointed scientists estimated.

Now many who have seen the original chart have accused BP of totally glossing over or hiding from or neglecting the oil spill. While I'm not one to defend BP, I do think that's a bit off the mark. They did put a pretty gnarly photo of the spill tainting beautiful Gulf waters on the report's cover, and on the inside cover, the lead image is of the violent explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig. The first third or so of the 50-page report addresses the Gulf spill directly.

That's not to say they address it comprehensively or all that transparently. It reads like, well, PR copy, which it is. Reading CSR and sustainability reports always demands a patient parsing of heavily vetted PR speak, and this report is maybe the ultimate example of that. It pays respects to the workers who lost their lives, but also champions the efforts of BP workers responding to the spill.

More than anything else, the report seems to be attempting to propel BP beyond the oil spill. What's next? Unfortunately for the company, its investors, and the rest of us that depend on its crude on a daily basis, the answers to that question are as missing as the volume estimates from the Gulf oil spill. We read that the company will invest $1 billion "to participate in the rapidly growing low-carbon energy market." Sounds like a nice round number. Flip ahead to the "alternative energy" section (page 28) and you can read about the basics of biofuels, wind, and solar, but you won't find any hard goals or information about how exactly that $1 billion will be invested. The Canadian tar sands and carbon capture and storage seem to be far better developed than any renewable energy plans.

The numbers themselves don't tell a prettier picture. Even the Gulf spill-scrubbed stats that BP used for that deceptive chart show a company that spilled more oil in 2010 than in 2009 (not counting the Deepwater Horizon!), and which—despite the "Beyond Petroleum" hubbub of a couple years ago—is pumping out as much carbon dioxide as ever.

BP is trying to tell a good story about a company that's moving beyond the oil spill, beyond environmental destruction and climate corruption. Beyond the rhetoric, there's very little to that story.

via International Monetary Fund / Flickr and Streetsblog Denver / Flickr

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