Fast Company

BP Greenwashes Post-Deepwater Horizon CSR Report

Deepwater Horizon oil spill

You may recall that BP nearly obliterated the Louisiana and Florida coasts last year following the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, which saw approximately 205 million gallons of oil dumped into the Gulf of Mexico (seen above from space). There's no way to get around the issue in the oil company's first corporate social responsibility report since the disaster--but that hasn't stopped BP from trying.

The trouble starts on page one of the report, where BP completely neglects to list the amount of oil, CO2, and methane released as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster under its "BP in Figures" environmental impact chart (above). According to the chart, BP spilled less oil in 2010 than in 2008. How can this be?

Careful readers will notice that statistics relevant to the oil disaster are highlighted in green. At the bottom of the page, BP explains in tiny letters that the Gulf spill was left out of these calculations because "Although there are several third-party estimates of the flow rate or total volume of oil spilled from the Deepwater Horizon incident, we believe that no accurate determination can be made or reported until further information is collected and the analysis, such as the condition of the blowout preventer, is completed." And as for those CO2 emissions, BP explains " We have not included any emissions from the Deepwater Horizon incident and the response effort due to our reluctance to report data that has such a high degree of uncertainty." Surely BP could have made some kind of estimation instead of leaving out the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

This isn't to say that BP ignores the disaster entirely. BP dedicates two sections of the 50 page report--How BP is Changing, and the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill--to the spill. In the "How BP is Changing" section, BP claims that it is working on improving safety and operation risk, values and behaviors (no more meth and porn at the Minerals Management Service!), technology, and contractor management, among other things. Unfortunately, the report only skims the surface of these issues.

For example, when addressing how to prevent future oil spills, BP explains that it is working on better safety metrics with the Center for Chemical Process Safety, the American Petroleum Institute, American National Standards Institute, and its industry peers. The company also boasts that it has "Enhanced training and development programmes, particularly around the practical aspects of process safety techniques," and that it is piloting a new integrity monitoring system for its refineries. The improved safety metrics and integrity monitoring will be helpful, to be sure, but BP neglects to explain what it is doing differently in the short term.

As expected, the "Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill" section is filled with bland assurances from BP that it did everything it possibly could following the spill (one typical quote: "From the beginning, BP worked to fight the spill and minimize its impact on the environment...these efforts helped to reduce the amount of oil that reached the shore and environmentally sensitive marsh areas."). Once again, this section neglects to give an estimation of how much oil was spilled.

It's easy to nitpick BP's report--there is little the company could do at this point to assure the public that it has changed its ways since last Spring. But an analysis at the end of the report from Ernst & Young, which audited the whole thing, confirms that BP still has a long way to go. Ernst & Young points out that BP could have covered its disclosure of future environmental targets in more depth, and that while the company's Deepwater Horizon section "includes consideration of the importance of issues to stakeholders, some groups may consider that their individual concerns have not been addressed. Others will feel that the coverage in the report does not do justice to the complexity of certain issues."

An unscientific estimate: In order to cover all facets of the disaster, BP would have to extend its report by at least another 100 pages.

Follow Fast Company on Twitter. Ariel Schwartz can be reached by email.

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