Protesters dragged from BP annual meeting

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Oil giant BP faced the anger of protesters inside and outside its annual general meeting today, which came just days before the first anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.

Activists wearing t-shirts which spelt out "No Tar Sands" in protest against BP's extraction of oil in Canada were dragged out as they tried to stage a demonstration during the meeting.

And a group of fishermen and women from the Gulf coast who say their livelihoods have been destroyed by the oil spill that followed the explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon rig last April, were denied entry to the meeting.

Louisiana fisherwoman Diane Wilson was arrested for breach of the peace after a demonstration in which she smeared herself in an oil-like substance as she tried to gain access to the AGM.

Ms Wilson had previously protested last year at the US Congressional committee hearing when then BP chief executive Tony Hayward gave evidence.

Speaking outside the Excel centre in London's Docklands before making her protest, Ms Wilson said the only way to stop the kind of accidents that had happened in the Gulf of Mexico was to make corporate officers responsible and bring manslaughter charges against Mr Hayward.

"My community is dead. We've worked five generations there and now we've got a dead community. I'm angry, I've been angry a long time," she said.

Inside, BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg tried to interrupt US activist and author Antonia Juhasz as she read a statement from Keith Jones, father of Gordon Jones, one of the 11 men who died when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded last April.

She was then given an opportunity to read part of the statement, in which Mr Jones accused BP of taking chances with the safety of those on the oil rig, in order to make more money because they were greedy.

"You were rolling the dice with my son's life and you lost," the statement said.

In response to her comments, BP chief executive Bob Dudley read out the names of the 11 men who died when the rig exploded.

He said nothing could be done to bring the 11 men back, that the accident had "shocked and saddened us all", and the company would do every it could to make sure it did not happen again.

The board of directors also faced angry questions from indigenous communities from Canada who criticised the oil company's involvement in tar sands extraction in their territories, which they say is damaging their traditional way of life, environment and health.

Clayton Thomas-Muller, a member of the Indigenous Environmental Network, told the board BP's activity in Canada was putting it at increased risk of legal action and was bad for shareholders.

The campaigner from Mathais Colomb Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba said: "The board is demonstrating a complete disregard for its shareholders by continuing to venture into this project, it's a risky investment."

During the discussion on tar sands, a group from the UK Tar Sands Network wearing T-shirts spelling out the words "No Tar Sands" attempted to stand up and protest against the oil source, which critics say is far more polluting than conventional oil, but were dragged out of the AGM.

Jess Worth, from the group, said they had tried to stage a peaceful, silent protest against the extraction of the tar sands in Canada, which she described as the "most destructive project on Earth".

At the meeting the board also faced a grilling over its delayed £10 billion share-swap and exploration deal with Russian government-owned Rosneft, as well as tough questions over its safety record.

Speaking from outside the meeting, Louisiana shrimp fisherwoman Tracy Kuhns said she was angry and embarrassed at having been "treated like a criminal" and turned away from the AGM, which they could attend as proxy shareholders, simply for trying to make her voice heard.

She said BP had damaged her community, its businesses, the environment and people's health through the spill and the chemicals used to disperse the oil, and was not paying for what it had done. Her shrimp boat has not been out fishing since the oil disaster last April.

Later she and two other Louisiana fishermen, Michael Roberts and Byron Encalade, issued a statement saying they had agreed to an offered meeting with BP if it was open to the media, and that the oil company had then refused to see them.

The GMB union also staged a noisy protest outside the AGM over a dispute at a BP-owned biofuels plant near Hull, where hundreds of workers say they have been "locked out" of the contract to build the new plant after the project fell behind schedule.