Pro-solar vote dwarfs previous environmental resolutions at BP Amoco AGM

BP Amoco shareholders who oppose the company's plans for oil exploration and favour more investment in solar power have returned one of the highest votes for an environmental shareholder resolution ever recorded.

The shareholders were voting at BP Amoco’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) on a resolution urging the company to cancel its plans for oil exploration in the Arctic, to halt the construction of the Northstar drilling project and to redirect the project’s budget to BP’s solar energy subsidiary, BP Solarex.

The initial proxy vote showed 1.491 billion shares in favour, or 13.5% of the vote, with 9.5 billion shares (86.5%) against the resolution. Votes of the shareholders attending the meeting have yet to be counted, but are not expected to make a significant difference to the result.

BP Amoco has portrayed the result as a significant defeat for the alliance of green NGOs, civil rights groups and socially responsible investors who proposed the motion. “You’ve got to see this from the other side,” a BP Amoco spokesperson told edie. “87% of the shareholders aren’t in favour of this resolution. On democratic principles you do what the 87% want, it’s as simple as that.”

However, Greenpeace is exultant. Greenpeace climate campaigner, Stephanie Tunmore, told edie “this was an unprecedented result. We were taken by surprise by it and are now discussing how we will press home out advantage.”

Tunmore said BP Amoco is disguising the fact that previous US resolutions on environmental issues that went on to achieve between three and five percent of the vote have lead to changes in the company’s policy.

“They will find it hard to ignore the amount of voters in our favour,” Tunmore said. “It means that we had big institutional investors behind us – we couldn’t have managed it with just the support of private shareholders and socially responsible investors. It’s difficult to tell what BP will do now, but they will ignore this at their peril. They will have to take this into consideration in any future plans for exploration and solar power.”

The resolution, filed by Greenpeace, the US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) and Trillium Asset Management of Boston, was publicly backed by individual and institutional shareholders in the US and the UK. Last week, the UK’s largest fund adviser on corporate responsibility advised its clients to vote for the resolution (see related story).

Following the result, Greenpeace called on BP Amoco to abandon the Northstar project, stop lobbying to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil development and redirect funds into its solar subsidiary BP Solarex.

Meanwhile, in Alaska, Greenpeace continue to protest against the international oil company (see related story). Two protesters were arrested this week for entering BP Amoco’s ‘No Trespass Zone’ at the Northstar construction site. Altogether, eleven activists have been arrested at the site this week. Greenpeace also is suing a number of US Government agencies for their part in granting a permit for BP Amoco’s Northstar oil drilling project in Alaska(see related story).

BP’s Board of Directors had urged shareholders to reject the resolution, saying Greenpeace’s analysis of the situation was incorrect.

Speaking at the AGM, BP Amoco’s chairman Peter Sutherland had denied claims that there is a one in four chance of a significant major oil spill at Northstar. “Quite simply, this risk is a fiction,” Sutherland had said. “It has been taken out of context, and was no more than a theoretical calculation based on a number of assumptions from different parts of the world – and with different operators – neither of which has any relevance to Northstar.”

Sutherland said the alleged risk arose from an Environmental Impact Statement on Northstar by the US Army Corps of Engineers derived from data compiled in the Gulf of Mexico – and for leaks from all sources, not just pipelines.

Sutherland also denied that BP’s operations threaten biodiversity, saying that no polar bears have died as a result of Northstar construction work. Sutherland said that the number of caribou, bears, foxes, birds and fish in the Prudhoe Bay area has increased since development began in the mid 70s.

Sutherland added that the possibility of BP operating in the ANWR is “extremely theoretical at this stage” (see related story). “We currently have no plans for oil exploration and development in ANWR,” he said.

Addressing the issue of investment in solar power, Sutherland said that BP Amoco sees solar as a strategic business issue. He argued that projects like Northstar enable BP to “prepare for the future while conducting a profitable business in the present.”

Sutherland promised that BP will double the capacity of its solar crystalline plants in less than three years and said the company will expand production of its thin film technologies. But, said Sutherland, the growth of BP’s solar business is dependent on the strength of the company’s conventional business.

“Everything we are determined to do to improve our environmental performance, develop new solar technology and to reduce the environmental impact of our operations would be compromised by headline gestures such as this Resolution involves,” Sutherland said.

BP Amoco/ARCO merger gets go-ahead

BP Amoco and Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) have received clearance from the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for the merger of their companies. The deal, which was originally agreed a year ago (see related story), will create a combined group with a market capitalisation of some $200 billion.

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