The need for greater linkages between the environmental, peace and Wall Street reform movements grow by the day in the face of the epic oil spill caused by British Petroleum, a multinational firm tied to Goldman Sachs and Halliburton in oil wars from the Gulf of Mexico to the Persian Gulf.
Peter Sutherland, chairman of BP’s board for the past decade, had headed Goldman Sachs International and, in the 1990s, was a director of the World Trade Organization. According to Bloomberg/Business Week, Sutherland is connected to 124 corporate board members in seven companies spanning 16 industries.
Last year Sutherland touted BP’s founders as the “cream of Edwardian society” who organized the Anglo-Persian oil company in 1909 with a concession extracted from the Shah of Persia. Renamed the Anglo-Iranian oil company in 1935, it was nationalized in 1951 by the elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh, who was overthrown in a 1953 British-US coup.
In Iraq, meanwhile, BP dominated an oil consortium called the Iraq Petroleum Company, until it was nationalized in 1972 by Saddam Hussein, in what historian William Polk describes as "perhaps the most popular move Saddam ever made." (Polk, Understanding Iraq, p. 127) But with America’s installation of a new regime in Baghdad, the return of BP was only a matter of time. The 2007 Baker-Hamilton Study Group recommended that Iraq’s nationalized oil industry become a “commercial enterprise” with investment from global energy companies. In 2005, Baker chaired BP’s “independent” panel which reviewed “safety management systems” and “corporate safety culture.” During the Baker-Hamilton process, BP’s CEO Tony Hayward was on the advisory board of Citybank, which was represented by Citigroup on Baker-Hamilton’s “expert working group” on Iraq’s economy and reconstruction.
And now BP has been rewarded Iraq’s concession to exploit what “could be one of the largest expansions of crude-oil production every achieved anywhere,” according to the Wall Street Journal. (March 31, 2010) Despite demands to review the oil contract from Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc which won a slim majority of seats in the country’s recent election, the deal is moving forward. Forty-nine oil wells are to be drilled near Basra in what the Journal describes as an effort to turn Iraq “into a rival of Saudi Arabia for the world’s biggest crude exporter.”
The BP-Halliburton connection was forged not only in Iraq or, as some have suggested, in the secret meetings of Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force, but in the recent 2009 underwater catastrophes in Australia’s sea of Timor and the explosion two weeks ago of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig off the southern US coast. Halliburton performed the concrete work that preceded both spills. The New York Times reports that a Halliburton employee has acknowledged “that he made the problem worse” during the Australian spill, and as for the current disaster, Halliburton officials claim it would be “premature and irresponsible to speculate” on the cause.
The Goldman Sachs connection remains to be investigated, but it appears Sutherland had a conflict of interest in his dual roles at BP and the Wall Street giant. BP and Goldman were involved heavily in the 1990 and in 2000 in achieving deregulation of energy futures trades from the previous oversight of the Commodities Futures and Exchange Commission (CFTC). As most crude oil futures trades became deregulated, the price of oil skyrocketed from $18 per barrel in 1988 to $36 in 2000, to $110 in 2008. BP’s environmental crimes also include the use of Colombian paramilitaries to protect its jungle pipelines and thousands of air pollution violations at its Carson oil refinery in Los Angeles. BP has asserted that the goal of global warming initiatives should be to stabilize emissions at 500-550 ppm, levels considered shocking by most environmental experts.
And yet despite its status as a serial and dangerous polluter, BP has attempted to cultivate a reputation as a “responsible” oil company, famously rebranding itself as BP “Beyond Petroleum” with a $200 million Ogilvy and Mather advertising campaign in 2000, and known for encouraging “dialogues” and “partnerships” with mainstream environmental organizations like the National Wildlife Federation. It takes credit for leading the oil industry in solar energy applications, but its renewables portfolio is a tiny percentage of its business, and BP is poised to dominate the rate at which solar sources are developed.
The current oil spill invites a coming together of many social movements, including those inspired by the recent indigenous gathering in Bolivia and mainstream groups with a new opportunity for principled battle against the Obama administration’s embarrassing energy legislation which green-lights more off-shore drilling. It still remains for progressives to move beyond a single-issue focus to make the connections between Wall Street, war, and environmental destruction.