BP targets one of the world's last unspoilt wildernesses after deal

Environmentalists are angry at the energy giant's plans to drill for oil in a remote region of the Arctic

A A A

The Arctic is to become the "new environmental battleground", campaigners warned yesterday after BP announced plans to drill in one of the last great unspoilt wildernesses on earth.

Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) have vowed to confront BP's American boss, Bob Dudley, over the agreement with the Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft to explore the Kara Sea, north of Siberia. The British energy firm was branded the world's "environmental villain number one" by Friends of the Earth (FoE) yesterday in response to its move to exploit potential oil reserves in the remote waters.

Environmentalists are dismayed that BP, which announced the deal on Friday night, has decided to set up rigs in an area of great biodiversity and treacherous weather conditions. The region is one of the few remaining havens left for a number of endangered species, including polar bears, walruses and beluga whales. And while the waters of the Kara Sea are relatively unexplored, they are known to house key fish species such as halibut, capelin and Arctic cod.

The controversial decision to open the area up to oil drilling comes after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico last April. The disaster wrecked BP's reputation, and campaigners are concerned that the remote Arctic is even more susceptible to environmental disasters.

Speaking to The Independent on Sunday yesterday, Mike Childs, FoE's head of climate change, said: "BP, a number of years ago, were positioning themselves to be the greenest of the oil companies, promising to go 'beyond petroleum'. This latest move positions them quite nicely as environmental villain number one, given the huge impact they had in the Gulf of Mexico as well."

The oil giant "cannot be trusted" to drill oil in difficult waters, and any oil spill would be "completely catastrophic". He added: "The Arctic should be a no-go for fossil fuel extraction as it's one of the few pristine environments we have left. It's very fragile and we should be looking at ways to protect it, not seemingly trying to find ways of wrecking it."

Dax Lovegrove, head of business and industry relations at WWF-UK, said: "Oil spill response plans in the Arctic are even less adequate than we saw in the Gulf of Mexico. There is less infrastructure, like equipment to ring-fence oil spills and ships to skim off oil on the surface of the water."

Conservationists have previously complained about BP's work with Rosneft off Sakhalin Island in the north Pacific. WWF believes that the companies' constant seismic surveying has caused noise pollution harmful to the last 130 western grey whales, only 30 of which are female. Mr Lovegrove added that WWF will be "in direct contact" with Mr Dudley and Rosneft's president Eduard Khudainatov and reviewing its campaigning tactics in light of the deal.

Greenpeace is even more damning of the deal, which also sees BP and Rosneft take shares in each other worth a total of £10bn. Senior climate change campaigner Ben Ayliffe pointed out that the Greenland government last year refused to allow BP to drill in its Arctic waters.

"The Kara Sea is pretty much virgin territory," Mr Ayliffe said. "It's bad news. BP has a pretty average record of safety recently. We don't know if they've learnt anything from Deepwater Horizon."

Another Greenpeace spokesman warned yesterday that an oil spill in the Kara Sea could take nine months to clear up. "Imagine that same scenario in the Arctic where are thousands of miles from anywhere, where the drilling season is three or four months long. If you get a leak at the end of that cycle it could run for nine months before you could get back in the next year to try to stop it," said Chris Kronick.

BP is also pressing ahead with its joint venture partner Husky Energy in a $2.5bn project in Alberta, Canada. This involves extracting oil from what is known as tar sands, a difficult operation that releases high volumes of greenhouse gases.

Mr Ayliffe hinted that Greenpeace will campaign heavily on exploitation of the Arctic in 2011. "These two ventures mean it doesn't look like the leopard is changing its spots. After tar sands, BP is going into some of the planet's most pristine wilderness. Questions need to be asked of BP, like why should they be investing shareholders' money in such areas after spending $20bn on Deepwater Horizon."

The costs of the clean-up and compensation in the Gulf of Mexico are expected to reach at least $40bn. The anger over the disaster in the US has convinced BP that its best hopes for growth lie east rather than west.

The Government moved quickly to show its support for the Rosneft deal. The Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, attended the signing of the agreement and welcomed the move. He said: "BP, as we all know, is coming out of a difficult period in its history, but this partnership shows that BP is very much open for business."

Mr Huhne was accused of betraying his principles by environmentalists. "This is supposed to be the greenest government ever and the Lib Dems in particular have actively pitched for the green vote for years. They are U-turning on the principles they claim to have," said Spencer Fitzgibbon, Green Party spokesman.

FoE's Mike Childs said: "It is disturbing that Chris Huhne is not too worried about the potential environmental impact on one of the most fragile environments in the world."

BP boss Bob Dudley has sought to convince the media and environmentalists that BP is now a much safer company. On Friday he said: "BP is sharing the lessons we learnt around the world. You will see BP take these lessons into the heart of the company."

A BP spokesman said that it would be meeting environmental groups to address their concerns. But US congressman Ed Markey called for a review of the deal.

"Even following the largest oil spill in US history, and potentially billions of dollars in fines outstanding, the Russian Bear is apparently bullish about BP," said Mr Markey. "BP once stood for British Petroleum. With this deal, it now stands for Bolshoi Petroleum."

BP and Rosneft: The main players

Bob Dudley

BP chief executive

The Russian-speaking American succeeded Tony Hayward as BP boss.

Tony Hayward

Former chief executive

Terrible with the media during the spill, but started early talks with Rosneft.

Chris Huhne

Energy Secretary

The Government needed to give tacit approval as deal is vital for energy security.

Eduard Khudainatov

Rosneft president

Became president of the state-run oil group in September.

Igor Sechin

Russia's deputy premier

Vladimir Putin

Russia's Prime Minister

Dudley has had to make his peace with Putin, after he was forced to flee Russia over BP's joint venture with TNK.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium - they breathe better air, and eat better food, when they're not making beans on toast for their kids

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium

They breathe better air, eat better food, take better medicine
A generation of dropouts failed by colleges

Dropout generation failed by colleges

£800m a year wasted on students who quit courses before they graduate
Entering civilian life 'can be like going into the jungle' for returning soldiers

Homeless Veterans appeal

Entering civilian life can be like going into the jungle
Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Fifty Shades of Grey director on bringing the hit to the screen
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch