BP angers greens with plan to use more tankers in US beauty spot

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The Independent Online

BP, which trumpeted its claim to be one of the world's most environmentally friendly energy companies this week, has provoked fury among green lobbyists in the US with its campaign to have a protected area of natural beauty opened to more of its oil tankers.

Britain's largest oil company wants a three-decade-old law protecting Puget Sound, an estuary containing oysters and clams in Washington state, to be repealed so that more tankers can travel to and from the refinery it owns in the area.

BP's manoeuvrings, which have largely been behind the scenes, appear at odds with its high-profile stance as an environmentally progressive company. Its slogan is "Beyond Petroleum" and its logo a green sunflower. On Monday the company unveiled plans to spend $8bn (£4.6bn) over the next decade on developing alternative and renewable energy sources.

According to environmental activists, the company is pursuing policies which are far from green in the US, the world's largest oil market. Ocean Advocates, a lobby group in Seattle which successfully sued BP last year, said revelations about its Puget Sound activity showed it had "got caught with its hands in the cookie jar". Fred Felleman, a spokesman for the group, said BP's environmental record in Washington state was "something other than stellar".

Washington's Democratic senator, Maria Cantwell, is fighting plans to open Puget Sound on the grounds that a repeat of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989 would devastate the area. "We learned valuable lessons when nearly 11 million gallons of oil spilled in Alaska's Prince William Sound. We don't need to relearn them in Puget Sound," she said.

The Alaskan Republican senator, Ted Stevens, quietly introduced a bill in the Senate last month calling for a repeal of the 1977 law, called the Magnuson amendment, which limits oil tanker traffic in Puget Sound.

A series of e-mails from BP's public relations and legal departments show the company's support of Mr Stevens. BP is a contributor to Mr Stevens' political campaigns and is a major driller in Alaska, where a separate battle is raging over the negative impact of oil companies on the environment.

In one internal e-mail in October, a BP spokesman Bill Kidd suggested Mr Stevens might attempt to knock down the Magnuson amendment after a previous attempt failed in the House of Representatives. Mr Kidd added that he had asked a senior external public relations consultant to prepare a possible article representing the views of BP.

Mr Kidd's e-mail said: "Senator Stevens may take another run at Magnuson on the Senate floor, perhaps within days. I have asked Rick Cocker to prepare an op-ed piece for us in the event it might be useful; we will check with Stevens before launching anything proactively." Mr Cocker is the head of Cocker Fennessy, a large public relations firm in Seattle. BP would not comment yesterday.