BP spill leads to demand for more regulation


The majority of people in the US believe oil companies should be more regulated in the wake of BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a Harris poll carried out for the Financial Times.

At least 75 per cent of those aware of the spill in all countries surveyed support increased regulation, notably in Italy and Spain where nine out of 10 people are in favour. Britons, meanwhile, are least worried about regulating the oil companies, but even in the UK, 73 per cent of those surveyed said they agreed with greater regulation.

The findings underline the challenge facing the industry after the accident on April 20 when the Macondo well ruptured, killing 11 workers and spewing 4.9m barrels of oil into the sea. Although the Obama administration’s moratorium on deep-water drilling in the gulf, imposed after the spill, should be lifted earlier than its November 30 expiry date, the industry is already bracing itself for further regulation and higher costs.

US respondents to the Harris poll were also the most damning in their opinion of BP, with almost two-thirds saying they thought less of the company since the spill. By comparison, only 33 per cent of Britons said they thought any less of BP.

The American response shows the scale of the task confronting Bob Dudley, the incoming BP chief executive, as he seeks to restore the company’s reputation.

BP’s US business is hugely important, generating a third of its earnings, and it hopes that last month’s promotion of Mr Dudley, a US citizen raised in Mississippi, will ease tensions. Tony Hayward, his English predecessor, who will step down as chief executive at the end of September, became a hate figure for many Americans after a series of public relations gaffes.

White House officials and US legislators have in turn been accused of indulging in Anglophobia, particularly for referring to BP by its former name, British Petroleum.

However, the survey also underlines how far the public anger in the US about the disaster has spread to the wider industry.

Almost a third of Americans said they thought less of all energy companies following the accident, four in 10 said they were now more worried about climate change and two-thirds said the disaster had increased their fears about their country’s dependence on oil.

Almost three-quarters of Americans were more worried about wildlife and the environment since the spill, with 62 per cent voicing fears about further oil exploration.

Other western countries were closer to the US than the British in how their attitudes had changed towards BP. About half of French and Spanish people said they now thought less of the company, rising to 60 per cent in Italy.

The poll was conducted online by Harris Interactive among 6,180 adults aged 16-64 in France, Germany, Spain, the UK and the US and adults between 18-64 in Italy, between July 20 and 29.

Last week BP successfully plugged the well with mud and cement. The company still plans to drill a relief well to finally seal it.

A study, led by the National Oceanic and At-mospheric Administration, published last week said the majority of the spilt oil was no longer in the water. But BP still faces potential liabilities and legal claims about the accident, including a personal injury lawsuit filed last week which claims that “toxic dispersant chemicals” used by the company are causing health problems.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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