BP has found a welcome ally as it fights to restore its battered reputation around the world: the British public.
A Harris poll carried out for the Financial Times shows that people in the UK have taken a far more benign view of the oil company’s huge spill in the Gulf of Mexico than their international counterparts.
In a display of patriotic support for one of the country’s few national champions, only 33 per cent of Britons said they thought any less of the company after the rupture of its Macondo well on April 20. The disaster killed 11 workers and caused an estimated 4.9m barrels of oil to flow into the sea, making it the world’s worst accident of its kind.
More than one in five said their opinion of BP had either remained positive or actually improved since the disaster in the gulf.
US respondents to the Harris poll were far more damning, with almost two-thirds saying they thought less of the company.
The American response shows the scale of the task confronting Bob Dudley, the incoming chief executive, as he seeks to restore the company’s battered 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 public relations gaffes early in the crisis.
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 shows how far the public anger in the US has spread beyond BP to the wider industry.
Almost a third of Americans said they thought less of all energy companies following the accident, while in the UK, only 19 per cent said they had a lower opinion of the industry.
Four in 10 Americans said they were now more worried about climate change and two-thirds said the disaster had left them with bigger fears about their country’s dependence on oil. Almost three-quarters 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 Britain 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.
Those countries also mirrored the US in terms of their attitude towards the wider industry, with about a third of Italians and Spaniards saying they thought less of all energy companies. Fewer French citizens had changed their view, but two-thirds said they had always had a bad opinion of the industry, far more than any of the other countries.
Far fewer Britons said they had become more worried about climate change, pollution and environmental conservation than other Europeans and their US counterparts.
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. BP last week successfully plugged the well from the top using heavy drilling mud and cement. The company plans to drill a relief well to seal it finally later this month.
A study, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, published last week said the majority of the spilt oil was no longer in the water. However, BP still faces potential liabilities and a raft of 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.