BP Investors Question Investment Risks of Arctic Drilling

Transatlantic coalition files shareholder resolution calling on BP to analyze risks to shareholder value from operating in environmentally or culturally sensitive areas.

Published: 23-Jan-2002

WASHINGTON -- Jan. 23, 2002-- A transatlantic coalition of British, European, Canadian and American investors announced today the filing of a shareholder resolution on environmental and cultural risk with BP, the world's third-largest oil company.

The resolution calls on the company to analyze risks to shareholder value from operating in environmentally or culturally sensitive areas, such as the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Shareholders will vote on the resolution at the BP Annual General Meeting on April 18 in London.

"We think it is important for BP to measure the risk to its carefully cultivated brand image from drilling in sensitive areas like the Arctic Refuge," said Athan Manuel, director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group's (PIRG) Arctic Wilderness campaign. "The stakes are very high for BP, a company that has declared its intention to go beyond petroleum and respect the environment and human rights."

The shareholder resolution was filed as President Bush and Congress prepare to debate whether to allow oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge. BP recently announced that the company would like to drill for oil in the Arctic Refuge if Congress votes to open the area. The coastal plain is the only part of Alaska's North Slope currently off-limits to oil and gas exploration and development, and BP is one of four companies that operate there. A vote in the Senate is expected as early as the second week of February.

"The national debate to protect the Arctic Refuge is becoming more intense week by week and is a top priority for the environmental community. Protecting our fragile environment is a priority for many investors as well," said Timothy Smith, Senior Vice President of Walden Asset Management. "Thus we are filing this vitally important resolution with BP to review drilling in environmentally sensitive areas, including the Arctic Refuge." Two years ago, more than 13 percent of BP shareholders voted in favor of an Arctic Refuge resolution supported by PIRG, Greenpeace, and Trillium Asset Management. This year PIRG and Trillium Asset Management are joined by Walden Asset Management of Boston, the Green Century Balanced Fund, World Wildlife Fund, Ethos Funds of Switzerland, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds, Ethical Funds Inc. of Canada, Enterprise Global Socially Responsible Fund, Clean Yield of Vermont, Catholic Healthcare West, members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, and more than 115 individual investors based in the United Kingdom. The resolution was also co-filed by renowned shareholder activist and author Bob Monks.

"We think there could be enormous reputational risks with significant consequences for shareholder value, particularly for a company like BP that wants to be seen as a leader in the energy sector, to be part of a mad scramble for oil in the last unspoiled and most special places left on Earth such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," said Brooks Yeager, vice president of global threats for World Wildlife Fund. The resolution asks BP to apply Association of British Insurers criteria on risk assessment to sensitive areas like the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge. The ABI guidelines state that a company can put itself at risk if it fails to respond appropriately to social, ethical and environmental matters. Specifically, the resolution calls on BP "to prepare a report disclosing ... how the company analyses and takes steps to control significant risks to shareholder value from operating in environmentally or culturally sensitive areas and lobbying for access to areas with a protected environmental status. These risks include operating, financial and reputation risks to the business in general, the ability to attract and retain high quality staff, and the impact on BP's effort in building its reputation as a good corporate citizen. The report should include a description of how the information therein affects BP's decision-making processes."

Last year, BP refused to put an Arctic resolution to a shareholder vote, stating that U.S. owners of American Depository Shares (ADS) do not have the same rights to file shareholder resolutions as investors with ordinary shares in the United Kingdom. While accepting this year's resolution, the company challenged several co-filers. Most U.S. shareholders of BP hold American Depository Shares.

Even though ADS owners do not enjoy the same shareholder rights as ordinary shareholders, Standard & Poor's assigned BP its highest corporate governance score, a 9.6 out of 10. "BP has significant operations in Alaska and throughout the United States yet they continue to treat American shareholders as second-class citizens," said Mindy Lubber of the Green Century Balanced Fund. "BP's efforts to be a leading corporate citizen are woefully hampered by their restrictive practices limiting American shareholder's the ability to have an equal voice in the company's management practices. Limiting shareholders ability to file shareholder resolutions is contrary to the democratic principles the company claims to stand for." The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the last pristine areas left in the United States. Caribou, muskoxen, wolves, polar, brown and black bears, and hundreds of thousands of migratory birds rely on the wilderness habitat that the Refuge provides. The Gwich'in people, Alaska natives who live near the Refuge, depend on the caribou. For 20,000 years, their culture and way of life have been intimately bound up with the Porcupine River caribou herd.

"BP represents one of the largest energy holdings in our portfolio," said Simon Billenness, Senior Analyst with Trillium Asset Management in Boston. "As ethical investors, we expect BP to live up to its record of environmental responsibility and leave the Arctic Refuge and the Gwich'in alone." U.S. PIRG is coordinating a corporate campaign targeting the four oil companies that have expressed interest in drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Similar Arctic Refuge resolutions have been filed with ExxonMobil and Chevron Texaco. For more on the shareholder resolutions please visit www.pirg.org.

The Green Century Balanced Fund is an environmentally screened mutual fund whose portfolio includes companies that invest in wind power, fuel cells, natural foods and other environmentally responsible companies. The fund is managed by Green Century Capital Management, the only investment advisor wholly owned by not for profit environmental advocacy organizations. Trillium Asset Management is the oldest and largest independent investment firm that specializes solely in socially responsible investment. Founded in 1982, the firm manages over $600 million in client assets.

U.S. PIRG is the national lobbying office for the state Public Interest Research Groups. PIRGs are non-partisan, non-profit public interest advocacy organizations that are active across the country.

Walden Asset Management manages $1.3 billion in assets for socially and environmentally concerned clients and has been involved since 1975 in corporate responsibility, advocacy, and social investing. World Wildlife Fund (WWF), known worldwide by its panda logo, leads international efforts to protect the diversity of life on earth. Now in its fourth decade, WWF works in more than 100 countries around the globe.

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