British Petroleum’s Political and Environmental Shenanigans

Sophia Rose Shafi

Posted May 26, 2010      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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British Petroleum’s Political and Environmental Shenanigans

By Sophia Rose Shafi

As the Gulf of Mexico continues to be poisoned, and we all wait for the effects of the disaster to be seen on our shores – white sand turning black, the corpses of sea animals washed ashore, and the destruction of the Gulf Coast economy – it is important to remember another “Gulf mishap” with which British Petroleum was involved in – the 1953 coup in Iran.  In hindsight, this episode can be seen as a disaster, and to be fair, it wasn’t technically British Petroleum, but the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, who was behind the coup.  However, a year after the coup, in 1954, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company re-formed itself as British Petroleum. 

In 1953, at the urging of the AIOC, the governments of Great Britain and the United States staged a coup and overthrew the democratically elected leader of Iran, Mohammad Mossadeq.  Anyone familiar with Iranian history and politics knows the rest of the story – the Shah was returned to power, his security police force SAVAK (trained by the CIA) harassed, tortured and murdered many opposed to the Shah’s policies, and then over the next twenty years the country was, in my analysis, “readied for revolution,” thanks in no small part to the cozy relationship between the Shah and British Petroleum, whose extraction of Iranian resources made the Pahlavis very wealthy and left the status quo in place.

While we can debate the benefits and costs of the Revolution, recognizing that all revolutions are a grand disappointment on some level, it is nonetheless important to imagine what could have happened if Mossadeq was allowed to stay in power.  The nationalization of Iran’s resources would have continued, the Iranian population would have likely prospered from it (to some degree), the clerics would have continued in their role as respected, religious figures, and the conflicts seen today, between the Iran and the United States, and internally, between Iran and its own people, would perhaps exist, but in a less vociferous and violent manner.  However, we cannot change the past or predict its effects today.

In light of these facts, I ask everyone to consider what would happen if the current situation in the Gulf was radically altered, if the U.S. government prosecuted those responsible for this disaster - both those officials who granted the permits to BP and those at BP who have acted recklessly.  Could we have a different outcome, a result that is not as distressing and tragic as what faces us today?  Not if the politicians whose allegiance to Big Oil is stronger than to the citizenry get their way.  Efforts are already underway to block the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act, led by Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski.  If the Democrats are unable to raise the cap on liability for this disaster from $75 million to $10 billion, U.S. taxpayers will be paying for the clean up. 

I say all of this with a disclaimer – the Iranian political debacle is not the Gulf of Mexico environmental disaster.  Clearly, these are different cases.  But still, lessons can be learned and corporate cultures can be re-formed, if necessary, from the outside.  British Petroleum has been repeatedly convicted of environmental crimes by the U.S. government, and in one case, was fined over 85 million dollars for violating over 25 safety rules.  Still, on April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, killing eleven workers, and resulting in a so-far unstoppable leak of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  The drill had no remote control shut-off valve (required by many other nations, but not by the United States).  BP is an unethical corporation that needs to be taught a lesson, and the time for that lesson is now, not in another fifty years. 

** The author would like to acknowledge the Mother Jones article, “Murkowski Backs BP Bailout” and highly recommends Stephen Kinzer’s book, All the Shah’s Men, for those interested in BP’s role in the 1953 coup.  She would also like to state, for the record, that President Obama has a great chance here to raise his poll numbers. 

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