Wave of protest sweeps over BP annual meeting

OIL giant BP faced a backlash on executive pay, screaming environmental protesters and more anger over the Gulf of Mexico spill when it met shareholders at its annual meeting yesterday.

The group’s boardroom pay package riled investors, with 11 per cent of shareholder votes against the company’s remuneration report.

One shareholder at the meeting in London said BP gave the impression the board had its “snout in the trough” by awarding chief executive Bob Dudley an annual bonus of $850,000 (£540,000).

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A number of activists were carried from the ExCel centre after staging a bizarre demonstration against BP’s attitude towards climate change.

BP’s board was asked by a protester if it had a “spaceship” to allow its members to escape environmental catastrophe before the man and several colleagues played dead on the floor and refused to move. No arrests were made.

Before the meeting, Derrick Evans, from Gulfport, in Mississippi, said BP’s clean-up operation in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico disaster had been a “complete fiasco”.

“The oil is not gone,” he said outside the meeting. “The general perception is that BP made a mess and BP did a big clean-up and everything is all fine. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Environmentalists opposed to oil exploration in Canada’s tar sands also protested outside the group’s annual meeting, surrounded by banners reading “BP out of the tar sands”.

Clayton Thomas-Muller, who is the tar sands campaign director for the Indigenous Environmental Network in Canada, urged shareholders to call for a withdrawal from the area in Alberta, Canada.

He asked what “contingency plans” the company had if it lost a legal challenge against its development.

Mr Dudley said he believed the development of “oil sands” was “good for Canada”, adding BP used a less-invasive procedure requiring steam to harness the oil from the sands in Alberta.

BP, a major employer in East Yorkshire through its acetyls plant at Saltend near Hull, has so far paid around $7.5bn (£4.7bn) in clean-up costs and compensation from the Gulf spill.

More than 200,000 individuals and businesses have claimed compensation from the $20bn (£12.5bn) fund set aside for victims of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Mr Dudley told shareholders that BP’s guiding principle on the clean-up was “not to do the minimum as required by law, but to do the right thing”.

He added: “We have continued to devote people and resources to the area and we are seeing recovery. The beaches are open and 2011 was a great year for tourism. Independent studies have shown that Gulf seafood is safe to eat.”

Defending the company’s pay packages, chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said BP “works to understand the mood and the society in which we are based”.

He added BP has taken a “hard look” at its portfolio, “disposing what has a higher value to others”.

Late last month BP announced a deal to sell its southern gas assets (SGA) in the North Sea to Perenco UK for $400m (£250m) as part of a $38bn disposal programme to pay for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The sale included the Dimlington receiving terminal in East Yorkshire, as well as a number of manned and unmanned platforms off the coast of Yorkshire.

BP has now agreed deals to raise $23bn from disposals since 2010 as it works towards its target for proceeds of $38bn by the end of 2013. BP said in February it estimates the total cost of the United States’ worst-ever offshore oil spill has risen to $43bn due to higher costs for shoreline clean up.

The company said the sale of the SGA assets was part of its plan to develop a more focused North Sea business in the UK and Norway.

“Perenco is committed to investing in and developing SGA beyond BP’s plans, ultimately providing a longer-term future for the assets and the people who work there,” said Trevor Garlick, regional president for BP North Sea.

Perenco made an initial payment of $100m with the remaining $300m due to be paid on completion, which is expected before the end of 2012. BP said some 200 staff working at the assets will transfer to Perenco on completion.

The output from the SGA assets is the equivalent to about 25,000 barrels of oil per day.

BP also has a stake in the Vivergo bioethanol plant at Saltend, a joint venture with DuPont and British Sugar.