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Commissioners in talks with BP after oil-rig ruling

12 September 2014


Clear-up: a worker cleans up oil at Barataria Bay, near the Gulf of Mexico, in June 2010, after the Deepwater Horizon oil-rig explosion

Clear-up: a worker cleans up oil at Barataria Bay, near the Gulf of Mexico, in June 2010, after the Deepwater Horizon oil-rig explosion

CHURCH OF ENGLAND investors have reported that they are holding BP to account, after a court ruling in the United States which found that the firm had been negligent during the build-up to the Deepwater Horizon oil-rig explosion in the Gulf of New Mexico on 20 April 2010.

The Church Commissioners have a significant stake in BP, worth £36.6 million in 2013. The oil company is now facing a fine of up to £11 billion after being found to be responsible for 67 per cent of the disaster, in which, the authorities say, 4.1 million barrels of oil leaked into the ocean. Lawyers for BP argued in court that the figure was closer to half that number.

In a statement on Tuesday, Helen Wildsmith, the head of ethical and responsible investment at CCLA, which manages the Church of England's investment in BP, said that CCLA had had several meetings with BP executives after the oil spill, and attempted to block the re-election of the chair of the board's safety committee.

"Although CCLA continues to monitor safety and environmental management issues at BP, the focus of the discussions with the company is now the transition to the low-carbon economy," Ms Wildsmith said.

She did not comment on whether the Commissioners would question BP after the court ruling. The judge, Carl Barbier, said that BP had made "profit-driven" decisions before the oil-rig explosion. "These instances of negligence, taken together, evince . . . a conscious disregard of known risks," he wrote. A statement from BP after the ruling said that the firm would appeal against the findings.

The company has already paid almost £15 billion in compensation and other related expenses, and pleaded guilty in 2013 to the manslaughter of the 11 oil workers who died in the explosion.

Ms Wildsmith said that the focus of the Church's engagement with BP was now on reducing emissions. "BP is one of the companies with which Church Investors Group members engage most heavily," she said. "This included attending BP's AGM earlier this year to ask a question about the company's carbon-performance band. These bands, which cover strategy, governance, and emissions management, are updated each October."

Human-rights groups accuse oil company. SOCO International, a British oil company in which the Church Commissioners invest, is the subject of allegations of intimidation, bribery, and murder in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

NGOs and some Congolese who live in Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, have accused SOCO's supporters of using violence and threats against those opposed to the company's searching for oil in the park.

The Daily Telegraph published a report on Saturday detailing the allegations made by Global Witness and Human Rights Watch against SOCO, including claims that they were responsible for the shooting and serious injury of the head of the park; that soldiers protecting SOCO's operations were running a protection racket; and that opponents of SOCO have been threatened, and, in some cases, killed.

The company has denied that it had any involvement in the violence, and said that the NGOs had not provided evidence for their claims. A spokesman for the Church Commissioners said in a statement on Tuesday: "We are grateful that NGOs have made public their concerns about oil exploration activities in the Virunga National Park."

He said that the conservation organisation WWF had made a complaint to the UK last year about SOCO's activities in Virunga, under OECD rules about multinational enterprises. "Following WWF's complaint, we commenced a process of engagement with SOCO about the environmental and social issues associated with their operations in DRC. Despite this complaint now having been abandoned, and SOCO having clarified its position, we continue to engage."

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