Fracking drilling russia BP
•  Emails and meeting notes released under FOI reveal the close working relationship between UK government and BP over Russia, suggesting that BP is attempting to sidestep sanctions preventing shale drilling in Russia.Despite taking a strong line on Russia in public, evidence shows UK government consulted BP on US sanctions response and hosted events to boost UK ties with Russian oil and gas sector

A new interactive web resource published on Monday 15th January by research and campaign group Culture Unstained [1] will reveal how BP keeps its business in Russia on track in the face of sanctions, spills, and swirling controversy. Its publication directly follows the final weekend of the BP-sponsored Scythians: warriors of ancient Siberia exhibition at the British Museum. [2]

'Crude connections: Mapping BP's influence from the British Museum to Russia' brings together new Freedom of Information material and analysis to lift the lid on how BP is working around sanctions, lobbying ministers and collaborating ever more closely with Russian state oil company Rosneft, which is renowned for its dire safety record and is mired in a major corruption scandal.[3]

Emails and meeting notes made public for the first time reveal how the UK government is undermining the spirit and objective of sanctions by working to boost the UK’s involvement in the Russian oil and gas sector.
  • As recently as November 2017, following claims of Russian election meddling, Theresa May stated: ‘We will take the necessary action to counter Russian activity… Russia can, and I hope one day will choose this different path. But for as long as Russia does not, we will act together to protect our interests and the international order on which they depend.' [4]
  • But in March 2017, the Department for International Trade hosted a workshop on ‘How to break into the Russian Oil & Gas Sector’ which highlighted that: ‘Maintaining oil & gas production requires large-scale use of new technologies, which largely are not restricted by sanctions’, and offered ‘Presentations by legal advisers about sanctions'.
In a period of just 8 months, BP had 6 meetings and was invited to speak at 2 events with government ministers and embassy staff. Minutes reveal mutually-supportive relationships in discussions about BP's Russia business.
  • In notes from just one meeting, on that occasion with Alan Duncan MP, the President of BP Russia ‘stressed that BP was hugely grateful for International Energy Unit and Embassy colleagues’ support. It was very welcome.’
  • BP expressed concerns in June 2017 that the new US sanctions bill would adversely affect its business. Following a lobbying effort by the oil industry, that included BP's lawyer in Russia briefing UK embassy staff, the bill was later amended to BP's satisfaction. [5]
In a meeting with trade minister Greg Hands in June 2017, BP appears to suggest it is attempting to work around sanctions to gain approval for an unconventional oil project.
  • Notes report that BP is waiting for the UK to approve a license that ‘In the company's view... turns on the definition of shale'
  • EU sanctions aim to prevent European companies helping Russian companies extract unconventional oil, by ruling out oil ‘located in shale formations by way of hydraulic fracturing’. But BP’s partner Rosneft has already ‘rebranded’ the unconventional Domanik shale formation as 'limestone' in an apparent attempt to circumvent sanctions.
As a sponsor of the British Museum's 'Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia’ exhibition - and also the exhibition's co-organiser, Russia’s State Hermitage Museum - BP took the opportunity to smooth diplomatic relationships and present its business in Russia in a more positive light, facilitated by the museum.
  • BP officials enjoyed a private meeting with the Russian Ambassador before the exhibition's official launch
  • The Ambassador said at the subsequent opening: ‘I’m hugely grateful to BP that has such a remarkable record of supporting cultural and scientific ties between our two nations.’
Chris Garrard, Co-director of Culture Unstained, said:

'BP is turning massive profits in Russia by partnering with Rosneft, a company responsible for record numbers of oil spills, connected to corruption scandals and headed by Putin's 'right-hand man'. But instead of holding BP to account, the UK government seems willing to help the company sidestep sanctions while the British Museum helps to launder its brand.' 

The ‘Crude Connections’ resource brings together:

  • An in-depth timeline of BP's meetings with ministers, emails to Embassy staff and activities around cultural events, based on new material released under the FOI Act from the Foreign Office and Department for International Trade
  • A new interactive online map connecting the key players and revealing how BP’s sponsorship of state cultural institutions in the UK and Russia form an integral part of its business strategy
  • Details of BP’s close collaboration with Russian state oil company Rosneft and its CEO, Putin's right-hand man Igor Sechin. BP holds a 19.75% stake in Rosneft and sits on its board, despite the Russian oil giant having one of the world's worst records on safety and spills [6]
  • The story of how the British Museum’s latest BP-sponsored exhibition connects to the remote Altai Mountains in south-eastern Siberia, where climate change is threatening future Scythian archaeology, Indigenous communities are calling for the return of artifacts, and a fossil fuel company is sponsoring a major museum to boost its business interests
Jennifer Castner, Director of The Altai Project - an NGO which works to protect natural landscapes and wildlife and support indigenous peoples and traditional lifeways in the region - explains why BP sponsoring an exhibition of Scythian artifacts from the Altai Mountains is so problematic:

‘The British Museum’s selection of BP as the exhibit's sponsor is disturbing for two reasons. First, BP is an international resource extraction company that seizes and destroys native lands, interrupts traditional lifeways, and demonstrates a fundamental lack of respect for the deep connection between indigenous peoples and their landscape. Secondly, there are close parallels in Altai, where BP’s competitor Gazprom is seeking to build a pipeline that would destroy ancient sites, disturb documented sacred lands and monuments, and disrupt the Altaian people’s semi-nomadic herding economy while simultaneously sponsoring a major renovation and exhibits at the Altai National Museum. In both instances, dominant Western cultural attitudes deny the connection between archaeology and modern native peoples, and oil-gas industry giants “launder" their own image at the expense of the Altaian people and others like them.’

The release of this new material follows New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio's announcement of plans to divest the city's pensions from investments in fossil fuels and to sue five fossil fuel companies - including BP - over their role in fuelling climate impacts. [7] 

In recent years, BP's sponsorship of the arts has become highly controversial and in 2016, campaigners successfully brought about the end of Tate's 26-year sponsorship by the company, as well as Edinburgh International Festival's 34-year deal with BP.[8] The British Museum has come under particular scrutiny with almost one hundred renowned scientists, cultural figures and policy-makers urging the new director to end BP sponsorship. [9]