Underreported: The Irony of BP's 'Beyond Petroleum' PR Crusade
One narrative the liberal media has strenuously failed to develop is the incredible irony of BP presenting itself as the greenest oil company, the "Beyond Petroleum" folks who recognized they were boiling the planet with oil. In Friday's Wall Street Journal, Mark Mills reviewed a new book, Oil, by Tom Bower:
But the most interesting figure in Mr. Bower's narrative is not Mr. Putin but BP's Lord Browne, who understood cultural politics better than his peers. In the 1990s, BP launched what was arguably the oil industry's most successful public-relations campaign, for all the good it is doing the company now. The campaign transformed BP into a shining example of a progressive company—one supposedly "Beyond Petroleum."
It is clear from Mr. Bower's account that, while BP remained first and foremost an oil company, Lord Browne drank his own Kool-Aid, basking in encomia from the media and green mavens. He gave lectures at Stanford, appeared on "Charlie Rose," cozied up to Greenpeace and promised to spend $1 billion on solar technology.
The Beyond Petroleum campaign, conceived by PR masters Ogilvy & Mather, was originally intended as an internal strategy, aimed at making the company appear more green-sensitive. But it so excited Lord Browne that he delivered a May 1997 speech proclaiming BP the first "green" oil major. The company produced a 200-page "Reputation Manual" with facts about BP's greenness, formed a political-style "war room" in Houston, and launched a multiyear media blitz. Mr. Bower claims that the rebranding cost BP $200 million.
The cost is now measurable in irony, as the Gulf of Mexico grows ever more slick and BP ever more hated. But the campaign was hokum from the start. At this point in history it is almost impossible to find a place "beyond" petroleum. It's not just the scale of the task but its nature. Energy-dense liquids are valuable, and oil is uniquely valuable in its combination of density, ease of storage and transport, and, believe it or not, safety. Every alternative is worse on all metrics, including cost, even at twice today's oil price. If liquid hydrocarbons didn't exist, we would have to invent them