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Big Oil’s dirty secret

Campaigners accuse BP of being ‘woke’ in the West and dirty in the Global South
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Children at the fenceline of a gas compression station in Nahran Omar, near Basra

Main image: Children at the fenceline of a gas compression station in Nahran Omar, near Basra. Credit: Hussein Falah / BBC

An oil industry loophole is allowing major companies to bank profits from their operations in Iraq while not declaring huge levels of emissions from those fields, according to a new investigation by Unearthed.

BP has failed to report massive flaring emissions from one of its projects in Iraq – equivalent to the annual emissions of over 970,000 petrol cars. BP jointly owns the Rumaila operating company – but denies responsibility for its emissions.

Why gas is flared

Gas is released during oil production. In much of the world, after processing this gas would be used for power generation or reinjected to force more oil out of the ground. But in some places, a lack of infrastructure means it has nowhere to go and so is set alight or vented into the atmosphere.

In Iraq, a country impoverished by war, the vast majority of gas produced during oil production is flared. This is not only wasteful but causes problems for local people and the planet by contributing to climate change.

‘Not only is BP brazenly wrecking the climate through these polluting fossil fuel projects, it’s also forcing communities in Iraq to pay a devastating price. Meanwhile, rich Western shareholders further line their pockets with BP’s obscene profits, leaving local communities with few so-called economic benefits. It’s time the UK government held these dirty polluters to account through significantly ramping up taxes on their enormous windfalls. As well as supporting UK households struggling with their energy bills, these funds should go directly towards countries in the Global South to deal with climate impacts and assist the transition to a renewable future. This is part of the Global North’s historic responsibility for causing the climate emergency from which we are all now suffering.’

Regional campaigns manager at Greenpeace Middle East & North Africa

Underreporting emissions

Big oil companies routinely underreport climate-wrecking emissions by omitting non-operated joint ventures from official climate impact reports.

Unearthed identified that flaring emissions are totally unreported in the Rumaila and Zubair fields in Iraq, where BP and Eni hold stakes and make millions of dollars each year.

Unearthed’s investigation found that, based on its ownership of the operating company, BP’s share of flaring for the Rumaila field was equivalent to 4.52m tonnes of CO2 in 2021.

This amounts to double the UK oil industry’s total flaring emissions for that year (UK flaring emissions for 2021m were 2.9m tonnes CO2e, according to Unearthed’s analysis of World Bank data).

If Rumaila flaring were included in BP’s official reports, its flaring figure for 2021 would be double. 
Unearthed passed its findings onto the BBC, as part of a separate BBC investigation.

‘Woke’ in the west?

Revelations about the massive hidden emissions and misleading reporting practices prompted outrage from campaigners who accused companies of trying to appear ‘woke’ in the West while making no effort to become any less dirty in the Global South.

‘If BP were hiding emissions on this scale and trashing the local environment in this way in the UK, they’d face public outcry. They wouldn’t get away with it just because they don’t operate the oil field.

‘What’s worse, BP is making no effort to get its pollution under control in Iraq despite the serious impact on people living there and the climate. The oil giant is trying to appear ‘woke’ in the West while remaining dirty in the Global South – but this needs to be called out for what it is. It’s racism woven into corporate behaviour. Shareholders and voters must not stand for it a second longer.’
Head of Greenpeace UK’s climate team

BP had 46.7% stake in the Rumaila field, about 30 miles from Basra as of June 2022. It has since been spun off into the Basra Energy Company, which is jointly run by BP and PetroChina with input from an Iraqi firm.

The field is one of the largest in the world and produces 1.45 million barrels of oil a day. It generated $358m in post-tax profit for BP in 2020, according to the most recent company filings.

BP’s response

There is no official, publicly available record of gas flaring at Rumaila, or any of Iraq’s oil infrastructure. But BP’s share of flaring emissions from Rumaila — based on its equity stake in the field of 46.7% —  stood at 4.52m tonnes CO2e in 2021, according to satellite data collected from the World Bank.  Unearthed checked the World Bank’s figures with those from other organisations that track flaring. 
In a statement regarding its work in Iraq, BP told Unearthed: ‘In line with standard practice across the oil and gas industry, BP reports flaring from activities where we are the operator and emissions data from activities where we operate or have an ownership interest. BP does not have any ownership interest in the Rumaila field, or any right to the oil it produces, and has never been its operator. Its flaring and operational data are therefore not included in our reporting. We are paid a fee for the technical services we provide at Rumaila, which we have taken as allocations of oil – these are included in our reporting.’

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