A brief history of British Petroleum

Sunday, November 17th, 2013 By

Buncefield Fuel Fire of 2005

The BP oil spill explosion wasn't even the first in the U.S. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Now that the Gulf of Mexico has been flooded with oil from an oil rig owned by BP, or British Petroleum, some might wonder just who these guys are. Like all large corporate entities, BP has a history, and some of it is not exactly positive. It has provided oil and gasoline to a lot of customers and led the way in some technologies, but it is certainly implicated in causing headaches the world over that many people are not aware of.

British Petroleum in the beginning

At first BP wasn’t British Petroleum.  It was originally founded in 1909, as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company after William Knox D’Arcy found oil in the deserts of Persia, now Iran.  He had been given a concession to look for oil in 1901, by the Persian Shah. He found it in 1908 and the next year began drilling and exporting oil through the APOC.  Iran, where the oil was, only received a 16 percent share.  The company later became the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1935 and maintained a monopoly over any and all oil flowing out of Iran. Needless to say, payday cash flowed to everyone but Iranians.

Iran says enough

In 1951, a nationalist Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadeq was elected. Mossadeq immediately set about kicking BP out and nationalizing the oil industry in Iran.  Needless to say, the Brits weren’t happy.  In retaliation, then-President Eisenhower authorized Operation Ajax, and with the help of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mossadeq was overthrown in a coup d’etat in 1953.  The next year, the company changed its name to British Petroleum. Shah Pahlavi was installed as a puppet ruler sympathetic to U.S. and U.K. business interests. (Yet people wonder why Iran doesn’t like us.) After Pahlavi died, the only American dignitary at his funeral was Richard Nixon.

Expanding into new territory

After Iran was clearly not going to pay all the bills (the price of the coup was that American and other oil companies got a share) BP looked elsewhere for Black Gold.  In 1959, the company found oil in Alaska and began drilling in the North Sea in 1965.  BP operates oil fields and drilling rigs worldwide.  U.S. gas station chains ARCO and AMPM are both BP brands.  BP does invest some money into green technologies, but its interest in green energy is labeled by some as inauthentic at best.

The BP oil spill is not their first blunder

The BP oil leak that is currently under way in the Gulf of Mexico is not its first blunder on U.S. soil, not by a long shot.  There have been three other incidents, one in Texas in 2005 (an oil rig explosion) and hazardous waste and oil spillages in Alaska in 2000 and 2005.  Given this track record (and this is the condensed version), are we so sure it’s anti-American to be criticizing them? It would seem anti-human not to.

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