Svanberg defends BP over Gulf oil spill

BP has emerged as a safer company from last year's massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg insisted Tuesday, defending the British company's widely-criticised handling of the crisis.

Svanberg defends BP over Gulf oil spill

Svanberg had been BP’s chairman for only a few months when a massive explosion on April 20, 2010 rocked the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon rig leased by the British energy giant.

The blast killed 11 people and sent some 4.9 million barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf over a three-month period, wreaking havoc on the region’s environment and economy.

A year after the blast, Svanberg told media in his native Sweden BP had learned its lessons and taken steps to become a safer company.

“But we weren’t unsafe before either — 50,000 holes had been drilled in the Gulf of Mexico before it happened,” he insisted in an interview with business daily Dagens Industri (DI).

“The whole industry has learned from the accident and we are doing everything to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Svanberg was criticised for his low profile in the crucial weeks after the spill — Britain’s Independent newspaper called him “the invisible man” while a Swedish daily referred to his “ostrich tactics.”

He said in two interviews published Tuesday that at the time he had deemed it was chief executive Tony Hayward’s role to step forward and explain the company’s position.

In the end though, “the problem wasn’t that I was out too little, the problem was most probably that Tony was out too much. He became over exposed,” he told the Svenska Dagbladet daily (SvD).

“We on the board did not take the initiative until we realised that the last attempt to plug (the ruptured oil well) at the end of May would fail, when it became clear that the accident would hurt us economically and politically,” he told DI.

Svanberg was then thrust into the limelight when he was summoned to a meeting with US President Obama at the beginning of June.

He insisted to SvD he had not been “called in,” stressing BP had fought to obtain the meeting, which he called a “turning point.”

But it was also the stage of one of Svanberg’s major hostages to fortune — on the White House lawn on June 10th, he said BP “cared about the small people.”

“That became a much bigger deal in Sweden than in England or the United States. It is clear that was unfortunate,” he said.

Svanberg still has the support of BP shareholders, 92 percent of whom voted to re-elect the Swede to serve as the company’s chair for another year, the BBC reported on Monday.

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Sweden to stop local governments blocking wind parks in final stages

Sweden's government has proposed a new law which will remove local municipalities' power to block wind parks in the final stages of the planning process, as part of a four-point plan to speed up the expansion of wind power.

Sweden to stop local governments blocking wind parks in final stages

“We are doing this to meet the increased need for electricity which is going to come as a result of our green industrial revolution,” Strandhäll said at a press conference. 

“It is important to strengthen Sweden by rapidly breaking our dependence on fossil fuels, building out our energy production and restructuring our industry. The Swedish people should not be dependent on countries like Russia to drive their cars or warm their homes.”

“We are going to make sure that municipalities who say “yes” to wind power get increased benefits,” she added in a press statement. “In addition, we are going to increase the speed with which wind power is built far offshore, which can generally neither be seen or heard from land.” 

While municipalities will retain a veto over wind power projects on their territory under the proposed new law, they will have to take their decision earlier in the planning process to prevent wind power developers wasting time and effort obtaining approvals only for the local government to block projects at the final stags. 

“For the local area, it’s mostly about making sure that those who feel that new wind parks noticeably affect their living environment also feel that they see positive impacts on their surroundings as a result of their establishment,” Strandhäll said.  “That might be a new sports field, an improved community hall, or other measures that might make live easier and better in places where wind power is established.” 

According to a report from the Swedish Energy Agency, about half of the wind projects planned since 2014 have managed to get approval. But in recent years opposition has been growing, with the opposition Moderate, Swedish Democrats, and Christian Democrat parties increasingly opposing projects at a municipal level. 

Municipalities frequently block wind park projects right at the end of the planning process following grassroots local campaigns. 

The government a month ago sent a committee report, or remiss, to the Council on Legislation, asking them to develop a law which will limit municipal vetoes to the early stages of the planning process. 

At the same time, the government is launching two inquiries. 

The first will look into what incentives could be given to municipalities to encourage them to allow wind farms on their land, which will deliver its recommendations at the end of March next year. In March, Strandhäll said that municipalities which approve wind farm projects should be given economic incentives to encourage them to accept projects on their land. 

The second will look into how to give the government more power over the approvals process for wind projects under Sweden’s environmental code. This will deliver its recommendations at the end of June next year.