In an effort to make an economic and political statement targeting multinational corporation BP, responsible for the largest oil spill in U.S. history, the city of Ormond Beach is calling on city workers and those reimbursed by the municipality to boycott BP fueling stations. While Mayor Fred Costello’s resolution may have admirable intentions, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that boycotting BP stations will do very little to damage the bottom line of the world’s third-largest energy company.
To understand why boycotting BP stations won’t really work, you have to understand how the oil industry works. The stores that sell fuel are simply franchise owners, people who have paid BP for the right to use the name. The fuel they sell may or may not come from BP. Similarly, other gas stations that you may now be going to in your efforts to bypass BP may carry some BP fuel.
Some local citizens acknowledge that a boycott will do more harm to local business owners than the U.K.-based oil giant.
“Most of them are locally owned, and you are not really hurting BP. You are hurting the owner of the station,” said Thomas Scopel, an Ormond Beach resident. “They just purchase their gas through the station.”
There are some, however, who feel a boycott can still have an impact on BP overall, although it may take months or even years and is more about damaging the brand than anything else.
Public Citizen, one of the groups promoting a boycott of BP, is calling for people to avoid BP projects for three months. Tyson Slocum, director of the group’s energy program, says that it’s not about making BP feel the pinch immediately. “Boycott success is not going to be measured in BP taking a hit on its monthly sales number,” he said. “It’s going to be ongoing after the brand that is BP.” BP’s brand, of course, is big for them. The company has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past decade to convince us that it’s the greenest of all oil companies with the “Beyond Petroleum” campaign.
In addition, the rationale of boycotting fuel companies on ethical or environmental grounds could easily be extended to the other big players in the industry.
When it comes to permanent taint, there aren’t many oil companies out there that don’t have major problems in their record. No that long ago, Exxon dumped 10.8 million gallons of oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Chevron (or at least its subsidiary, Texaco) has been accused of dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the Ecuadorian Amazon over three decades and has been fighting a $27 billion fine in court. Shell has been dumping oil all over Nigeria for years. You could shop at Citgo, but that depends on how you feel about Venezuela and its president, Hugo Chavez, who own the entire company.
For this reason, a number of environmental groups have held back from endorsing a BP boycott. “I could think of really good reasons not to patronize any of them,” says Kert Davies, research director for Greenpeace. “They’re all scum. There’s no clean oil company.”