Is BP Looking Too Far Beyond Petroleum?

Consumers already outraged at high gas prices this summer have one more reason to fume. Last week"s announcement by UK-based BP that it was shutting down Alaska"s largest North Slope oil field after discovering dangerous corrosion along its feeder pipeline has driven prices at the pump to new record highs in some parts of the U.S. The oil field in question accounts for about eight percent of all domestic oil production.

The company, now officially operating under the more amorphous BP instead of the original name, British Petroleum, has positioned itself as one of the world"s most forward-thinking oil companies in recent years by investing heavily in non-carbon-based renewable energy sources. The company has even adopted the slogan "beyond petroleum."

But critics counter that recent events underscore that the company might be looking too far beyond petroleum as it neglects to maintain its aging—but still highly profitable—oil infrastructure. Lax maintenance at the company’s facilities is blamed for the recently discovered pipeline corrosion, as well as for an explosion at a Texas oil refinery last year that killed 15 people and a large oil pipeline spill last spring near Alaska"s Prudhoe Bay.

"BP is inadvertently advancing the cause of alternative energy by providing yet another reminder of the dangers of our excessive reliance on oil," says the Los Angeles Times in a recent editorial on the topic. "Yes, to borrow one of BP’s slogans, it is time to look beyond petroleum—and not just to avert global warming. Achieving energy security will mean relying less on oil, wherever it comes from," concludes the newspaper.