BP (formerly British Petroleum) has become one of the world’s most controversial giant corporations because of its involvement in a series of major environmental disasters and industrial accidents. The company has been the target of intense criticism for its role in the April 2010 explosion at a drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 workers and unleashed a vast underwater oil leak that has flowed largely unchecked for weeks. This incident occurred while BP was still contending with the legal and public relations fallout from a deadly explosion at a refinery in Texas, oil spills in the Alaskan tundra, and charges of manipulating energy commodities markets.
BP got its start exploring for oil in Persia (now Iran), where, in the 1950s, it enlisted the help of the American CIA to overthrow a populist leader who had nationalized the company’s assets in the country. Over the past quarter-century BP has solidified its position as one of the premier global oil companies with a series of acquisitions in the United States: Standard Oil of Ohio (1987), Amoco (1998) and Atlantic Richfield (2000).
Despite professing adherence to the principles of corporate social responsibility, BP has repeatedly faced accusations that it behaved irresponsibly with regard to environmental compliance and attention to safety. In the United States, where a large portion of its operations are located, the company has been hit with some of the largest fines ever imposed by federal regulatory agencies. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will likely result in huge liabilities for the company, despite BP’s open efforts to shift blame to the rig’s owner Transocean and to Halliburton, which had been contracted to cap the ill-fated well. BP has also faced human rights charges in countries such as Indonesia, Turkey, and Colombia. In the Project On Government Oversight's Federal Contractor Misconduct Database, BP has the second most instances of misconduct (49, one less than Lockheed Martin) since 1995 and the 7th largest total of penalties and settlements ($1.5 billion).