Boycotting BP makes no sense.

Are you boycotting BP stations in response to the current Gulf oil disaster and BP’s dismal performance thus far in remedying the situation? Do you think you are actually hurting BP’s bottom line? If so, consider the following.

BP sold off all of its 10,000+ filling stations some time ago. The people who purchased them are locked in by contract to only sell BP-refined gas and, being among the more expensive brands, results in a profit of a few pennies per gallon for the station owner. Stations make the far greater share of their profit from the over-priced snacks and other goods in the stores. The owners are the people who are being hit by a BP boycott.

“So what,” you say, “we’re still not buying any of that BP gas so BP must also be suffering along with the station owners.

You are wrong. In 2002 there were 121,446 filling stations in the U.S. [1] Let’s assume there are 125,000 today. 371,499,400 gallons of gas were sold daily from all these stations in April 2010 [2]. That amounts to 2,972 gallons per station. If the boycott were perfectly effective this would have lead to BP losing out on 29,720,000 gallons/day, worth about $72 million/day. BP had revenues of $264 billion in 2009 [3] and the perfect boycott would only drop that by $26 billion. However, it is pretty far from perfect.

This brings up a good question, however. Where is BP getting all that money from if sales from its gas is only 9.8% of its revenue? Part of the answer is that it sells gas in other stations around the globe but the truth is that BP makes most of its revenue selling to other refineries who then provide gas under countless hundreds of brand names in other service stations. So even if you are boycotting BP-branded stations by going to Joe’s Gas’n’Go you are probably still buying BP product. Furthermore, because refineries buy from many sources, the BP oil is mixed with that of Shell, Exxon, etc. So you have no way of knowing what you’re buying.

Finally, why boycott just BP? Before the current disaster Exxon was responsible for the largest oil spill to hit the US. Their reaction and subsequent 18 year court battle to weasel out of financial responsibility surely deserves more criticism than BP is receiving today. A quick rundown: In 1991 Exxon was hit with a $4 billion judgement, 2 years after the accident. That amount was increased to $5 billion in 1994. After years of legal battles in 2008 the Supreme Court struck down all damage amounts, ruling that total damages could not exceed $507 million [4]. Many claims against Exxon are still pending to this day. Where is the Exxon boycott? BP has already given up $20 billion in escrow to pay out claims. I’m not saying this gets them any extra brownie points but they have at least showed better responsibility for this problem than Exxon.

It isn’t just Exxon and BP we should be pointing fingers at as well. Shell Oil and its litany of human rights abuses in Nigeria [5] and elsewhere are well known. Shell isn’t the only nasty player in the oil business either. In fact, is there any ethical oil company out there?

If you really want to do something to hurt BP and the rest of the oil companies, use less oil. We consume more than 25% of the world daily output, which is 20.6 million barrels per day by recent data [6]. The second closest consumer is China at 7.6 million barrels per day. A country with five times the population uses a third less oil than the U.S. It’s crazy.

  1. 2002 US Economic Census Data
  2. April 2010 data from The Energy Information Administration (EIA), a statistical agency of the U.S. Department of Energy
  3. BP press release
  4. Reuters
  5. THE PRICE OF OIL: Corporate Responsibility and Human Rights Violations in Nigeria’s Oil Producing Communities; Bronwen Manby for Human Rights Watch, 1999
  6. CIA World Factbooks, 12/18/2003 – 12/18/2008


Amateur photographer, cyclist, and beer brewer in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.

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