By Tom Bergin
LONDON | Wed Apr 11, 2012 7:59pm BST
(Reuters) – BP will run the gauntlet of protests from environmentalists and investors alike at its annual shareholder meeting on Thursday where it will make the latest in a series of attempts to put the Gulf of Mexico oil spill behind it.
Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg and Chief Executive Bob Dudley are likely to face some harsh questions from shareholders frustrated at the group’s continued weak share price, sceptical about its turnaround prospects and unhappy about executive pay.
BP will also face protesters from the Gulf coast and from representatives of environmental groups who are still angry about the United States’ worst ever offshore spill and determined to dispel perceptions that the crisis is over.
“This isn’t true,” said Bryan Parras, an activist who is travelling from Houston for the AGM. “Oil is still impacting our communities, causing sickness, and triggering a collapse in fish stocks and local livelihoods,” he added.
The Gulf Coast protesters will be joined by representatives of groups opposed to the exploitation of Canada’s tar sands and, most likely, by other environmental and human rights groups, all of whose attendance usually makes the event a colourful affair.
The turnout of protesters always attracted to the oil company’s AGM could even be larger than usual because BP’s decision to become a major sponsor of the London Olympics has enraged green groups.
Inside the venue, the Europe’s second-largest oil producer by market value could also face a shareholder revolt on executive pay. Shareholder advisory group PIRC advised investors to vote against the remuneration report, citing BP’s failure to disclose the targets used to rate bosses’ performance.
Svanberg has replaced 80 percent of BP’s non-executives since his appointment in 2010 — four months before the rig blast that killed 11 men and led to 5 million barrels of crude leaking into the Gulf.
The AGM will also see the standing down of Bill Castell, the former head of BP’s safety committee, whose reappointment was opposed by 25 percent of investors last year.
Dudley, meanwhile, has put new faces in most of the top executive roles.
BP is predicting strong growth in cashflow and has hinted at further increases in the dividend, which was cut in the wake of the rig blast, and which still stands well below pre-spill levels.
However, analysts fear the disaster still hobbles the group and will prevent it from growing as quickly as its rivals. Its shares have lagged rivals so far this year, falling 2.8 percent, against a 1.0 percent drop in the STOXX Europe 600 Oil and Gas index .SXEP.
BP continues to face legal action in the United States where the Department of Justice could saddle it with fines worth over $20 billion (12 billion pounds) unless it can cut a deal.
(Reporting by Tom Bergin; Editing by Andrew Callus)