Thursday, February 16, 2006

BP: Disingenuous Marketing Campaign or a Bet on the Wrong Horse?

Far be it from me to criticize corporations, even if they are one of the big oil companies. In fact, I've even been defending them against the Congressional hyenas. But when they pull a stunt like this, I get mad.

They've announced to the press that they're going to start up a huge, squeaky clean "hydrogen-fueled power plant" near Los Angeles. (See the original Bloomberg article.) But if you read between the lines, the true story seems to be that this is feel-good economics.

[Thanks to for the image.]

What they in fact will be building is a coke-burning plant (coke is a source of carbon, like coal) that will use steam (i.e. heated water) to produce hydrogen first. They then reconvert that hydrogen into water in the second stage production of clean energy, injecting the CO2 produced in the process into the ground. If that sounds expensive and energy wasteful, it is.

Of course there is no mention of this fact in the press release. Nor does it mention that this is an experimental process. From an economic point of view, they'd be better off simply building one of the newer cleaner-burning oil or coal plants -- unless, of course, they're banking on some rich liberal kids coughing up the dough for their environmentalist-friendly product, or maybe on some self-interested politician pushing it into a state government energy monopoly. Heaven knows in California that's certainly a possibility, and that is where the plant will be located... oh, perhaps the State is already involved?

I have seen BP's ingratiating advertisements on TV, all warm and fuzzy green, but I thought their marketing was at least sincere. I didn't realize they would stoop to hiding the facts. Tsk tsk. No wonder big oil has gotten a bad reputation.

Or maybe I'm all wet, and they're betting on the right horse after all. Only time, and the market, and don't forget the politicians (whom they know better than I) will tell.


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