Education Environment featured

BP sponsors program on offshore exploration at the Discovery Centre

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – BP Canada, the company that is searching for oil in Nova Scotia’s offshore, is paying for the Discovery Centre’s outreach program on the science behind coastal energy exploration.

“The program uses highly intuitive hands-on components and real-world examples from Nova Scotia’s offshore industry,” states the Discovery Centre’s 2015 Annual Report. The program is offered free to students in grades 6 and 7, and is aligned with curriculum established by the Department of Education.

Nova Scotia’s offshore oil exploration is frowned upon by many environmentalists because of the risk of oil spills, the damage to wildlife resulting from seismic testing, and lack of stringent supervision by the federal-provincial regulating body.

That logo sure looks green

Does that mean that the the popular (and lots of fun) Halifax science centre, a non-governmental charitable organization, should not be taking BP’s money?

It’s not quite that straightforward, says Gretchen Fitzgerald, director of the Atlantic Canada chapter of the Sierra Club, who, not knowing the details of this specific arrangement, can only comment in general terms.

“I regard the Discovery Centre as a partner in education, and I am mindful of all the good things they do,” says Fitzgerald. “What you need to watch for in cases like this is influence on content, and if there are checks and balances.”

“And again, speaking without knowing the particulars of this arrangement, the other thing to look out for is greenwashing, allowing a company to claim undeserved environmental credentials through subsidizing programs like these.”  

BP certainly has a bit of greenwashing left to do in order to improve its image.

Most people remember BP’s role in the horrific Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven workers died, an uncapped well gushed oil into the Gulf of Mexico for three months. BP paid $42.2 billion in criminal and civil settlements, the highest criminal fines paid by anybody in history.

But would BP exert undue influence on the Discovery Centre’s developers of the program?

Absolutely not, writes Renée Fournier, Capital Campaign & Communications Director for the Centre, in an email to the Nova Scotia Advocate.

“BP is a good partner of the Discovery Centre, and we value their sponsorship investment with us as it allows us to provide important educational content to students, content that has been autonomously developed by our science educators,” writes Fournier.

Fournier was less forthcoming in answering our specific questions.

Did the notion that the funding allowed a major polluter to claim green credentials enter the discussions? Were any constraints imposed on the content of the program? Were any general conditions set by BP as part of the sponsorship arrangement? Could we see the program syllabus?

All these questions remain unanswered.

Maybe there is no problem at all. However, BP has been known to at times interfere with the organizations it sponsors.

A recent report issued by the European  Art Not Oil coalition documents many occurrences where just such interference by BP occurred in the supposedly independent activities of four major museums in Britain it funded.

Among those activities was support offered to the London Science Museum by 10 experts from BP in areas from solar energy to hydrocarbons “to help with content for the exhibits.”

Surprisingly, the BP contributions are not mentioned on the Discovery Centre website. The only references to the company and the sponsored project are in a 2014 BP external newsletter, and in the Discovery Centre’s 2015 Annual Report we referred to earlier.

Other fossil fuel extracting donors, such as the Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline, ExxonMobil, and Imperial Oil / Esso are however prominently displayed on the website.