By ROBERT BARR, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — Shareholders of BP criticized the company's performance in the Gulf of Mexico and on executive pay and questioned its ambitions in Canada and Russia on Thursday at an annual general meeting briefly interrupted by shouts of demonstrators.
The criticism added up to something less than a revolt, as shareholders gave broad support to the management's performance.
On the most contentious issue, Chief Executive Bob Dudley's $6.8 million pay package, a preliminary count showed that 12 percent had voted against the remuneration report, compared to 11.6 percent last year.
"I think we should pay tribute to the management for steadying the ship," said Martin Simons, who said he had been a BP shareholder for 58 years. Addressing Dudley, Simons added: "You saved this company from disaster."
The disaster was the Gulf of Mexico oil spill which erupted in April 2010. BP's share price is still far from returning to pre-spill levels, and the company hasn't counted the full cost.
Dudley reaffirmed BP's belief that its provision of $37.2 billion will cover the costs of the Gulf disaster, and he was upbeat about the company's position in North America.
"We are fully back to work in the Gulf of Mexico," Dudley said, adding that BP has not felt any discrimination in applying for permits.
"We have continued to devote people and resources to the area, and we are seeing recovery. The beaches are open and 2011 was a great year for tourism," Dudley said. "Independent studies have shown that Gulf seafood is safe to eat."
However, Derrick Evans of Gulfport, Miss., representing the independent Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health, said more needs to be done.
"The oil is not gone," Evans said outside the meeting venue. "The general perception is that BP made a mess and BP did a big clean-up and everything is all fine. Nothing could be further from the truth."
Dudley said BP was investing in exploration "but divesting mature oil and gas fields that other companies can specialize in, such as in the southern North Sea and some fields in the Gulf of Mexico."
Details of any sales in the Gulf have yet to be announced, BP spokesman Mark Salt said.
One protester who got into the meeting asked whether BP had made plans to deal with global warming, then shouted: "We're all going to die." He and a few colleagues then fell on the floor, as if dead. They were escorted out.
Lavish executive pay is a sensitive issue in Britain, mainly directed at banks, but Dudley's rich package of salary, bonus and shares had been criticized by the shareholder advisory group PIRC. It had urged shareholders to vote against the remuneration report, arguing that his reward was hard to justify because the performance measures were unclear.
"BP works to understand the mood of the society in which we are based," said its chairman, Carl Henric Svanberg. However, he defended the award, saying: "We are a global company, and we compete in a global market for talent."
The company's partners in a Russian joint venture, TNK-BP, thwarted BP's ambition to forge an Arctic exploration deal with Rosneft and created "a lot of noise," Dudley said. He contended that the Russian links were good business and urged shareholders to "look through the noise and look at the numbers."
Clayton Thomas-Muller, who is the tar sands campaign director for the Indigenous Environmental Network in Canada, urged BP to pull out of tar sands development in Alberta.
But Dudley said developing the oil sands is "good for Canada."
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