BP chairman apologizes for 'small people' comment

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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Society/Environment

The "small people" of the Gulf coast have a humongous message for oil giant BP: They're tired of the company's big-time executives making insensitive comments.

On Wednesday, BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg told reporters in Washington: "I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don't care, but that is not the case with BP. We care about the small people." He later apologized and said he spoke "clumsily."

BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg (right) and BP CEO Tony Hayward arrive at the White House in Washington, Wednesday for a private meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama. Photo by The Associated Press

VENICE, La. -

The "small people" of the Gulf coast have a humongous message for oil giant BP: They're tired of the company's big-time executives making insensitive comments.

On Wednesday, BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg told reporters in Washington: "I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don't care, but that is not the case with BP. We care about the small people." He later apologized and said he spoke "clumsily."

Orange Beach, Ala., Mayor Tony Kennon laughed when he heard Svanberg's remark about "small people."

"They can call me small, miniature, they can call me anything they want. Just write the check and send it to us," he said.

But Justin Taffinder of New Orleans was not amused.

"We're not small people. We're human beings. They're no greater than us. We don't bow down to them. We don't pray to them," Taffinder said.

Svanberg is Swedish, and his comments - in English - may have been an unintentional slight. He uttered the remark to reporters following a joint news conference with U.S. President Barack Obama - who had spoke of the small business owners, the fishermen and the shrimpers affected by the spill.

Hours later, Svanberg said he was "very sorry" for speaking "clumsily."

"What I was trying to say - that BP understands how deeply this affects the lives of people who live along the Gulf and depend on it for their livelihood - will best be conveyed not by any words but by the work we do to put things right for the families and businesses who've been hurt," Svanberg said in a statement.

But coastal residents already were angry over the oil spill disaster and at BP CEO Tony Hayward's earlier comments that he "wants his life back."

Lyn Ridge, 47, ferried reporters to see oil clean up operations Wednesday in a bay at Plaquemines Parish. He just shook his head when told about the "small people" comment.

Ridge describes himself as a "commercial contractor that can't find work and driving a boat trying to make a living." To make matters worse, Ridge figures his house on the water in Myrtle Grove has lost half it's value due to the oil spill.

"They can say he didn't mean it that way, but that's how they think of us," Ridge said. "They can't keep their foot out of their mouth," he added referring to another BP executive's desire to have his life back.

In Alabama, Terry Hanners, who owns a small construction company in Gulf Shores, said the chairman's remark revealed something about BP's frame of mind.

"These BP people I've met are good folks. I've got a good rapport with them," said Hanners, 74. "But BP does not care about us. They are so far above us. We are the nickel-and-dime folks of this world."

Kennon said he is relieved that BP agreed to put $20 billion in an escrow fund, and joked, "They better be lucky I called off the invasion of 10,000 rednecks with their rifles headed toward England anyway."

Organizations: BP

Geographic location: VENICE, Washington, Orange Beach New Orleans U.S. Plaquemines Parish Myrtle Grove Gulf Shores England

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Recent comments

  • Anon
    July 02, 2010 - 13:28

    Nikola Tesla obsoleted Oil dependency before the second world war. Go look it up. Were all being lied too. There is more energy in the earth's ionosphere than we will ever need and we know how to harness it but it is being used for military purposes instead of peaceful energy purposes so Big companies can continue to enslave us.

  • Jim
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    Let's hope that BP executives, directors and managers are prevented from issuing themselves additional performance shares and stock options until the entire bill for the Gulf cleanup is paid and BP dividend payments are reinstated. As it stands now, with BP stock at generational lows, any new stock options issued could be worth a small fortune should BP's stock price rise back to normal trading levels.
    http://viableopposition.blogspot.com/

  • member of the 20%
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    Watch for gas prices to go through the roof in the next year as BP recoups its losses and we all get to pay at the pump for the mess and its cleanup. I can just imagine how the greed of oil companies will manipulate this to their benefit and have the consumer pay for their mistakes.

  • Anon
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    Nikola Tesla obsoleted Oil dependency before the second world war. Go look it up. Were all being lied too. There is more energy in the earth's ionosphere than we will ever need and we know how to harness it but it is being used for military purposes instead of peaceful energy purposes so Big companies can continue to enslave us.

  • Jim
    July 01, 2010 - 20:04

    Let's hope that BP executives, directors and managers are prevented from issuing themselves additional performance shares and stock options until the entire bill for the Gulf cleanup is paid and BP dividend payments are reinstated. As it stands now, with BP stock at generational lows, any new stock options issued could be worth a small fortune should BP's stock price rise back to normal trading levels.
    http://viableopposition.blogspot.com/

  • member of the 20%
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    Watch for gas prices to go through the roof in the next year as BP recoups its losses and we all get to pay at the pump for the mess and its cleanup. I can just imagine how the greed of oil companies will manipulate this to their benefit and have the consumer pay for their mistakes.