Greg Bourne-The Not So Quiet Achiever: International Oil Major BP Raised a Few Eyebrows When It Introduced Its Forward Looking 'Beyond Petroleum' Concept. Did This Mean the Company Was Planning to Turn the Petroleum Tap off and Concentrate Instead on Renewable Energy Sources? Phillip Toyne Interviews Greg Bourne, Regional President BP Australasia
Toyne, Phillip, Ecos
SINCE GREG BOURNE returned to Australia four years ago to head up BP's Australasian operations he has confounded his CEO peers with his outspokenness on issues of national importance. His public advocacy--especially around greenhouse issues--has seen him most recently warning of a 'big storm brewing for the world's carbon-based economies' and that Australia was wholly unprepared for the coming 'carbon shock'.
Bourne believes that a new debate needs to be fostered in Australia about the Australia we want in the future. He says that this debate cannot be based, as so often in the past, on the power and polarisation of interests, bitterness and a lack of imagination in seeking solutions for the challenges. All parts of the community should be involved and we need to listen hard for the soft voices as well as the loud. Most of all, he says, we need the voice of forward thinking business to finally be heard.
But how ready is Bourne's own company for the challenges ahead? Does the rhetoric run ahead of BP's own business practices?
BP's Australian operations extend from exploring for and developing natural gas and oil in the North West Shelf to manufacturing petroleum products at its refineries in Western Australia and Queensland. It markets fuels and other products at its service stations. BP Solar is the only manufacturer in commercial scale production of solar cells in Australia.
Phillip Toyne talks with Greg Bourne about what motivates him and BP to step out in front ...
PT: Greg, we have taken a lot of interest in the things that BP have been saying and doing in redefining the company and taking it in a new direction. What have been the driving forces behind that and what are you going to do with it all?
GB: The first thing is that we believe we are heading into a carbon constrained world. Whether it comes about through ratification of the Kyoto Protocol or just a whole series of concerted efforts by countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions--carbon constraints are coming.
As a company over the last several years we've moved away from the heavier hydrocarbons. Just a few years ago our portfolio had only 18% gas. Now we are just under 50% gas. So we are moving towards the lighter end of hydrocarbons and of course we are also heavily involved in solar photovoltaics where we have around 17% of the world market share. The photovoltaics business is growing at around 30-40% per annum.
PT: And is this what 'Beyond Petroleum' is meant to be about?
GB: It's a combination. 'Beyond Petroleum' really is an holistic phrase, which talks about many things. Of course it talks about the renewable energy side of the business and we see that becoming an increasing proportion of our future over the next 30, 40, 50 years. But it also talks about being a progressive company, it talks about being involved in the social issues of the day--thinking way beyond the traditional boundaries of ourselves as a company.
PT: And is that move into the lighter end of the hydrocarbons market primarily Greenhouse driven?
GB: Well, we have been in the solar photovoltaics business for 30 years and it has just started growing really fast I suppose in the last 5-7 years. Going to the lighter end of the hydrocarbons, we see that is absolutely going to be part of the transition as the world moves to a lighter carbon economy. This transition may take 50 years.
Although it is a long transition, we are already seeing countries like China actually reducing their coal consumption and increasing their gas consumption. That is driven partially by Greenhouse but efficiency and the need to reduce pollution in their cities mostly drives it.
PT: 'Beyond Petroleum' has not been a trouble-free concept for you. It created a degree of confusion in the market and elsewhere. What was the cause of that?
GB: I think we didn't explain ourselves well. …