A groundswell against BP on Facebook, Twitter

By Deborah Zabarenko and Dan Whitcomb
Sunday, June 6, 2010; G05

U.S. consumers are venting frustration over the BP oil spill, demonstrating at gas stations and corporate offices, drumming up support on Facebook and waging a mock public relations campaign on Twitter.

But their opposition to BP's handling of the crisis has yet to achieve critical mass, and any attempt to dissuade customers from fueling their cars with BP is likely to hurt the small-business owners who run the stations and have little or no effect on the British oil giant's revenue.

Most Americans -- seven out of 10 -- say BP has done a poor or only fair job in handling the April 20 well blowout and spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Pew Research Center, which tracks public opinion. The Obama administration received slightly better marks, with 57 percent rating the government's response poor or only fair.

In light of this discontent, BP may have trouble charging a premium price at the pump for its products, said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service.

"We are starting to see some impact so far, and a percent of decline or two can have a dramatic impact," Kloza said. "Unfortunately, it has an impact on what you might say are the victims: the marketers and the dealers that made commitments to fly the BP flag."

BP's petroleum products can be sold at other outlets under other brand names, making a consumer boycott tough to pull off. In any case, he said, price is the biggest factor determining where customers buy gas.

Several U.S. groups, including the consumer watchdog Public Citizen and Vermont-based Democracy for America, have called for a BP boycott. Historically, energy boycotts have had minimal impact on companies' revenue.

Seize BP, a campaign aimed at getting the U.S. government to seize BP's assets and redistribute them to those damaged by the spill, plans a week of demonstrations at gas stations and BP offices across the nation.

The movement to seize BP's assets is gaining ground on Facebook, where at least five groups are pushing the cause.

There is also a spoof Twitter feed, BPGlobalPR, that purports to be the oil company's online persona. The satirical feed has more than 114,000 followers, compared with the official BP -- America feed, which had less than 10,000 on Thursday.

The fake feed has donated $10,000 to the Gulf Restoration Network from the sale of T-shirts emblazoned with an oil-smudged BP logo and the words "bp cares."

Kloza said: "If people are serious about demonstrating or showing they're indignant, they can divest themselves of investments, and maybe think about using a little bit less fuel. There's really no downside in that."

-- Reuters

© 2010 The Washington Post Company