Hidden in Plain Sight: Warwick’s BP Archive

By Lucy Jordan, Deputy Editor

Tucked beneath the guise of willow trees, within the Modern Research Centre, the BP Research Archive lies just off the daily paths of most Warwick students. Yet, despite the archive’s centrality, it appears to have become the university’s most mysterious – albeit unintended and arguably worst-kept – secret.

The BP Research Archive began its tenancy on campus in 1993 after entering into a 50-year lease with the university, and falls solely under the administration and staffing of the company, rendering it beyond university directorial authority. Material housed within the archive can be traced back as far as BP’s beginnings in 1908, with content including company advertising, correspondence, and research, with particular focus on industry and politics in the Middle East. Moreover, Castrol Limited, the Burmah Oil Company Limited, and Shell-Mex form only a few of the 16 subsidiary and heritage companies one can explore in the archive [for a full list, see here].

However, for a supposedly academic archive, its accessibility is rather limited. Documents requested by academic researchers must be vetted for “commercial sensitivity” before release, whilst access for lawyers and journalists is nigh-on prohibited. Moreover, only material from before December 1976 is open for public viewing: mere years before the company began swiftly investing billions of dollars into green and renewable technological research. The project was abandoned in the nineties, a result of a cost-cutting refocus back to fossil fuel extraction. However, many speculate that much of this research is currently being stored within the research archive, and as such actively withheld from public consumption.

Hence, concerns are persistently raised regarding the transparency of the archive. University Vice Chancellor, Stuart Croft, called on the company in 2016 to widen the the archive’s accessibility. Moreover, a number of campaigns have been led by students attesting the Archive’s campus home. Campaigns such as ‘BP Off Campus’, lead in 2015 by ‘Fossil Free Warwick’, called for the closure of the Archive, describing it as ‘an insidious example of the close connection between the fossil fuel industry and our public institutions’. Evidently, however, such efforts have come to no avail, with no changes having been made to the archive’s administration, or projected residency. 

However, in light of the university’s recent declarations, such as that of a ‘Climate Emergency’, and a campus-wide commitment to direct carbon neutrality by 2030, one could argue there is scope to resume such questioning. Many deem the archive to be a poorly concealed attempt at ‘greenwashing’, with the archive cited by the company to ‘enhance its reputation’. However, despite BP’s recently reformed image, with an increased and highly publicised focus on renewable technology, as well as a company ‘commitment to advancing a low carbon future’, oil, gas, and coal still account for 85% of the company’s energy mix in 2017, with such figures set to drop to only 58% by 2040. In light of this, one would be naive to tout the company as the green transition’s greatest proponent.

Therein, to many, the university’s compliance in housing the archive condones the company’s neglect of the climate crisis – of today, and in history. From the company’s historically unprecedented environmental damage, as well as a plethora of alleged human rights abuses, it remains inconceivable that the continuing accommodation of the archive could ever be congruent with the university’s green goals.

As a result of this, it seems certain that the archive is unlikely to have met its last challenger. As the threats of climate change grow ever greater, the archive’s contention is likely to only grow. The question is – will we ever gain entry to the archive’s hidden decades? Or are they ever to remain, hiding in plain sight?

Header image: Huffington Post

References

Archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk. (2019). BP Archive – Archives Hub. [online] Available at: https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/archives/62b43e09-e64b-348a-9378-3d5be82f03db [Accessed 6 Nov. 2019].

Blogs.warwick.ac.uk. (2019). About me, BP Archive. [online] Available at: https://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/bparchive/about/ [Accessed 2 Nov. 2019].

BP (2018). BP Sustainability Report 2018. [online] p.10. Available at: https://www.bp.com/content/dam/bp/business-sites/en/global/corporate/pdfs/sustainability/group-reports/bp-sustainability-report-2018.pdf [Accessed 4 Nov. 2019].

BP United Kingdom. (2019). Connecting through arts and culture. [online] Available at: https://www.bp.com/en_gb/united-kingdom/home/community/connecting-through-arts-and-culture.html [Accessed 10 Nov. 2019].

Macalister, T. (2015). BP dropped green energy projects worth billions to focus on fossil fuels. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/apr/16/bp-dropped-green-energy-projects-worth-billions-to-focus-on-fossil-fuels [Accessed 10 Nov. 2019].

Macalister, T. (2016). Warwick University calls on BP to open up archive on ‘renewables’. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/apr/22/warwick-university-bp-open-up-archive-renewables-oil-research-green-technologies [Accessed 6 Nov. 2019].

Macalister, T. (2015). Warwick University students call for closure of BP archive on campus. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/oct/04/warwick-university-bp-archive-students-chancellor [Accessed 6 Nov. 2019].

Tarrant, K., Suen, E. (2019). University of Warwick announces 2030 carbon neutrality goal in climate emergency declaration. [online] Theboar.org. Available at:

University of Warwick announces 2030 carbon neutrality goal in climate emergency declaration
[Accessed 2 Nov. 2019].

Woodman, C. (2019). Protest, Prevent and the Problems of Warwick: An interview with Stuart Croft – Warwick Globalist. [online] Warwick Globalist. Available at:

Protest, Prevent and the Problems of Warwick: An interview with Stuart Croft
[Accessed 6 Nov. 2019].

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