Extractives sector: The impacts of activist groups

Extractives sector: The impacts of activist groups

- Intelligence - Social Media Intelligence


PGI offers our geopolitical expertise to support organisations operating in either a particular geography or within a sector specific focus. In our four-part series, we explore the risks and challenges facing the extraction sector. 

For our third piece, PGI monitors civil unrest directly targeting the client. This includes sentiment and lexical analyses to help understand how activist groups are perceiving its operations and ESG strategy, and what the most current activist narratives are. The example we have used is BP in the United Kingdom.

Case study: BP

PGI identified at least six anti-BP protests in the UK since the start of 2021. These were:

  • 5 February: More than 100 Greenpeace protesters attempted to block the entrance to BP’s London headquarters using 500 solar panels, on the first day in office for the new BP CEO Bernard Looney. The protest caused the company to temporarily shut the office.
  • 10 February: BP or not BP? activists participated in a 51-hour occupation of the British Museum in London to protest BP’s sponsorship of the museum. The protest drew around 1,500 participants at one point, who reportedly chanted “BP must fall”.
  • 12 May: Tens of members of the BP or not BP? activist group protested outside BP’s London headquarters, coinciding with the start of the company’s AGM.
  • 22 May: Tens gathered at the British Museum in London to protest BP’s sponsorship of the museum’s upcoming exhibition.
  • 1 June: Extinction Rebellion activists blocked the entrance of a BP oil terminal in Hamble, Southampton.
  • 14 August: Tens of BP or not BP? activists gathered in London’s British Museum to protest BP’s sponsorship of the museum. The group said that more than 350 people attended the protest virtually, due to their COVID-19 safety requirements.
Figure 1: Image of activists at the 14 August protest in the British Museum. Source: Twitter BP or not BP? account

These protests demonstrate activists groups’ capacity to disrupt BP operations and associated organisations for at least several hours. The majority of the aforementioned protests were organised by activist group BP or not BP?.

BP or not BP?

BP or not BP? is a civic action group launched in 2012 that is dedicated to challenging BP’s sponsorship of cultural spaces. The group is active via its website, in addition to frequent updates to its Twitter and Facebook pages.

Its Twitter account has 8,703 followers, including other major UK-based activist groups.

The above image shows a portion of the network of Twitter accounts following BP or not BP?, including some reputed environmental activist groups:

  • BP or not BP? Scotland
  • Extinction Rebellion UK
  • UK Divest
  • Reclaim the Power

The above groups are all notable UK-based environmental activist groups. This demonstrates BP or not BP?’s potential to reach wider audiences and groups who equally have a precedent of organising and participating in disruptive civil unrest.

As of mid-August, PGI did not identify any indication that BP or not BP? is planning a protest targeting BP operations in the near future.

Sentiment/Lexical Analysis

PGI performed a lexical analysis of BP or not BP?, Extinction Rebellion, and Greenpeace tweets to identify shared narratives, and understand if and how these targeted BP in particular. The sample analysed included the latest 3,200 tweets from each Twitter account.

Figure 2: The above correspondence factor analysis shows word clusters from each of the target activist groups’ Twitter accounts. BP or not BP? in red, Extinction Rebellion in pink, and Greenpeace in blue. Lexicon shared between the three groups are in light blue, green, and grey. The size and positions of the words in the graph are relative to their frequency and co-occurrence. Words that are closer together share a similar frequency rate compared to those that are spatially further apart.

The lexical analysis showed that of the three activist groups, only BP or not BP? uses language that specifically targets BP. This includes hashtags such as ‘bpmustfall’ and ‘drop_bp’. The group most frequently tweets about BP’s sponsorship of the Science Museum and the British Museum. This is demonstrated in Figure 2 where the size of the word denotes frequency in the Tweet sample.

Figure 3: This dendrogramme groups words thematically and hierarchically. Classe 1, in red, shows words that are most closely correlated and comprise the highest percentage of the Tweet sample at 27.8 percent.

Further lexical analysis of the Tweet sample shows that BP or not BP?’s tweets comprise the largest proportion of the sample at 27.8 percent, as represented by Classe 1 in red in Figure 3. These are also the words most closely correlated in the sample, as shown by their hierarchical position in the dendrogramme. The dendrogramme also supports earlier analysis that BP or not BP?’s lexicon is focused on calling on the British Museum and the Science Museum to drop their BP sponsorship.

Other notable words in Classe 1 include “trojan” and “horse”. In the context of BP or not BP?, this refers to protest action in February 2020 when the group built a Trojan horse and left it outside the British Museum for three days of protests. The group said this was a metaphor for BP’s sponsorship of the museum; “on its surface, the sponsorship might appear to be a generous gift but inside lurks death and destruction”. In August 2020, the group again used the term in response to BP’s CEO claiming, “we’re not turning our back on hydrocarbons”.

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Read part one: Extractives sector: How civil unrest impacts physical operations

Read part two: Extractives sector: The regulatory environment outlook in Brazil

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