Special Reports

Boycott over BP grows in Florida

FORT LAUDERDALE — Angry over BP’s oil spill, Mike James drove his car past a BP gas station in downtown Fort Lauderdale this week and stopped to fill up at a rival brand.

He’s part of a small but growing movement nationwide to boycott BP — a move that critics say ends up hurting independent gas station owners, not the oil giant that no longer owns a single station in the country.

Consumer advocacy group Public Citizen is pushing for the boycott, with more than 13,000 people already signed up on its Website to stop buying at BP stations for three months. A Facebook page to boycott BP has registered more than 176,000 fans, after the April 20 explosion on a BP rig produced the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

James, a 43-year-old tourist from New York, said he’s trying to send a message with his boycott that even big corporations must be held accountable.

“I don’t think they’ve done a good enough job trying to fix the mess they made,” he said Thursday, while pumping gas into his blue Mazda at a Hess station.

James understands that the boycott may hurt mom-and-pop station owners but sees little other recourse. He hopes the station owners can get out the word to BP that customers are upset.

But many in Florida and nationwide reject the boycott or see it as an ineffective tool.

Pumping gas near James’ car Thursday, 27-year-old Roberto Esposito said BP seems to be doing all it can to stop the leak and take responsibility for damages.

“If we want cheap oil, we have to drill offshore if that’s what’s necessary,” Esposito said, also rejecting calls for a what’s necessary,” Esposito said, also rejecting calls for a halt to offshore drilling longer-term.

Traudi Pawlik, 68, a Fort Lauderdale hairdresser, doubted a boycott would work. Too few consumers tend to take part, and they tend to revert to old behaviors fast, she said.

She looked for recourse instead in the federal government and tighter regulation of offshore rigs, including better preparation for emergencies.

“It’s unfortunate even the president took too long to get done what’s needed,” Pawlik said.

Some critics want the government to go beyond regulation and take over BP assets.

Supporters of the Seize BP campaign plan a demonstration at 1 p.m. June 5 at the south Fort Lauderdale Beach park, said John Daly, 43, a heathcare worker and volunteer with the campaign.

“We’re outraged at what BP has done in their drive for oil profits,” which topped $6 billion last quarter alone, Daley said.

For some BP station owners in South Florida, the gas station boycott is denting business.

Jay Weinstock, who owns seven BP stations in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, said sales at those stations have dropped about 5 percent to 10 percent in recent days, while Chevron stations he owns have seen steady business. But he said boycotting BP stations won’t hurt the oil giant.

“They’ll just sell the oil to China or somewhere else,” said Weinstock. “In the long-run, it’s the independent dealers that get hurt.”

Weinstock described the rig leak as an accident: “No company in the world wants to spend more than $1 billion and have a bad rap.” And he asked why BP’s rig partners — builder Halliburton and operator Transocean — aren’t being boycotted too.

BP has said it sold off all of its U.S. gas stations in recent years — roughly 11,700 nationwide. Station owners have supplier agreements with the oil company.

Analysts say a shift from BP likely won’t help any one rival. Studies by research group NPD show the portion of U.S. customers who buy the same brand of gas is shrinking, now down below 30 percent.

Mike Motwani, 66, an engineer from Weston, shows that trend. He pulled into a BP station Thursday afternoon to duck out of traffic and get a good price on gas, not paying much attention to the brand.

Motwani said he’s saddened by the spill but sees no reason to boycott BP, as the company works overtime to contain the damages: “They’re not going to act any faster with a boycott.”