A father whose son died of cancer – which a doctor said was likely caused by gas flaring from BP’s oil fields in Iraq – told the company that “cancer is so common it’s like the flu” during his annual meeting.
Ali Hussein Julood documented his life for a BBC investigation that found high levels of cancer-linked pollutants at a BP oil field.
He died on April 21 of leukemia.
BP said it offered condolences to the family.
The father, Hussein Julood, told the BBC his son’s life was sacrificed for the company’s record profits.
Ali’s doctor said his leukemia was likely caused by high levels of pollution in the local area.
Iraqi communities living near oil fields, where gas is burned openly, are at high risk of leukaemia, a BBC News Arabic survey has revealed.
Gas flaring is the “wasteful” burning of gas released in oil drilling, which produces pollutants linked to cancer.
In Rumaila, the flaring took place less than 2,000 meters from where he lived, in violation of Iraqi laws which state that it should be at least 10 km from people’s homes.
BP and Eni are the major oil companies identified by the BBC as operating in some of the country’s largest oil exploration areas in southeastern Iraq.
Speaking at BP’s annual general meeting via webcam and an interpreter from southern Iraq, Julood spoke for his son, who had intended to ask a question himself, but died before he could.
Mr Julood described his situation to the BP board.
“From my door, you can see the black smoke from the gas burning 24 hours a day and you can smell the toxic chemicals from these rockets,” he said.
“Sometimes it’s so hard to breathe and oil pours from the sky… cancer is so common here it’s like the flu.”
Ali had suffered from the disease since he was 15 years old.
People who live in some of the world’s largest oil fields in Basra, southeastern Iraq – Rumaila, West Qurna, Zubair and Nahran Omar – have long suspected that childhood leukemia is on the rise, and that behind it be the epidemic.
An official document leaked to the BBC inquiry found that there has been a 20 per cent increase in cancer in this region over the past five years, as gas flaring has increased.
Mr Julood explained that Ali’s greatest wish was for gas flaring and pollution to stop.
“She loved nature – her favorite place in the world was her garden. And she wanted children to be able to enjoy playing and breathing freely outside,” she said.
The oil giant said at its annual meeting that it is continuing to reduce flaring in Rumaila.
The BBC also found millions of tons of unreported emissions from gas flaring in oil fields where BP, Eni, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell work.
On Thursday, some of the UK’s largest pension funds voted against reappointing the chairman of BP over a decision to water down its climate plans, but a majority of shareholders backed Helge Lund.
It comes after the energy giant scaled back its goal to cut emissions by the end of the decade.
In addition to no votes, there were also disruptions from climate protesters during the annual meeting.
BP said it appreciates “the constructive challenge and engagement”.
The five pension funds – Nest, Universities Pension Scheme, LGPS Central, Brunel Pension Partnership and Border to Coast – fear the new targets put BP financially at risk, as the firm’s fossil fuel projects are likely to lose value as they the world is moving towards net zero emissions.
Nest, one of five pension funds that voted against reappointing Lund, told the BBC there were concerns about BP’s actions on curbing gas flaring, after watching the BBC documentary Under Poisoned Skies.
The five pension funds told the BBC their vote was a protest against the company’s actions.
The pension funds have invested £440m in BP, which represents less than 1% of the company’s total shares. But they manage the pensions of over a third of UK workers, so they are an influential voice.
Eni said it “strongly rejects any accusation that its activities endanger the health of the Iraqi people”.
Under poisoned skies
The deadly impact of toxic air pollution from the oil giants on children and the planet is revealed in this BBC News Arab inquiry from the frontline of climate change in Iraq.
The documentary is now available to watch on the BBC iPlayer (UK only) and internationally on the BBC website.