Anger as BP racks up £11bn profits

THE oil giant BP sparked fury among campaign groups yesterday after announcing record annual profits of £11.07 billion, only days after rival Shell smashed British business records.

BP, which made the equivalent of 21,000 a minute, faced renewed accusations that it was cashing in on the high price of oil at the expense of road users and the environment.

Although its 2005 profits fell short of the 25,000 a minute set by Shell, the surging price of crude oil meant they were still more than 25 per cent higher than 2004. The company announced it would give billions of pounds back to its shareholders if the oil price remained high. If it stays at $41 a barrel between 2006 and 2008, BP would be able to distribute 29 billion in dividends and share buybacks. If the price was $60 a barrel, shareholders would get about 37 billion.

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But critics wanted the profits to go elsewhere. Kate Gibbs, of the Road Haulage Association, described the increase as staggering.

"This just adds insult to injury," she said. "We would like to see some of the profits plugged back in some sort of concession for essential road users."

The AA Motoring Trust in Scotland called on oil companies to use their profits to tackle the shortage of diesel by building new refineries.

Neil Greig, the head of policy for the organisation, said: "Diesel is now consistently 4p a litre more expensive because of a lack of refining capacity. It is also the fuel that drives commercial transport in the UK, and the higher cost saps the economy."

Mr Greig said motorists realised the price of fuel was also down to tax.

"If the companies gave it away, it would still cost 60p per litre," he said. "Oil companies, like BP, cannot be blamed for making huge profits from booming global oil prices, and a highly successful British company is a cause for celebration."

Lord Browne, the chief executive of BP, yesterday rejected charges that the company was making excess profits. "We are not profiteering," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "We make most of our money in what most people would regard as the wholesale market, the production of oil and gas, not the refining and sales of petrol."

Last night, Friends of the Earth Scotland called on the government to introduce a windfall tax to fund investments to protect the climate.