Thursday, December 14

The Real BP PR Lesson

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This is the worst spill in U.S. history.  But as long as there is drilling, there will be spills. It is inevitable.  The question is how we are going to prepare and demand that our government and the oil companies realistically prepare from this point on. 

PB is anathema.  We all agree.  The company is responsible for the worst oil spill on record.  It is reported that oil has been flowing at a rate of 60,000 barrels a day.  And the gulf spill wasn’t BP’s first mishap; in 2005 an explosion at one of its Texas refineries left fifteen people dead.  Our outrage and anger at the company is appropriate.  They should pay and be held responsible for what they’ve done.  The company’s stock has plummeted.  It is going to be paying billions and legal battles will go on for years. But, if BPremains the sole focus of this tragedy, we’ve missed the lesson and squandered a valuable opportunity

BP is indicative of a much larger, more serious problem.  As was revealed at the Senate hearings on June 15th, other oil companies had emergency plans eerily similar to that of BP.  It seems as though there was one ineffectual, cookie-cutter plan that was shared by the entire industry.  The plan included the phone number of a dead expert to call in case of emergencies.  It also included strategies for saving seals and walruses that were threatened by a spill in the Gulf Coast.  The only downside to the plan was that calling a deceased expert probably wouldn’t do much good and there are no seals or walruses in that part of the world. 

Sadly the BP spill was an accident waiting to happen.  The company’s attitude seemed to be that they’d risk taking theconsequences of a spill, as opposed to putting in the necessary time, money and effort to safeguard against a spill happening, or developing a workable action plan in case a spill did occur.

This spill has become a huge media story.  Apart from the tragedy of lives lost, wildlife decimated and businesses destroyed, it is a devastating PR debacle for British Petroleum.  But if we are to benefit in any way from the 24/7 media coverage of the spill, thefocus needs to shift solely from BP to the oil industry as a whole.  Yes, BP must be held accountable and pay to cleanup the gulf and compensate those who are losing their livelihoods, but let’s use this as a call to action to look deeper at the core causes.Obviously we need to look at other forms of fuel and energy, but that is going to take time.  In the short term, the oil industry and thegovernment (who is every bit as much at fault as the oil companies) need to do all that they can to ensure that such a spill does not happen again, and develop effective action and response plans that actually address the problem when a spill inevitably does happen.  The media is reporting, the government is fuming, BP is apologizing and lives are being shattered.  Let’s take this devastating episode and use it to demand that the government and oil companies alike develop true action plans that will both safeguard our natural resources and our country as a whole.

Copyright © Anthony Mora 2010

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