BP makes itself easy to demonize
BP wants to be “judged by its response” to the Gulf of Mexico disaster. The politicians and the public already seem to be concluding the UK oil giant has failed in its duty to address the consequences of the accident. BP should not be surprised that authorities with an interest in diverting attention from their own failings want it to take all the blame. But it hasn’t helped itself either.
The company has made much of its overkill response, including record-breaking amounts of dispersant for tackling the oil slick. But that simply reflects the size of the calamity. Results are what counts – and oil is fast approaching the Louisiana shoreline.
It increasingly looks like BP and its regulators were too confident that the supposedly failsafe blowout preventer (BOP) would seal the well in the event of catastrophe. True, this is the last in a chain of emergency stops. But implausible events do happen. Perhaps that explains why insurers would not cover this risk.
Contingency planning for the preventer’s unprecedented failure was inadequate. A steel dome to be dropped on the well was only partly constructed and weeks from being deployed in what will be its first test in deep water. Miles of booms have proved incapable of containing oil.
Meanwhile some of BP’s public statements have been off key. BP has said the disaster was not “our accident” – it happened on a rig managed by deep-water specialist Transocean – and is promising to pay all “legitimate” damages claims. The “no quibble” approach to damages is laudable, but BP was always responsible for the consequences of any spill.
If BP really can do no more, then it should say more. A more contrite tone would help, as would an explanation of its contingency planning. BP will not be judged just on its response, but also on its preparedness, and on its results. For Tony Hayward, the chief executive who started his oil career on a rig, the stakes are rising.