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What BP Should Have Said

By now, we’ve heard just about everything there is to hear about the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. We’ve listened to corporate representatives, regulatory agencies, and Washington pass the buck. We’ve been bombarded with information, some true (it’s the most expensive oil spill in history) and some not (it is not the largest spill ever). We’ve seen the heartbreaking photos. However, out of all of this, what surprises me most isn’t the disaster itself, it’s BP’s amazingly poor public response.

From its plans to distribute dividends and its CEO's bizarre comments to its stilted attempts at apologies, BP's responses have disappointed many. Even now, its website boasts that its acts towards rehabilitating the region are "over and above BP's obligations under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990." Defensive much? Here's a tip: In times of crisis—and in the face of an environmental catastrophe—the last thing people want to hear is "we're already doing more than we have to." It's simply stunning to me that the company that once pulled off one of the best rebrandings in recent memory is now tripping over itself so hopelessly. So, I’m going to help. Here’s the press release they should have written:

BP Response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
June 14, 2010

We screwed up. Tremendously. It was our rig, it was our operation, and now, in the face of this disaster, it is our fault and our responsibility to fix it. And while we cannot undo the damage that has already been done, we can devote ourselves to how we manage the crisis, and how we plan on restoring the Gulf Coast.

We would like to take a moment to respond to recent events, to attempt to clear up some misnomers, and to inform you about the efforts we’ll be undertaking moving forward.

First, much has been made of CEO Tony Hayward’s recent remarks. His comments were insensitive, misguided, and for them we apologize. We cannot say strongly enough that these statements do not in any way reflect the opinions of BP. Yes, of course, we do “want our lives back.” But so do the good people of the Gulf and so, too, do the innumerable species of sea life who quite literally might be losing theirs.

The public response to the spill has been passionate, deafening, and deserved. In many of the affected regions, demonstrations against BP have occurred. There is a natural inclination to boycott BP stations. While we certainly understand this sentiment, we urge you to take a different course of action. The people these acts hurt most are the men and women who own and work at your BP stations. They deserve better. They played no part in this disaster and to make them suffer only further damages communities that are already feeling too much hardship as a result of the spill.

You may feel the need to do something, to put your anger to some good use. We suggest directing your energy towards writing or calling your congressperson and pushing for more adequate regulation for our industry. While we have failed you, so has our regulatory body, the Minerals Management Service (MMS).

The simple truth is this: In regards to drilling, there’s very little difference between oil companies. This could have just as easily happened to any of our competitors. We are all out there, racing to find new sources of oil. And in the absence of true regulation, it becomes far too easy for any of us to allow the spirit of discovery to usurp the prudent contemplation of “what if.”

It should be said that this is not an attempt to skirt accountability. Over the past weeks, you’ve no doubt witnessed the game of hot-potato between BP, the MMS, and countless politicians, each attempting to evade responsibility. That ends now. We cannot pass the blame any longer; we need to share it. It is all of our faults. We need stronger regulation, we need it now, and it will take all of our collective efforts to keep anything like this from happening again—with any oil company.

Unfortunately, accepting fault changes nothing. The disaster rages on. We are working tirelessly to both stop the leak and clean the spill. However, if we have learned anything, it is that despite the fact that BP has some of the world’s most highly trained engineers and technicians, we do not have all the answers. Therefore, we encourage anyone with innovative answers to the problems we now face to step forward. If you have something to say, we’re listening.

Finally, whatever it costs to clean the water, to replenish the sea life, to study the effects, and to revitalize the industry—we will pay it. If there is a solution worth trying, we will fund it. It is an answer that our shareholders might not like, but it is the right answer. We believe that the only way to truly do right by our investors is to restore the public trust. And the only way to do that is to spare no expense in restoring the Gulf Coast.


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