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May 08 2012

00:02

Heartland Institute’s Unapologetic Stance to Enormous PR Blunder Exposes – again – Lobby Organization’s Intellectual Dishonesty


The Great Heartland PR Blunder of 2012It is no surprise that the Heartland Institue would yet again engage in intellectual dishonesty and scare tactics in its ongoing attempt to confuse and manipulate populate opinion on climate change – they’ve been doing it for years. What has startled everyone this time, from supporters to critics like us, is the boneheaded blunder and pointless tastelessness of the short-lived Chicago-area billboard campaign from the anti-science lobby group Heartland Institute.

What began on Thursday morning ended on Thursday afternoon last week, in what Heartland president Jose Bast characterized as an “experiment,” as they prepare for their seventh annual climate change conference – a denial extravaganza featuring some of the foremost voices in anti-science and denialist rhetoric.

“I feel blindsided,” said Donna Laframboise of NoConsensus.org, a scheduled speaker for the conference until she cancelled in protest of the offensive Great Heartland PR Blunder of 2012.

“Suddenly, we were all publicly linked to an organization that thinks it’s okay to equate people concerned about climate change with psychopaths,” writes Lamframboise. “Forget disappointment. In my view, my reputation has been harmed. And the Heartland thinks it has nothing to apologize for?”

A scrolling collection of quotes on NoConsensus includes the very apt question “Should we believe whomever shouts the loudest?”

Heartland's bombast is comicalLamfromboise is just one of several sponsors and supporters that are considering or have already ended their relationship with the Heartland Institute. A Washington D.C.-based arm of the organization involved in insurance reform issues simply up and left, abandoning ship and closing up shop in the wake of reaction from insurance companies and other corporate supporters to the ad campaign.

What also shouldn’t surprise anyone is Bast’s unremitting defiance and refusal to apologize. He needn’t apologize to me. To critics like me that work to expose the Heartland Institute for what it is, such startlingly ill-advised publicity campaigns are a God-send. They do our work for us. Bast should apologize to his supporters, without whom Heartland can claim any credibility to anyone.

Anthony Watts, publisher of the leading climate denial website WattsUpWithThat, claimed that the gaffe is a result of “battle fatigue.”

If that is the case, it is from a battle of the Heartland Institute’s own making.

Additional source:
ClimateWire (subscription required)

Do you want to be associated with this guy?

January 09 2012

23:34

BP Launches PR Blitz To Repair Image

College football fans aren’t the only ones who’ll be paying close attention to what’s happening in Louisiana this evening – BP is hoping that tonight’s BCS championship game will be the ultimate payoff for their aggressive public relations campaign which is aimed at convincing the American public that the oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster has disappeared, and that they can come back to the Gulf Coast without fear of finding oily beaches.

For the last few weeks, those of us on the Gulf Coast have been inundated with ads from BP, telling us that they’ve made good on their promise to clean up the mess from the April 2010 oil rig explosion that released millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This multi-million dollar ad campaign is their last-ditch effort to bring tourism back to the economically-depressed Gulf Coast.


The Associated Press lays out the key elements of BP’s new campaign:

The PR blitz is part of the company’s multibillion dollar response to the Gulf oil spill that started after the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and leading to the release of more than 200 million gallons of oil. As engineers struggled to cap the out-of-control well, it turned into the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Now, BP is touting evidence that the Gulf’s ecology has not been severely damaged by the spill and highlighting improving economic signs.

“I’m glad to report that all beaches and waters are open for everyone to enjoy!” BP representative Iris Cross says in one TV spot to an upbeat soundtrack. “And the economy is showing progress, with many areas on the Gulf Coast having their best tourism season in years.”

The campaign, launched just before Christmas, has ramped up for the two-week period around the Sugar Bowl and Bowl Championship Series title game to be played on Monday between LSU and Alabama.

The company is paying chefs Emeril Lagasse and John Besh to promote Gulf seafood, it’s hired two seafood trucks to hand out fish tacos and seafood-filled jambalaya to the hundreds of thousands of tourists and fans pouring into the city for the football games and it’s spreading its messages at galas, pre-game parties and vacation giveaways.

Unfortunately for BP, their advertisements are falling upon deaf ears along the coast. In fact, according to the Associated Press, the head of the Louisiana Shrimp Association said that their new ads are little more than “BP propaganda.” Additionally, the tourism industry is reporting little to no growth in the 20 months following the oil “spill.”

The NRDC has fired back against the BP ads:

BP's newest PR salvo touting its Gulf cleanup hit a nerve with many residents still struggling to get their lives back (one ad captured this BP beach protest in the background). The oil behemoth's slickly produced pleas for Americans to “come on down” to the Gulf where the weather is warm, the food is sublime and the beaches are sparkling clean—at least in the commercials—has long stuck in the craw of people whose shrimp boxes are bare and whose beaches and bayous are sometimes littered with sticky tar balls and bloated dolphins.

But what if BP took a different tact this coming year? What if the oil giant —which scooped up profits worth nearly $5 billion last quarter and is planning to drill anew in the deepwater Gulf—decided to give a voice to those enduring the worst fishing season in memory? What if BP decided to tell the stories of families suffering from debilitating health problems they blame on the crude and chemical dispersants, oil that still mysteriously bubbles up near BP’s Macondo well 40 miles offshore?

These ads are hardly the first PR offensive that the oil giant has taken. The Justice Department announced last year that they would launch an investigation into BP's deception regarding the rate of oil that was flowing into the Gulf. But there are a few other misinformation campaigns that they should investigate, as well. As we pointed out last year:

The Justice Department should also look hard into the aggressive misinformation campaign that BP launched during the oil leak. After the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, BP sent its PR machine into overdrive trying to misdirect the public about what was happening in the Gulf of Mexico.

Leaked BP emails show that the company actively attempted to “buy” scientists near the Gulf Coast, in order to produce favorable reports on the impact the oil would have on the environment. This tactic would have also prevented these scientific experts from later testifying for plaintiff’s attorneys representing oil disaster victims, as their payments from BP would have provided a significant conflict of interest.

BP’s campaigns stretched far beyond buying scientists. The oil giant launched an aggressive online ad campaign, spending a staggering $3.7 million in just one month on Google AdWords relating to the oil spill - BP bought relevant search terms such as “oil spill,” “leak,” and “top kill.” Buying these search terms gave BP an online advantage, as it put their sponsored links (most of which are still active today) ahead of relevant news stories and other information relating to the oil disaster in a web search.

After the online ad campaign took off, the company then began their “grassroots” efforts. Two industry-funded organizations went into heavy action: The Gulf of Mexico Foundation and the America’s Wetland Foundation. The Gulf of Mexico Foundation pulled its board of directors from the oil industry, and most members of the board were either actively working for oil companies, or for offshore oil drilling interests. America’s Wetland Foundation was even less discrete than hiring an oil industry board of directors – they took funding directly from the oil industry, including: Shell, Chevron, the American Petroleum Institute, Citgo, Entergy, and Exxon Mobil.

BP also donated $5 million to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in July 2011, 3 months after the oil leak began. After this cash infusion, the Sea Lab released a report claiming that the massive dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico were being caused by the cold water, not the oil and Corexit that BP poured into the waters. Scientists at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration pointed out that dolphins actually swim away to avoid cold water.

As I’ve pointed out before, I live on the Gulf Coast, and that’s why this particular issue is so important to me. I have seen what has been done, and what hasn’t, and I can promise you this: BP is not being honest about their cleanup efforts, and there is a growing sense of desperation that has enveloped this entire area.

December 11 2011

23:32

"Raising Elijah": An Interview With Ecologist and Author Sandra Steingraber

Q: In light of your new book Raising Elijah: Protecting Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis, which raises the specter of raising children in troubled times, both environmentally and ecologically, are you surprised that natural gas corporations have been producing public relations and propaganda materials like coloring books (recall Talisman Energy's Terry the Fracasaurus, and Chesapeake Energy's coloring books), going into schools and giving scholarships, etc.? 

A: Not at all. This is an attempt at deflection and drawing attention away from the bad public relations problems the industry has. It is hypocritical and cynical to go into communities, do fracking (see DeSmogBlog's Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate), and then do these types of things.

For example, there are increased rates of crime, drug abuse, and motor vehicle accidents in areas in which fracking takes place. Roads in areas in which fracking is taking place are full of 18-wheelers hauling around toxic chemicals. It is a stunning move, based on all of these things.

For the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition and Chesapeake Energy’s corporate sponsorship of it, it is the ultimate case of cynicism, based on what they do on a daily basis. For them to get involved shows that they’re trying to deflect attention away from what they’re actually doing to cause these things in the first place.

The idea that they’re aligning themselves with the breast cancer movement is creepy and is like cigarette companies getting involved in fighting against cancer, while they are the ones also causing it.

Q: Why do you think these corporations are stooping so low, and why now? What type of reputation do these natural gas corporations have, at-large, in an area like the Marcellus Shale, for example?

A: Public opinion is deeply opposed to gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale in upper state New York and the anti-fracking resistance movement is solidifying and growing there. Therefore, partnerships with chartiable organizations are an attempt to alter public opinion.

That said, doing this is expensive for corporations, so it is a sign of desparation on their side of things to make fracking look like a warm and fuzzy and friendly thing. They want a different kind of association. When you hear name of their company, they hope you have warm, fuzzy feelings about them, when, in actuality, they’re actually going to come in and destroy the community.

Q: Can you explain a bit more about your book, Raising Elijah, and in particular, what role you see your new book playing in combating this benevolent role the gas industry ruthlessly tries to portray for itself? Also, can you explain what personally motivated you to write such a book?

A: Benevolent is the perfect adjective. These new partnerships are like an abusive spouse who’s trying to deflect attention away from his actual crime by funding a home for people who’ve suffered domestic abuse. The best way to solve the problem of carcinogens in the air is not to put them in the air in the first place. The best way to prevent children from being abused is to create an actual sustainable community and healthy ecosystem.

My book has been in the works for 8 years and I wanted to continue where I left off in the last book. This one takes a look at how exposure to environmental toxics impacts childhood development.

Fracking was not originally on my radar, but it was hard to ignore come 2007 and 2008. I learned more and more about it and was eventually asked to speak on panels on the topic. It is the biggest threat to childrens’ health that I’d ever encountered. The final chapter in book is entirely devoted to fracking.

Beating fracking is the environmental cause of our time. We are standing at a cross-roads — easy fuels are gone, and energy extremism is all that’s left. Mountain top removal is one, tar sands crude is another, offshore drilling is the third, and fracking is the fourth.

Fracking hits home the closest. It is occurring in 34 states, often in densely populated areas. The possibility of it exposing people to these toxins is immediate and the possibility that we’ll contaminate water, air, and food are also great.

Air contamination is also a guarantee, via compressors. Chances are, we’ll blanket the northeast in smoggy air, which already was dirty air to begin with, with regular ozone alerts. Surface and ground water and food resources are now also all at risk. The dairy industry is huge in New York, but now that is also at risk.

The Marcellus Shale basin is now a radioactive place, and thus, all of this stuff is now in peril. There needs to be a public conversation about this, if only because of the costs of helping children from cradle to grave. Asthma, for example, is a very expensive problem and leading cause of absenteeism in schools. It will become more common with fracking - much more common.

The Environmental Impact Statement done by the New York Department of Environmental Protection was also a sham, with public health impacts not even discussed. There was nothing in it on any of the scores of environmental and ecological costs associated with fracking that will arise in the future.

All of this is the explanation for why I wrote the book. The secrecy the industry enjoys makes it hard for researchers to go as deep as they possibly could if there were no veil of secrecy. It is hard to say exactly what kind of chemicals people are inhaling and consuming.

Q: You recently won the Heinz Award, given for significant achievements benefiting the environment, which earned you a $100,000 award and afterward, you wrote that you would devote that money to fighting fracking in upstate New York.

Bearing that in mind, can you explain, based your own experiences and personal convictions, as well as the lessons taught in your book, what type of activism is best geared toward defeating fracking?

Put another way, what form of activism gets the movement to ban fracking the best bang for its buck and do you see more nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience in the anti-fracking movement’s future?

A: $100,000 is NOTHING to the big boys in the corporate natural gas world. The only way money will work if it will also embolden others to do big things. The only reason I’m even going public with the fact that I’m investing money in the fight against fracking is to inspire other people to start fighting back.

We’re at the 11th hour now. The moratorium was here before, but now that’s over. Now is the time if you don’t want to be fracked. As a cancer survivor, whatever money I have ends up going into paying medical bills. When you live in an area surrounded by frackers, what point is it to even try to do that if the water, air, community, etc., will be gone and destroyed and the area becomes a toxic wasteland?

So, what better use of money than to defend and protect this place? I couldn’t think of better thing to do, with even more of a public platform, to highlight lunacy of fracking. I want others to feel that they shouldn’t give up before they start the fight. Self-defeatism is what’s beating us — learned helplessness — beats us even more than the formidable power of natural gas industry.

Whatever I can do to get people out of that place — if you want to be the hero, now’s your chance. I hope to use the money to open up space for speech, and not silence.

One suggestion is to put all eggs in one basket, but it is probably better to spread it around. The fight of townships to ban fracking locally — see Dryden case study — is one option. There’s also fight at state level with regards to Cuomo. 

The international human rights movement is also against dependence on fossil fuels. There is also the example of the civil disobedience that was used to stop the tar sands pipeline. There are fights everywhere, which go from the global level all the down to village level.

I am, in short, still in the thinking stage about funding and where it’ll all end up.

December 02 2011

21:34

Smeared But Still Fighting, Cornell's Tony Ingraffea Debunks Gas Industry Myths

Cornell University Professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea made waves in April 2011 when they unveiled what is now known simply as the "Cornell Study."

Published in a peer-reviewed letter in the academic journal Climatic Change Letters, the study revealed that, contrary to the never-ending mythology promulgated by the gas industry, unconventional ("natural") gas, procured via the infamous hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process, likely emits more greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere during its life cycle than does coal. DeSmogBlog documented the in-depth details of the Cornell Study in our report, "Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate."

Since the report was published, the Cornell Study has receieved serioius backlash from the gas industry, in particular from Energy in Depth, the industry's go-to front defensive linebackers on all things fracking related. DeSmogBlog revealed earlier this year that Energy in Depth is an industry front group created by many of the largest oil and gas companies, contrary to its preferred "mom and pop" image. 

Dr. Anthony Ingraffea wrote a must-read piece this week for CBC News, "Does the natural gas industry need a new messenger?

In his article, Dr. Ingraffea discusses and debunks many key gas industry myths, which he explained "always have at least a kernel of truth, but you have to listen to the whole story, carefully, not just the kernel."

"With decades of geopolitical influence and billions of dollars on the table, it is not surprising that the gas industry has perpetuated…myths to keep the public in the dark, regulators at bay, and the wells flowing," Ingraffea writes.

Let's review four of the myths exploded by Dr. Ingraffea:

Myth One: "Fracking is a 60-year-old, safe, well proven technology"

Dr. Ingraffea writes:

Yes, fracking is 60 years old. But using this shorthand obscures the truth that what’s at issue here isn’t really just fracking. It's the entire process of coaxing gas from shale using high-volume, slickwater fracking with long laterals from clustered, multi-well pads.

Myth Two: "Fluid migration from faulty wells is rare"

Ingraffea dismantles this one:

Fluid migration is not rare. For example, industry researchers Watson and Bachu, in a Society of Petroleum Engineers paper in 2009, examined 352,000 Canadian wells and found sustained casing pressure and gas migration…Most recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found benzene, methane and chemicals in water-monitoring wells in Pavilion, Wyoming…

Myth Three: "The use of clustered, multi-well drilling pads reduces surface impacts"

Ingraffea:

Such pad sites are large and growing, up to 10 acres or more. Newer sites, in Canada, are bigger than 50 acres, and each will leave behind clusters of wellheads and holding tanks for decades.

Cluster drilling facilitates and prolongs intense industrialization and leaves a larger, more concentrated, and very long-term footprint, not a smaller and shorter one.

Myth Four: "Natural gas is a 'clean' fossil fuel"

This one would be laughable if so many people did not believe it. As the old adage goes, "A lie can travel halfway 'round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

Ingraffea on this whopper:

NASA climate scientist Drew Shindell’s work, published in the prestigious journal, Science, shows that methane – natural gas – is 105 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a global warming contributor over a 20-year time horizon, and 33 times more powerful over a century.

He proceeds to explain that methane gas is prone to leakage, which is not taken into account when proponents tout gas as a "clean" source of energy:

Leaks happen routinely during regular drilling, fracking and flowback operations, liquid unloading, processing, and along pipelines and at storage facilities.

The rate of leakage is anywhere from 3.6 per cent to 7.9 per cent of the lifetime of production of a shale gas well, which means from three to 200 per cent greater leakage rate than from conventional gas wells.

Exposing Other Mythology, Making a Plea For Truth 

Dr. Ingraffea also discusses other myths the gas industry relies upon on a daily basis, including "jobs created," "gas for energy independence," gas as a "bridge fuel" toward renewable energy, among others. All of these lies and misdirections have been debunked on multiple occasions, by numerous sources.

Concluding where he began his article, Ingraffea makes a plea to his readers: "keep asking questions, dig for the truth, and you’ll get the whole story."

August 24 2011

04:24

Justice Department Launches Investigation Into BP's Oil Gusher Cover Up

The U.S. Department of Justice has launched an official investigation to determine whether or not BP lied to the public and to the government about the amount of oil that was leaking from a broken pipe during last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. The leak was the result of the explosion and subsequent sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, owned by Transocean but operated by BP.

During the initial days of the oil leak, BP was constantly updating their estimates of how much oil was flowing out of the broken pipeline. In spite of their advanced camera, computer, and other data technologies, they were somehow never able to give an accurate, or even close to accurate, account of what was happening beneath the water’s surface. The Justice Department is hoping to find out whether the company was acting dishonestly, or if they actually couldn’t determine the flow rate despite all the data available to them.

From a lengthy Huffington Post report on the investigation:

According to federal officials, BP was solely responsible for producing the very first spill estimate of 1,000 barrels per day, a figure which led to a sense of complacency about the seriousness of the event among some federal and state responders at the outset of the disaster, the presidential commission on the oil spill concluded in January 2011. BP has never publicly acknowledged generating this figure and even the commission’s investigators could not determine the methodology used to produce it.

Documents and interviews also indicate that BP, using reservoir data, computer modeling and imagery of the leaking pipe, may have had the ability to calculate a far more accurate estimate of the well's flow rate early on in the spill than it provided to the government. The company either never fully ran those calculations or their results were not disclosed to federal responders.

Obviously, it would have been in the company’s own best interest to convince the public that the disaster was smaller than it actually was, as the company was facing environmental fines of up to $4,300 per barrel of oil leaked into the Gulf. But it is hard to believe that BP couldn’t get an accurate count of what was coming out of that broken pipe, or even a reasonable rough estimate. After all, the company boasted in 2008 that they had developed technology that was capable of determining the flow rate of oil through a broken pipe – the very situation that was happening in the Gulf. They invented the technology, bragged about it, but when it would have actually been useful to deploy, BP claimed they couldn’t accurately measure the flow rate, and thus the scope of the disaster.

There’s no question that this investigation is a fantastic start. Especially when you consider that our current DOJ has spent more time investigating John Edwards' extramarital affair than they have investigating the Wall Street bankers whose actions helped bring down our economy. On top of that, we have an Attorney General who spent most of his career defending oil companies, pharmaceutical companies, and Wall Street banks – the same suspects we’re supposed to trust him to investigate. So this investigation is certainly a step in the right direction, but it needs to go much, much deeper than BP’s flow number irregularities.

To begin with, the DOJ needs to look into what was happening at the oil company before the Gulf disaster even occurred. Reports show that the company calculated the cost of safety measures for oil rigs versus the cost (value) they put on a worker’s life. Internal documents obtained by The Daily Beast show that BP called this analysis the “Three Little Pigs” scenario. After they realized that it was more cost-effective to pay losses to the families of injured workers, they opted to forgo certain safety measures. This is clearly an area where the Justice Department should focus significant attention.

The Justice Department should also look hard into the aggressive misinformation campaign that BP launched during the oil leak. After the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, BP sent its PR machine into overdrive trying to misdirect the public about what was happening in the Gulf of Mexico.

Leaked BP emails show that the company actively attempted to “buy” scientists near the Gulf Coast, in order to produce favorable reports on the impact the oil would have on the environment. This tactic would have also prevented these scientific experts from later testifying for plaintiff’s attorneys representing oil disaster victims, as their payments from BP would have provided a significant conflict of interest.

BP's campaigns stretched far beyond buying scientists. The oil giant launched an aggressive online ad campaign, spending a staggering $3.7 million in just one month on Google AdWords relating to the oil spill - BP bought relevant search terms such as "oil spill," "leak," and "top kill." Buying these search terms gave BP an online advantage, as it put their sponsored links (most of which are still active today) ahead of relevant news stories and other information relating to the oil disaster in a web search.

After the online ad campaign took off, the company then began their “grassroots” efforts. Two industry-funded organizations went into heavy action: The Gulf of Mexico Foundation and the America’s Wetland Foundation. The Gulf of Mexico Foundation pulled its board of directors from the oil industry, and most members of the board were either actively working for oil companies, or for offshore oil drilling interests. America’s Wetland Foundation was even less discrete than hiring an oil industry board of directors – they took funding directly from the oil industry, including: Shell, Chevron, the American Petroleum Institute, Citgo, Entergy, and Exxon Mobil.

BP also donated $5 million to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in July 2011, 3 months after the oil leak began. After this cash infusion, the Sea Lab released a report claiming that the massive dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico were being caused by the cold water, not the oil and Corexit that BP poured into the waters. Scientists at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration pointed out that dolphins actually swim away to avoid cold water.

Companies across the globe have been fined for misleading the public on a variety of issues. As the above clearly shows, BP actively set out to mislead the public in numerous ways regarding the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. These are active misinformation campaigns that continue to this day. Until the Justice Department looks into all of these matters, it is unlikely that the misinformation from BP is going to stop any time soon.

June 12 2010

00:50

BP’s Crisis Communications Strategy Is Fundamentally Flawed

How a company handles a crisis is the ultimate test of its character.  Does it accept responsibility for mistakes or bad decisions, work to make amends and to improve its practices moving forward?  Or does it resort to what I call Darth Vader PR, launching a public relations offensive to spin the public, seeking to deflect legitimate criticism?

If you fail this crisis communications test, as BP has recently, it usually indicates underlying character problems in your organization.  It demonstrates that you are out of touch with the momentous shift of social norms towards a more sustainable economic and environmental future. 
 
The New York Times reported recently that BP CEO Steven Hayward is in the crosshairs for his repeated gaffes and BP’s alleged cover-ups:

“Instead of reassuring the public, critics say, Mr. Hayward has turned into a day-after-day reminder of BP’s public relations missteps in responding to the crisis…
Mr. Hayward and the company have repeatedly played down the size of the spill, the company’s own role in the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, and the environmental damage that has occurred. At the same time, they have projected a tone of unrelenting optimism despite repeated failures to plug the well.”


There’s a word for that ‘unrelenting optimism’ in the face of total failure to get the job done – incompetence.  BP not only can’t plug the blowout, the company can’t even express genuine concern about the impact of its growing mess.  There’s a word for that too – insincerity.
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As a result, the NY Times notes that “the company and Mr. Hayward face a public relations crisis that will last for many months.”

The reason BP finds itself in a PR ‘crisis’ is clear – the public doesn’t trust BP, and for good reason.  Where is the concern in BP’s response?  Does the company feel any real sense of responsibility behind their polished PR messaging?

People recognize sincerity and competence when they see it.  And it’s never on such full display as in your response to a crisis. Can they trust you? Do they have confidence that you will do the right thing? 

In BP’s case, the answer is clearly No.

BP’s only concerns in the wake of this disaster should be providing for the families of the workers who were killed, plugging the ongoing calamity on the sea floor, and protecting the ecosystems of the Gulf which support the livelihoods of its residents – the humans, birds and marine life that will continue to bear the brunt of the impact of this disaster for years to come. 

Long after BP stops airing ads featuring its CEO Tony Hayward pledging to "do everything we can so this never happens again," the Gulf will bear irreparable scars – perhaps the loss of bluefin tuna from the Gulf forever, and untold damage to other species – because BP let it happen in the first place.

Instead of opening up the flow of information, operating transparently, and communicating honestly about the blowout, BP has turned to Darth Vader PR.  Darth Vader PR begins with an ethical misstep in which important social or environmental problems are redefined as public relations issues to be finessed rather than as legitimate concerns to be addressed. 

BP has exhibited a lot of Darth Vader tactics lately.  BP’s web teams in Houston and London, together with the company's marketing executives, have purchased search terms and phrases on leading search engines like Google and Yahoo in order to drive traffic towards the company’s spin and away from independent analysis elsewhere.  

BP has tried to block information about the oil flow rate, muzzled its employees, harassed photographers and members of the press, and manipulated the flow of information by claiming proprietary rights over footage of the oil gushing into the Gulf.

BP has retained the Brunswick Group, a firm specializing in crisis management, to deal with the accident response.  BP also appointed former Brunswick employee Anne Womack Kolton as its new head of media relations.  Kolton previously served as an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and as spokesperson for the Bush Energy Department, neither of which was known for its transparency or for its concern about the environment.

It is anyone’s guess what Brunswick and Kolton are advising BP to do, but there is reason to believe their crisis response team is more concerned with spin than substantive change within the company’s culture.

What happens at BP is a harbinger of the attitude of the entire industry.  As the top oil and gas producer in the U.S. and the largest deepwater operator in the Gulf of Mexico, BP sets the tone for all its competitors. 

What kind of strange world do Stephen Hayward and BP think we live in when they resort to airing insincere apology ads and telling the public that the Gulf is huge so this ‘spill’ is of “very modest” impact?  Are they really that detached from reality to suggest that this was just a simple engineering accident that will amount to a blip on the radar of maritime history? (By the way, this is not a ‘spill’ by any stretch of the imagination, and the media should stop calling it that.)

Contrast the BP ‘we’re sorry’ ads with the treatment doled out by Stephen Colbert earlier this week, or the impassioned tirades of James Carville as he blasted the lackadaisical response to this monumental disaster. 

As federal investigators probe BP’s actions to determine where the company went wrong, they should remember to ask the question, is this an industry that is capable of doing the right thing?

The disaster in the Gulf is not the result of some long-shot unforeseeable accident.  Blowouts have occurred throughout the industry, and will continue to happen as long as we rely so heavily on oil and other fossil fuels.

The BP disaster – like the Massey Energy coal mine tragedy – is a symptom of our fossil fuel addiction.  It will repeat itself, perhaps not in such grotesque fashion, if we’re lucky, but it will happen again until we address the addiction and cure it by moving to cleaner sources of energy that don’t jeopardize our livelihoods, our food supplies, our summer beach vacations, and our fishing and tourism jobs.

Let the Gulf disaster be the last time a CEO ever tries to downplay an ecological and economic catastrophe as “very modest.”

It’s time to do the right thing – ditch the Darth Vader PR, transition off fossil fuels quickly and work with elected leaders to build a clean energy future so we truly never find ourselves in this predicament ever again.

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