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April 04 2012

13:39

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.

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July 12 2011

23:02

BP Urges Government To Halt Gulf Oil Disaster Relief Payments For Future Losses

Oil giant BP is urging the federal government to stop making payments to Gulf Coast residents affected by last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil geyser. BP claims that the improving economic conditions among areas hit the hardest by the oil provide enough evidence to show that they no longer need to be compensated for future losses from the environmental disaster.

To date, roughly $4.5 billion worth of claims have been paid out of the $20 billion fund established by the government and funded by BP to pay victims of the oil catastrophe. Claims continue to be filed with the government seeking compensation for their losses.

BP is not attempting to halt payments to current claimants with recognizable losses – only those who are claiming that their future income will be impacted. The company released a letter to the government and to the press claiming the following:

BP remains committed to paying all legitimate claims under OPA. Based on the current state of the Gulf economy, however, a reevaluation of the future factor is required. Multiple lines of evidence demonstrate that, to the extent that portions of the Gulf economy were impacted by the spill, recovery had occurred by the end of 2010, and that positive economic performance continues into 2011, with 2011 economic metrics exceeding pre-spill performance. That the Gulf economy is strong, and that there is no basis to assume that claimants, with very limited exceptions, will incur a future loss related to the oil spill, is evidenced by the following facts, among others:

During the first quarter of 2011, hotels in coastal areas of the Gulf states performed well above first quarter (pre-spill) 2010 levels.

Tourist businesses in the Gulf region reported strong, and in some cases, record, springs, Memorial Day weekends, and Fourth of July holidays.

According to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, tourist dollars spent in the city in 2010 were at a record high and exceeded 2009 by more than $1.1 billion dollars.

To determine if BP’s claims of economic recovery are true, all you have to do is look to the past. The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred more than 20 years ago, yet oil still coats areas of Alaska today. And the difference between the two oil leaks is that with Exxon, we knew exactly how much oil was spilled into Prince William Sound. In that case, it was roughly 11 million gallons of oil.

However, there is no precise measurement of how much oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico, but the best estimates say that it was as much as 184 million gallons of oil. It is highly unlikely that all of this oil disappeared or washed up on beaches. When this oil eventually turns up, claims will continue to be filed by those affected.

But it isn’t just the economy that BP is saying has recovered; they also make the claim that the fishing industry is back to pre-spill health:

All federal fishing grounds are open.

Upon the reopening of fishing grounds in the summer and fall of 2010, landings of shrimp and menhaden were very strong.

Landings of shrimp and menhaden have remained strong in 2011

As a Gulf Coast resident, I've seen modest crowds return to the beaches, and witnessed local businesses enjoying more tourist traffic over the last few weekends. It is summer beach season, after all, but those claims by BP are accurate, for the time being.  This does not mean that residents and local businesses are completely out of the woods.  Many will no doubt continue to incur future losses as a result of the BP offshore oil disaster.

But more importantly, for BP to claim that the seafood industry has not only rebounded, but that the seafood is safe to consume, is disengenous. Even more troublesome is the fact that this claim has been echoed by the federal government as well.

Reports show that commercial fishing and the recreational fishing industry are still suffering in the wake of the oil gusher. Additionally, studies on the safety of Gulf seafood have been dangerously inadequate. Most of the federal studies conducted have only tested for remnants of burnt oil and have not monitored other chemicals found in oil that pose a threat to human health. This is why, just a few days ago, universities across the South were given millions of dollars in federal grants to study the long term effects of the oil spill on marine life and on the safety of the seafood.

Until the long term studies are concluded, it is impossible for anyone to make a finite claim that seafood from the Gulf is safe.  Given the well-documented trail of misinformation and confusion created by both BP and the government in the wake of the Gulf oil disaster, there is no reason to believe they're telling the honest truth now.  We must let science settle the safety of Gulf seafood, and only time will reveal the lasting impacts from this horrible oil disaster on Gulf residents and our economies. 

To suggest that everything is completely back to normal is a dangerous and unfounded position. BP can - and certainly will - say what it wants to limit its financial obligations to clean up this disaster and make residents whole again.  But the federal government - especially under the leadership of President Obama, who campaigned on the importance of relying on science instead of rhetoric - has no right to follow BP's lead in confusing the public.

June 20 2011

16:35

Documentaries Delve Into the Sushi Economy

Two filmmakers set out separately to explore the rise in sushi's international popularity, then found themselves focusing on the environmental implications of overfishing.

March 03 2011

20:03

Costco Pulls Threatened Fish from Stores

The retailer says it will not sell Atlantic cod, Atlantic halibut, Chilean sea bass, grouper, monkfish, redfish, swordfish, bluefin tuna or other at-risk species until a sustainable source can be identified.

March 01 2011

13:03

August 05 2010

17:12

Do Dispersants Pose a Risk in Seafood?

The Food and Drug Administration offers some assurances that dispersants do not accumulate in seafood to a degree that would cause concern.

July 02 2010

14:10

On Our Radar: Deep-Sea Mining

The Chinese government announces plans for deep-sea mining; it will seek copper, nickel and cobalt 5,000 feet down in international water
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