Clarity Blog

Clarity Blog

BP and PR

As PR pros, of course we’ve been thinking a lot about the demise of the Deepwater Horizon and the ensuing performances by BP, the administration and everyone else who’s trying to make a point out of the mess.

We like the fact that BP is letting us watch the crude gush out 24/7 (today we’re watching the Remotely Operated Vehicle) and we think its dedicated website is an example of state-of-the-art transparency, but we certainly don’t think much of a CEO who says he wants to “get his life back” after an environmental disaster of this magnitude.  His subsequent apology, like all apologies following gaffes of this magnitude, was inadequate.

We think the president should have visited the Gulf Coast over the Memorial Day weekend, so he could have spent a lot of time talking to people who are trying to stop the gush, and the people whose livelihoods are threatened by it.

And, of course, we’re appalled that knee-jerk environmentalist nay-saying is holding up needed efforts to protect the environment, like Gov. Bobby Jindall’s proposal to build off-shore berms.  Cynics among us might even think for a moment that they’re trying to make the disaster get worse so they can use it to leverage future regulatory campaigns.  But of course, that’s just from the cynics among us …

What we find most interesting is the media’s failure to put the disaster – bad as it is – in perspective.  Our friends at Briscoe Ivester & Bazel recently did just that:

The blowout at Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico has now surpassed, in volume of oil spilled into the marine environment, the grounding and rupturing 21 years ago of the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound, Alaska. So reported the Wall Street Journal and other news services May 28. The nation’s press has run to its morgues to exhume accounts of the Valdez grounding and spill. Forgotten, though, is a much larger spill … Mexico’s Ixtoc I. Ixtoc I was, like Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig moored in the Gulf of Mexico, in that case about 600 miles south of the Texas coastline. It exploded June 3, 1979 for reasons similar to the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Ixtoc spilled 10 to 30 thousand barrels of oil a day into the Gulf until relief wells permitted the capping of the broken well almost 10 months later. More than five million barrels of oil spewed from the Ixtoc’s broken wellhead into the Gulf during those months. That amount was 20 times the oil spilled in the Valdez incident.

We hope Deepwater Horizon is capped long before it reaches anything even close to the magnitude of the Ixtoc I spill.  That said, when was the last time you read something about the lasting environmental impacts of Ixtoc I?  Have you ever read anything on the subject?  Well, we have. Here’s the final report prepared by the Feds after thoroughly studying the impact of the 11,000 metric tons of Ixtoc I (and Burmah Agate, another spill) oil that hit the Texas coast. The conclusion:

Petroleum residues attributable to the IXTOC and BURMAH AGATE spills were not identified in the surficial sediments of the study area. Analyses of several water column samples did indicate the presence of IXTOC oil in suspended sedimentary material. Shrimp tissue analysis results identified the presence of petroleum in chronic low levels, but only one sample was linked to IXTOC residues.

No direct links, based on fluctuations in benthic community parameters (abundance and diversity) identified in a comparison of 1976-1977 data with 1980 (post-spill) data, could be made with the IXTOC and/or BURMAH AGATE, spills.

In other words, despite all the hue and cry, all the hand-wringing, and all the condemnation of fossil fuel dependency, the long-term effects of a spill 20 times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill led to nothing more than life as usual with marine creatures and those of us who like to eat them from time to time.  (It took us about 23 seconds to find the federal study, by the way.)

Facts do have a funny way of overpowering perceptions, don’t they?  Unfortunately, facts can get as lost as a clump of crude in a sea of emotions.

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