BP Oil Spill Apology
Reason for Apologizing: BP Oil Spill
The BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico killed eleven workers and injured
several others. According to Wikipedia entries, the resulting sea-floor
gusher resulted in 4.9 million barrels of crude oil being dispersed into
the Gulf, around 53,000 barrels each day until the leak was capped on
July 15, 2010.
This particular accident remains the largest and most destructive oil
spill since the infamous Exxon Valdez catastrophe in 1989.
environmental impact of the BP oil spill continues to affect the entire gulf region today.
The spill permanently damaged marine and wildlife habitats across the
Gulf coast region and has devastated the fishing and tourist industries.
About 4,200 miles of the Gulf coast remain off limits to shrimpers who
continue to find tar balls in their nets. About 320 miles of shoreline
across Louisiana remain affected by the BP oil spill and wetlands (marsh grass)
throughout the region continue to die.
Much of the BP oil spill settling
on the seafloor is not degrading and research has confirmed disturbing
statistical spikes in the number of dead dolphins that are washing up on
The mistakes were compounded by BP's terrible approach to critical risk
communication and management. The initial communication strategy passed
on the responsibility to others and appeared to be both callous and
heartless. It is very likely that the many PR mistakes had something to
do with previous decisions by CEO Tony Hayward to slash the company's
public and government relations budget -- the very expertise BP could
have used to manage the current crisis.
Following the BP oil spill
disaster company executives were forced to rely on outside consultants
who didn't know the company, the region or its people.
In this context, it is easy to understand why Hayward's comments during
the crisis -- "There's no one who wants this thing over more than I do.
You know, I'd like my life back" -- just made things that much worse.
Hayward's callous statement was essentially the tipping point in an
environmental and public relations catastrophe that got progressively
worse for the company. As one former senior BP employee commented, "The
only time Tony Hayward opens his mouth was to change feet."
simply did not have a public relations strategy designed for this
particular crisis and was forced to learn an important lesson about
contracting public relations firms. Hayward, most experts concluded, was
the wrong person to apologize, or to lead BP out of this BP oil spill crisis.
The BP Oil Spill Apology
The BP oil spill generated several apologies, among the most prominent
was the one included in the companys apology commercial. The term
commercial is appropriate here -- although CEO Hayward stated that he
was "deeply sorry" for the crisis, the commercial appeared to many
cynics as a blatant effort at self-praise for everything BP has been
doing to take responsibility for the accident and compensate those
The biggest error in the misdirected PR strategy was Haywards
statement, "We will get this done, we will make this right." The
implication of the message was that everything was under control when,
in fact, it was obviously out of control and unmanageable. The
commercial reinforced the impression that BP was more concerned about
damage control than actually stopping millions of barrels of oil from
leaking into the Gulf.
The company was also criticized by industry experts and crisis
communication consultants as a textbook case for how not to manage a
crisis -- initially BP executives tried to pass off the blame to
contractors responsible for designing the blowout safety valve. The
failure on BP's part to take immediate command of (and responsibility
for) the situation lost valuable time, which exacerbated the crisis. The
more difficult the crisis became (by not immediately taking the lead to
bring in as many government and industry experts as possible), the more
damaging the consequences became, and the more challenging it was to
craft the perfect (acceptable) apology.
This was a difficult lesson for
BP executives to learn but it is a lesson that is consistently repeated
in similar crises, for similar reasons.
The online apology was not much better -- "Eleven people died
as a result of the accident and others were injured. We deeply regret
this loss of life and recognize the tremendous loss suffered by the
families, friends and co-workers of those who died. We regret the
damage caused to the environment and livelihoods of those in the
communities affected. We are putting in place measures to help ensure it
does not happen again." Regretting the loss of life or the damage
caused by the mistakes does not constitute an apology -- it does,
however, constitute an effort by BP to avoid the legal implications and
financial costs of accepting full responsibility.
The more lengthy (and carefully crafted) apology for the BP oil spill came in the form of
Hayward's Congressional Testimony, which went into considerable detail
about the specific circumstances, the efforts to address the leak, and
the company's plans to compensate those affected.
"Chairman Stupak, Ranking Member Burgess, members of the
Subcommittee. I am Tony Hayward, Chief Executive of BP plc.
The explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon and the resulting
oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico never should have happened - and I am
deeply sorry that they did. None of us yet knows why it happened. But
whatever the cause, we at BP will do what we can to make certain that an
incident like this does not happen again.
Since April 20, I have spent a great deal of my time in the Gulf Coast
region and in the incident command center in Houston, and let there be
no mistake - I understand how serious this situation is. This is a
tragedy: people lost their lives; others were injured; and the Gulf
Coast environment and communities are suffering. This is unacceptable, I
understand that, and let me be very clear: I fully grasp the terrible
reality of the situation.
When I learned that eleven men had lost their lives in the explosion and
fire on the Deepwater Horizon, I was personally devastated. Three weeks
ago, I attended a memorial service for those men, and it was a
shattering moment. I want to offer my sincere condolences to their
friends and families - I can only imagine their sorrow.
My sadness has only grown as the disaster continues. I want to speak
directly to the people who live and work in the Gulf region: I know that
this incident has profoundly impacted lives and caused turmoil, and I
deeply regret that. Indeed, this is personal for us at BP. Many of our
23,000 U.S. employees live and work in the Gulf Coast region. For
decades, the people of the Gulf Coast states have extended their
hospitality to us and to the companies like Arco and Amoco that are now
part of BP. We have always strived to be a good neighbor. We have worked
to hire employees and contractors, and to buy many of our supplies,
I want to acknowledge the questions that you and the public are rightly
asking. How could this happen? How damaging is the spill to the
environment? Why is it taking so long to stop the flow of oil and gas
into the Gulf?
And questions are being asked about energy policy more broadly: Can we
as a society explore for oil and gas in safer and more reliable ways?
What is the appropriate regulatory framework for the industry?
We don't yet have answers to all these important questions. But I hear
the concerns, fears, frustrations - and anger - being voiced across the
country. I understand it, and I know that these sentiments will continue
until the leak is stopped, and until we prove through our actions that
we will do the right thing. Our actions will mean more than words, and
we know that, in the end, we will be judged by the quality of our
response. Until this happens, no words will be satisfying.
Nonetheless, I am here today because I have a responsibility to the
American people to do my best to explain what BP has done, is doing, and
will do in the future to respond to this terrible incident. And while we
can't undo these tragic events, I give you my word that we will do the
right thing. We will not rest until the well is under control, and we
will meet all our obligations to clean up the spill and address its
environmental and economic impacts.
From the moment I learned of the explosion and fire, I committed the
global resources of BP to the response efforts. To be sure, neither I
nor the company is perfect. But we are unwavering in our commitment to
fulfill all our responsibilities. We are a strong company, and nothing
is being spared. We are going to do everything in our power to address
fully the economic and environmental consequences of this spill and to
ensure that we use the lessons learned from this incident to make energy
exploration and production safer and more reliable for everyone.
....BP is a "responsible party" under the Oil Pollution Act. This means
that federal law requires BP, as one of the working interest owners of
Mississippi Canyon 252, to pay to clean up the spill and to compensate
for the economic and environmental impacts of the spill. Let me be
clear: BP has accepted this responsibility and will fulfill this
obligation. We have spent nearly $1.5 billion so far, and we will not
stop until the job is done.
It is important to understand that this "responsible party" designation
is distinct from an assessment of legal liability for the actions that
led to the spill. Investigations into the causes of the incident are
ongoing, and issues of liability will be sorted out separately when the
facts are clear and all the evidence is available. The focus now is on
ensuring that cleanup, and compensation for those harmed by the spill,
are carried out as quickly as possible.
....The question we all want answered is "What caused this tragic
A full answer to this and other questions must await the outcome of
multiple investigations now underway, including a joint investigation by
the Departments of Homeland Security and Interior (Marine Board) and an
internal investigation by BP itself.
...I understand people want a simple answer about why this happened and
who is to blame. The truth, however, is that this is a complex accident,
caused by an unprecedented combination of failures. A number of
companies are involved, including BP, and it is simply too early to
understand the cause. There is still extensive work to do."
.... Based on what happened on April 20, we now know we need better
safety technology. We in the industry have long relied on the blowout
preventer as the principal piece of safety equipment. Yet, on this
occasion it apparently failed, with disastrous consequences. We must use
this incident as a case study to avoid a similar failure in the future.
Since the April 20 explosion and fire, BP has been carefully evaluating
the subsea blow-out preventers used in all our drilling operations
worldwide, including the testing and maintenance procedures of the
drilling contractors using the devices. We will participate in
industry-wide efforts to improve the safety and reliability of subsea
blowout preventers and deep water drilling practices. And we will work
closely with other interested parties as we do so.
We understand the seriousness of the situation. We know the world is
watching us. No one will forget the 11 men who lost their lives in the
explosion on the Deepwater Horizon. We hear and understand the concerns,
frustrations, and fears that have been and will continue to be voiced. I
understand that only actions and results, and not mere words, ultimately
can give you the confidence you seek. We will be, and deserve to be,
judged by our response.
I give my pledge as leader of BP that we will not rest until we stop
this well, mitigate the environmental impact of the spill and address
economic claims in a responsible manner. No resource available to this
company will be spared. We and the entire industry will learn from this
terrible event and emerge from it stronger, smarter and safer.
BP Oil Spill Evaluation
Unfortunately for Hayward, his testimony came across as cold and stale --
an impression that was reinforced during a barrage of harsh questions coming
from angry committee members who began to push hard for answers Hayward
avoided or could not provide.
This a good example of how a perfect apology is difficult if followed
immediately by dozens of pointed questions posed by politically motivated
Congressmen committed to demonstrating to their constituency how committed
they are to protecting public interests.
Each question (and non-answer) created the strong impression that BP
should be apologizing for more mistakes. When the questions remained
unanswered, because of Hayward's fears of further litigation down that line,
the entire exchange came across as anything but an apology.
In fairness to Hayward, this was a very tough crowd. Clearly, Congressional
testimony is probably the worst possible place to convey a sincere apology,
because it is impossible in such a politically divisive forum (where both
parties are competing for public approval) for an apology to be accepted.
As BP's primary spokesperson, Hayward came across as stiff and
excessively concerned about the legal implications of acknowledging blame,
at least (as he explained) before all the evidence was in.
His main objective was pretty evident: protect BP against subsequent
legal suits. As expected, BP is proceeding with its suit against the company
responsible for designing the valve that failed. In sum, despite Hayward's
initial apology, the actual exchanges with committee members created the
strong impression that BP was not prepared to accept responsibility.
The other problem with the BP oil spill apology is the sheer enormity of the
crisis and consequences to so many lives, businesses and, of course, the
environment. It is very difficult to issue an acceptable apology when the
consequences of the mistake continue to proliferate over months and years,
creating new demands for compensation and more apologies. This was not
unlike an uncontrollable virus multiplying to the point where apologies, if
continuously issued, lose any credibility or meaning.
With respect to compensation, most people accepted the final amount as
As part of the restitution package for the BP oil spill, BP executives agreed on June 16
(2010) to a $20 billion fund to compensate victims and industries harmed by
The fund administrator hired by the White House to distribute
compensation for the BP oil spill, Kenneth Feinberg, continues to be criticised for the slow pace
of distributing the funds and the added requirement that those accepting
quicker, but lower paying compensation packages, are required to waive their
right to any future legal actions against BP.
BP Oil Spill Apology Rating
For a slow start to accepting full responsibility, poor crisis management
strategies, excessive concerns about litigation associated with admitting
fuller responsibility (in hopes of maintaining a stronger position when
suing the blowout valve developer), BP loses marks. However, the company
does gain a few marks for compensation, but then loses a few for the pace of
Learn what questions we all need to ask before issuing a public
Return from The BP Oil Spill Apology to... Apology Research.
Or go to The Perfect Apology Homepage