The deep dark shades of BP’s Gulf oil spill

[Updates from Sat, Sun, Mon (2x) are below.]

The oil-drenched marine life preparing to testify on Barry Blitt’s June 7 New Yorker cover did not make me smile in the slightest. (I doubt humor, even the dark kind, was Blitt’s core intent.) It’s an effectively painful riff on the slow-motion horror story continuing to seep from the Gulf region. Like so many others over the last few weeks, I’ve been unable to look away from the gush of media coverage on BP’s oil spill calamity; what follows below is a roundup of things I’ve found to be the most illuminating or compelling along the way. As I suggested a week ago, I think this disaster — which will go from terrible to far worse before it’s over — will likely be a paradigm-changing event, one that will force a fundamental shift in U.S. energy policy. That is if, god willing, U.S. leaders and a great many of the people who elect them realize that such a shift must be the necessary outcome of this god-awful historic event.


Blitt’s characters say it one way; these terribly vivid, awfully real pictures of moribund wildlife, from the AP’s Charlie Riedel, say it all.

ABC reported yesterday that, not long after the disaster began, BP and the Feds conspired to withhold footage indicating a much more massive oil spill than initially conveyed to the public.

There have been multiple reports this week that BP has tried to prevent the media from documenting animal deaths in the Gulf region.

The NOAA has been tracking the scope and movement of the devastation, including views of the spill from space. It’s huge.

The astonishingly tone-deaf CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, used Facebook to issue an apology, as if BP’s tapping into social media gives it or its inept leader any prayer of scrubbing clean their blackened names.

A guy who does damage control for Blackwater (since whitewashed as “Xe Services”) offered some “advice” to BP about dealing with a public relations disaster: “There are times when you have to man up and take your lumps, and this seems to be one of those times.”

Susan D. Shaw, a marine toxicologist, suited up in some protective gear and swam directly into the spill. “What I witnessed,” she later wrote, “was a surreal, sickening scene beyond anything I could have imagined.”

MoJo’s industrious Mac McClelland has been reporting from the front lines and continues tweeting about it here.

Some imaginative work by “DIY mappers” has helped document the spreading fallout and build an independent data set of oil spill imagery.

And if the reality of this nightmare hasn’t yet sunk in…’s “The Big Picture” has plenty of additional heartbreaking images.

UPDATE 6/5/10: Although for obvious reasons they’re unhappy about it, members of Wyoming’s Casper Petroleum Club recognize that the energy paradigm shift is coming.

The fallout has reached Florida, darkening the mood in the Tampa Tribune: “Forget ‘drill baby drill’ and realize it’s time we start shifting our fuel needs to safer alternatives. … This sickening slick will do more damage than we can imagine. It’ll affect us in ways we can’t consider. But the images now are burning deep in people’s minds. It’s going to be a long summer.”

UPDATE 6/6/10: Ian Urbina pulls together documentation and testimonials in the Sunday Times showing that nobody in the private sector was effectively in charge of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig, either before the disaster or in its aftermath. The federal government also failed: “a hodgepodge of oversight agencies granted exceptions to rules, allowed risks to accumulate and made a disaster more likely on the rig, particularly with a mix of different companies operating on the Deepwater whose interests were not always in sync.” It appears nobody took the prospect of a blowout seriously: “The rig’s ‘spill response plan,’ provided to The Times, includes a Web link for a contractor that goes to an Asian shopping Web site and also mentions the importance of protecting walruses, seals and sea lions, none of which inhabit the area of drilling. The agency approved the plan.”

UPDATE 6/7/10: The New Yorker’s June 7 cover notwithstanding, even the blackest crisis needs its dark satirists; the most compelling stuff has been flowing from @BPGlobalPR since mid May. Here’s a semi-toxic sampling:

Try our cap operation at home! Hold a funnel over a firehose, sell what you catch and proclaim victory! #bpwins about 13 hours ago via TweetDeck

Words can not express how sorry we are. So we are going to stop apologizing and just give our investors 10 billion dollars. 7:48 AM Jun 5th via TweetDeck

Found driftwood that looks like Jesus crying oil. Not sure what it means but we’re charging 20 bucks to see it. #bpcares 9:27 AM Jun 4th via web

ANNOUNCEMENT: No one is allowed to look at our oil. All Gulf residents are required to close their eyes until this is over. 7:16 PM Jun 3rd via web

We’ve hired Dick Cheney’s former publicist to head up our PR dept. Hopefully she can make us as lovable as Dick Cheney. 12:18 PM Jun 1st via Twitterrific

OMG This isss ridciulsus. playing a drinking gamee where we drink a shot everytme we seeee an oily birdddd!!! LOL! so wasted!!11 #pbcares 5:03 PM May 31st via web

Flying Rand Paul in to consult. Evidently he’s an expert at keeping black out of places. #bpcares 8:06 PM May 27th via web

Of course, bp cares about the fishing industry as well. Now, all tuna from the gulf coast comes pre-packaged in oil. #you’rewelcome #yum 1:58 PM May 27th via web

UPDATE II – 6/7/10: Oh yeah, in case you’re wondering: A few days back the guy behind @BPGlobalPR, Leroy Stick, explained his schtick:

I started @BPGlobalPR, because the oil spill had been going on for almost a month and all BP had to offer were bullshit PR statements. No solutions, no urgency, no sincerity, no nothing. That’s why I decided to relate to the public for them. I started off just making jokes at their expense with a few friends, but now it has turned into something of a movement. As I write this, we have 100,000 followers and counting. People are sharing billboards, music, graphic art, videos and most importantly information.

Why has this caught on? I think it’s because people can smell the bullshit and sometimes laughing at it feels better than getting angry or depressed over it. At the very least, it’s a welcome break from that routine. The reason @BPGlobalPR continues to grow is because BP continues to spew their bullshit.

I’ve read a bunch of articles and blogs about this whole situation by publicists and marketing folk wondering what BP should do to save their brand from @BPGlobalPR. First of all, who cares? Second of all, what kind of business are you in? I’m trashing a company that is literally trashing the ocean, and these idiots are trying to figure out how to protect that company? One pickledick actually suggested that BP approach me and try to incorporate me into their actual PR outreach. That has got to be the dumbest, most head-up-the-ass solution anyone could possibly offer.

Do you want to know what BP should do about me? Do you want to know what their PR strategy should be? They should fire everyone in their joke of a PR department, starting with all-star Anne Womack-Kolto and focus on actually fixing the problems at hand. Honestly, Cheney’s publicist? That’s too easy.

Also dig Mr. Stick’s closing call to arms: “In the meantime, if you are angry, speak up. Don’t let people forget what has happened here. Don’t let the prolonged nature of this tragedy numb you to its severity. Re-branding doesn’t work if we don’t let it, so let’s hold BP’s feet to the fire. Let’s make them own up to and fix their mistakes NOW and most importantly, let’s make sure we don’t let them do this again.”


5 comments so far

  1. Carter on

    Thanks for this roundup, Mark. Your annotated filtration of the media explosion is a welcome and helpful resource.

    I arrived at Pensacola Beach, FL maybe 48 hours ago on Thursday evening for a family vacation with my aunt and uncle who live here (and who you’ve met, here). We all played in the surf with the kids Friday. The first quarter-sized oil clumps washed ashore Friday, the same day I helped my uncle, an attorney, type up a lease agreement regarding the rental of some oil skimmer equipment.

    I can’t say any of this kept me out of the water yesterday or even today. Regular storms are producing an ample swell for board and kayak surfing. But I can’t dare (or bear) to guess at what all’s in the water right now.

    An afternoon thunderstorm dropped lightning blasts close enough to this house that the TV is cooked (primary media device in the household). Somehow this computer was spared. With hurricane season coming on fast, I guess this is just how it goes in this climate.

    Anyone living on a barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico bears the risks of hurricane swells and periodic rebuilding. The oil washing up is another beast altogether. It’s a tragedy, as you’ve well noted, that is touching us all and perhaps more than we now know.

    What kind of a “shift” would you like to see? As a concerned citizen, I understand that some places require drilling of relief wells in advance, as a prerequisite to commercial oil extraction. This seems like the kind of environmental bottom line absent in current policy. I suspect that the kind of “shift” you’re referring to has more to do with alternative energy sources, but I’d be glad to see our consumption of fossil fuels yield less destruction in the meantime.

    Watched some passing porpoises a few hours ago…

  2. Mark on

    Carter, thanks for your thoughts — it’s great (and not great) to hear your perspective direct from the Florida panhandle, a place whose pristine sands I remember well… the kind of shift I have in mind requires, I think, no less than us all reconsidering how much we consume in the way of oil-based resources, including gasoline for our cars and trucks. Yes, I think we must contend with a fundamental shift toward alternative energy sources. That takes time, of course. But until now, there hasn’t been the social/political will in this country even to really get seriously started. Maybe this Gulf catastrophe will start to change that, once enough people realize how extensive and how horrible the damage really will be by the time it’s over. And it won’t be over for a long time…

  3. libby atkins on

    Thanks Mark for the information – not that we haven’t been watching in horror from the beginning. Just watched the video “HOME” for a little relief and a reaffirmation of the changes that can be made now! There must be huge and courageous change from all of us here on the “bottom” before the top is going to move out of the paradigm we are in. Keep waiting for Obama to step up to the plate – so far a huge disappointment. 15-20% of the arctic warming is caused by airlines – interesting little statistic I read the other day. If you haven’t seen HOME, do give a look and best wishes to your mom and dad from me and from Martha

  4. Ilene on

    Though one would think that a paradigm shift would be on the horizon–and on the front burner for policy makers–I believe, sadly, that history would indicate this to be wishful thinking. Our country has been dealing with various kinds of oil crises for well over 30 years. Our daily lives and activities are infused with petro-dependent products and modes of transportation. It is my opinion that the only way to force a shift is to assign a stiff tax to the purchase price of petroleum-based products, from jet and automobile fuel to all of the disposable plastics that are ubiquitous in medical care institutions, the fast food industry, unnecessary packaging of everyday products, etc. etc.

    Let’s hope for a much cleaner, better future for all living things–plants, animals and people. Surely we can do far, far better!!

  5. […] lieu of posting here since an early June dive into the Gulf calamity, I offer a third experimental installment of self-aggregated micro-blogging, which has proven a […]

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