Thursday, May 27, 2010


Well, we've finally made it into the history books. Just before Memorial Day weekend, when Americans near and far hit the road in pursuit of summer distractions, it was announced that – yes – BP’s offshore oil extravaganza has likely surpassed Exxon Valdez levels.

No surprise, really. Since the rupture first opened, I suspect that neither the Administration nor BP had any doubt that things would get this bad. I mean, we’re not talking about a limited supply of oil sitting in storage tanks aboard an ocean transport; we’re talking about a hole in the earth, 5,000 feet below the Gulf of Mexico. It’s not like fixing the bathroom sink. As Keith always says, you’d think someone would have said, “hey, what do we do if this valve breaks?”

Unfortunately, no one did. We have oil spill containment strategies but nothing to assist with closing off a well nearly a mile underwater. BP and the government knew it from day one. So how has each party handled it so far?

The Administration, eager to PR the event to death, told media outlets that BP was responsible for the spill and would have to cover all costs associated with the cleanup. For its part, BP will continue to insist that indeed they are responsible, for they know better than anyone what will happen if they try to push this on regulators. No new drilling.

But from a PR standpoint, this puts BP in the driver’s seat. Sure, they will pay billions, but they are trying. How does this leave the Administration? Always one-step behind, having to recalculate and recalibrate every time one of BP’s containment strategies fails. The Administration becomes a passive party to the whole charade. Sure, BP receives slightly more of the public’s blame, but the Administration loses an opportunity to inspire confidence in the federal government at a time when there is none.

And so we enter the summer with the Administration playing catch up, providing cover to BP's seemingly infinite capacity to obfuscate and act surprised. Top kill has failed and so we all await the outcome of a new containment dome. If it doesn’t work?

Oil will spill until relief wells can be drilled – August at the earliest. Murmurs of “Obama’s Katrina” will grow louder. The Weather Channel, eager to fan the flames of any disaster, will buy up all the rooms in one of the new Flotels alongside the spill and hire Campbell Brown to anchor its hurricane coverage in 2010. Odd sewage/gas/rotting/mold smells in New Orleans will grow worse and residents will be urged to stay indoors.

And we’ll see how the Administration's PR strategy fares this November.


  1. I agree that the administration needs to step up PR work, either own and direct the whole story or publicly chastise BP. But this muddling and standing by, only giving press conferences is making them look like johnnie-come-latelys. As a side note, the dumbest new phrase to come out of this is not “top kill” or the appropriation of “junk shot.” It is now “flotels” and Campbell Brown would be perfect. Good call Patrick.

    For a definitions of jonnie-come-lately I refer you to this:

  2. We should actually do a whole post about the oil lexicon we've been exposed to.

  3. two things i love: a Rachel Maddow slam and a graph. Reiche talks about federalizing BP temporarily ; I'm pretty hesitant but the more I read about stuff like this from BP the more I get convinced.