Naturally, whenever these cataclysmic events occur, the first instinct of a company is damage limitation, but in what order of priority? This is the question many residents along the Gulf coast will be asking, as oil seeps twelve miles into wetland areas. Government agencies - from local government all the way to the White House - are starting to question whether BP is doing enough and is what it is doing effective?
For BP, damage limitation extends beyond saving the environment to brand, legal and financial. And the messages the company sends out on its efforts to stem the flow of oil shapes world perceptions about which area of damage it is most concerned about. This is regardless of what its true priorities might be.
There is no doubt that this is an enormously challenging technical problem, which extends into explaining the issues to stakeholders, from local fishermen to the US Government. In the past few days, there have been reports that BP was forewarned about problems associated with this rig. No doubt, when the litigation inevitably starts, the veracity of these claims will be appropriately tested.
Nonetheless, rig integrity or otherwise, the fundamental question is what risk assessment took place before exploration and drilling began and either:
- Why did it not identify the potential for this problem; or
- If it did, why did BP not have an adequate disaster management plan and facilities in place?
However, I would argue that the measure of damage to BP's brand and reputation ultimately lies in the answer to the questions I posed, because reputation is built on conducting business with integrity at every level and stage of operation.