"It is impossible to say and we will mount, as part of the aftermath, a very detailed environmental assessment. But everything we can see at the moment suggests that the overall environmental impact will be very, very modest."
(BP CEO Tony Hayward, May 18, 2010)
I was planning to write the obligatory "what the oil spill means for social media" blog post but that's really just ridiculous. To be honest this is as close to a 20th-century media crisis scenario as we've seen in some time. The public is heavily reliant on professional journalists to get the story, a very large company is doing its best to control the flow of information (and compounding the damage to its own reputation in the process), the federal government is flailing about, and Members of Congress are threatening to write very sternly-worded letters if things don't improve eventually. Oh, and there's a CEO out there saying some profoundly stupid things. Sure there are some nice tech tools in play here - obviously - but this is a straight-up, mainstream media-driven story.
But as always the real story is the actual debacle, not the PR debacle. And we're learning the scope of this EPIC FAIL one merciless drip at a time.
- Eleven people are missing and presumed dead.
- Estimates of the flow of oil were wildly understated at the outset, and the current "official" estimate prompts scientists to laugh in disbelief. Now when asked the company and the government simply evade the question.
- The company has to dig a "relief" well to stop this flow, and that won't be ready until late summer.
- The "best minds in the world" haven't been able to staunch the flow in over a month.
- The first hugely technical and scientific idea to fix this was a big metal box. It didn't work. (but remember - this idea didn't "fail," it just didn't succeed yet. Or something.)
- The second big idea was a smaller box. It failed before it started.
- The third big idea was a tube. It really didn't work either.
- The fourth big idea is to dump mud and stuff in the hole. Like a cork. Even if it "works" I think won't completely stop the flow of oil.
- Because remember, none of this stuff has ever been tried a mile below the ocean surface.
- And we're dumping "dispersants" (i.e., moderately toxic chemicals) into the oil flow to diffuse it.
- Even though there are more effective and less toxic chemicals available. No there aren't. Yes there are. So stop. No. OK, slow it down. No. Seriously, slow it down or I'll think about saying stop again.
- But hey, it's not like this is a big deal or anything. In fact, it's tiny.
- And BP will reimburse people whose claims BP considers "legitimate."
- And at least we know exactly who is at fault here - someone else. BP says it's Halliburton and Transocean's fault. Halliburton says it's Transocean and BP's fault. Transocean says it's BP and Halliburton's fault.
Meanwhile, in the government...
- The White House issues a moratorium on new outer continental shelf drilling permits. But I don't think "moratorium" means what they think it means.
- Then we learn the government agency that regulates this industry is the one with the Bush-era folks who were having sex with the lobbyists, snorting crystal meth on toasters, getting plastered at lobbyist-sponsored parties and sleeping it off in lobbyist-paid hotel rooms because they were too drunk to drive.
- Oh, and they were letting the companies fill in their own inspection reports in pencil which they would later trace over in pen.
- But not to worry, because the White House has assembled a(nother) blue ribbon panel of outside-the-box scientific thinkers. Like the climate change denier / "proud homophobe" guy. Oh, wait.
- And the guy who assembled the panel of experts - the Secretary of Energy - is apparently learning the details by reading about them in the papers.
- But it's BP's responsibility.
- But we're putting boots on throats and will push people out.
- But we don't know what we would do differently if we were in charge, so we're not in charge.
- But we're in charge.
- And we think BP should pay for everything.
- Except we don't.
Meanwhile, the politicians and beltway clowns jockey for soundbites and political advantage. The Republican governor of Louisiana who likes the idea of small government and refused that stimulus package money is now demanding more money from the feds and wants the Army Corps of Engineers all over the place STAT. The Senate Assistant Majority Leader is trying to come up with two-word catch-phrases that begin with the letters B and P. And the Chatty Kathy's of the very serious Washington punditry club were first falling over themselves to call this "Obama's Katrina," then when that didn't stick they were wondering aloud "where is the oil?" and now that the oil is all over marshlands and pelicans and stuff it's the liberals who are all pissed.
And Gulf Coast fishermen are wondering if they'll ever work again.