Crisis Management

Aug 9, 2006 6:47pm

In the early days of the space program, a clever public affairs chief at NASA gave his staff new marching orders on how to deal with reporters: When things are going well, tell them everything.  When things are going badly, tell them more. That was a very early version of what’s become the near-science of crisis management.  BP may have been surprised by its crumbling pipelines on the North Slope of Alaska, but nobody should have been surprised by BP’s response. It was probably all sitting on a shelf, waiting to be used.  “We sincerely apologize for [insert description of accident]….” Read what Bob Malone, the President of BP America, said today in an interview with ABC News.  "I’ve apologized publicly. …" Malone said. "We’re the operator of the Prudhoe Bay oil field, and we are responsible for its safe operation."  BP has put up a website to "provide information about BP’s corrosion response activities;" its web address is instructive: Rule Number One is to be contrite.  Rule Number Two is not to give an inch. No matter how sincere, how caring, how concerned the company sounds, there will be lawsuits, investigations, and sharp words from political opponents.  Oil companies have been trying for decades to expand their drilling into other areas of northern Alaska.  So far they’ve been unsuccessful — and they’ve just handed environmental groups a lot of ammunition. Here’s a quote from the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, a small group in Fairbanks: “BP’s latest pipeline leaks and corrosion are a preview of just how "gentle" oil drilling operations would be if allowed in Teshekpuk Lake area or the fragile coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Messy problems like pipeline leaks, the largest crude oil spill in Prudhoe Bay oil fields, and 57 leaking wells are not isolated incidents but the latest in decades history of poor environmental practices.” Another environmental group said to me they actually have a fairly cordial relationship with BP, since they take it seriously when it talks about going “Beyond Petroleum.”  Still, an oil company can’t afford to prove its opponents right. (Picture of feeder pipes from BP’s web site.)

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