But could BP have done things a little differently to avoid what now looks like a gathering storm? I don’t mean how the company could have ensured that the Deepwater Horizon oil rig – and deep-water drilling more generally – was operated in a safer manner. Whatever US legislation demands, BP should clearly have undertaken a better analysis of the risks involved in the drilling and established a minimum set of requirements to be applied even in lax regulatory jurisdictions such as the US.
I am more talking about BP’s PR mistakes. It is easy to say now, of course, but there are a few things the company should have done differently.
For starters, BP should never have allowed a non-American to be its public face. It probably should never have allowed its CEO, Tony "What the hell did we do to deserve this?” Hayward, near a microphone. But this goes beyond the gaffe-prone CEO. The US is an intensely patriotic country and faced with one of the largest disasters in its history, public attention was always going to turn to Hayward’s nationality – in an unfortunate way for a company with some many US employees and shareholders.
BP is no longer called “British Petroleum”. British Petroleum merged with Amoco (which used to be Standard Oil of Indiana) in 1998. In 2001 they bought Arco and Burmah Castrol, becoming BP plc. The company is not British, it’s a multinational corporation. Calling BP “British Petroleum”, however, shifts the blame in a useful way. And the English-accented Hayward has made the shift so much easier.
Getting out of the environmental and PR mess will be difficult for BP; so difficult in fact that I cannot see the company in the long-term continuing to trade under its current name. So whatever happens, it is the end of BP.