Corporate Message, Corporate Reality

Working closely with the non-profit sector, especially non-profits that deal with energy and transportation policy, I always find it a bit odd that, while oil companies like Exxon/Mobil are castigated for their lack of concern for the environment, BP is almost uniformly praised, even among those who are supposed to be in the know. The reason, of course, is that BP has a marketing department more adept at green messaging. Hopefully, a story in this morning's New York Times will help shatter that conventional wisdom.

Earlier this month, a massive oil spill pumped anywhere from a few thousand to nearly a million gallons of crude oil onto the tundra at Alaska's Prudhoe Bay. It is the largest oil spill on Alaska's North Slope to date. Previously in February of 2001, two other oil spills dumped almost ten thousand gallons into the same region. As recently as last spring, there were three more spills in the area. These disasters have one thing in common -- BP was responsible for all of them. Here's some more information from the latest Times piece.

... one of the company's longtime employees, a mechanic and local union official who has participated in the spill cleanup, said in a telephone interview that he and his colleagues had repeatedly warned their superiors that cutbacks in routine maintenance and inspection had increased the chances of accidents or spills.

In the interview, Marc Kovac, who is an official of the United Steelworkers union, which represents workers at the BP facility, said he had seen little change in BP's approach despite the warnings.

"For years we've been warning the company about cutting back on maintenance," Mr. Kovac said, adding that he was speaking for himself, not the union. "We know that this could have been prevented."

Maintenance at BP's Prudhoe Bay facility has been a problem for some time now. In 2001, The Wall Street Journal reported that the valves designed to protect against pipeline leaks and ruptures were not working properly and "can't be relied upon to shut in an emergency, creating the potential for a natural catastrophe." And here's where the story gets even worse. When Republicans talk about opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge up to drilling, they point to nearby Prudhoe Bay as a guide on environmental impact. For example, look at the 2005 Heritage Foundation report titled "Opening ANWR: Long Overdue."

Good Energy Policy
The Prudhoe Bay experience also presents strong evidence that drilling can be done with only a modest impact on the environment. Decades of drilling on a scale much larger than that envisioned in ANWR have not harmed the porcupine caribou herds near Prudhoe Bay or caused any of the other environmental problems that were predicted. Thirty years makes a difference, too. Drilling in ANWR would be done with much better environmental safeguards than were available in the 1970s. And today's technology is far more environmentally friendly than that available 30 years ago.

In case you happen to be curious, BP has indeed been a major financial backer of the Heritage Foundation over the years. But of course, their support for Heritage pales in comparison to their support of K Street. The company has spent nearly three million dollars on lobbying in 2005 alone. It goes without saying that pro-corporate think tanks like Heritage are, by definition, easier to buy off than Congress.

When will corporations wake up to the fact that there is long-term value in real environmental responsibility? People obviously want to buy what their advertising is purporting to sell, but the reality just isn't there. It's one thing for a company like BP to run an ad campaign that promotes the idea that the company is committed to sustainability and renewables, but it's ultimately pointless if it's just to divert attention away from BP's horrible record of managerial irresponsibility in places like Prudhoe Bay.

Tags: Energy, Environment, Media, Message, Money, Oil (all tags)

Comments

7 Comments

Re: Corporate Message, Corporate Reality

The big oil companies no longer know what to do with their profits. So they have started to dismantle the companies. For example, Exxon plans to buy back $20 billion this year. BP has similar plans. This is combined with their regular dividend payouts.

A recent NY Times column stated that it looked like they were starting to "wind down" the company. The managements of these companies know that we have reached world-wide peak oil and that there is no point in doing extensive exploration. There is little new oil to be found, and what there is will be more expensive to obtain. So they might as well pass the assets back to the stock market.

If the prospects for the oil industry are towards a long decline then, maintenance, and similar issues, will also get neglected. The question is, who is going to take the lead in planning for a post-oil world? So far, it hasn't been politicians of either party. They just promising more drilling. This is just pandering.
 

by rdf 2006-03-20 06:01AM | 0 recs
The research budgets are much lower

They claim the research budget is high, in fact, its actually gone down.

by turnerbroadcasting 2006-03-20 07:02AM | 0 recs
So where should I buy my gas?

I want to buy the most environmentally healthy gas. Where will I find it? (My car takes regular unleaded)

by msnook 2006-03-20 07:58AM | 0 recs
Re: So where should I buy my gas?

I honestly don't know that there is such a thing. Gasoline is not, in and of itself, healthy or unhealthy. It's the way an automobile processes it that impacts on the environment. So, first and foremost, if you want to reduce the impact of the gas you do use, drive the most fuel efficient vehicle you can afford. Even doing little things like making sure your tires are properly inflated can improve fuel efficiency.

Alternately, if you can, look into diesel vehicles. Diesel is a dirtier technology, but for surprisingly not much money, you can have a diesel vehicle converted to run on bio-diesel, which is not a fossil fuel.

My larger point in all of this is that we shouldn't fall for corporate greenwashing campaigns like BP's. In other words, just don't go out of your way to reward BP for an ad campaign.

by Scott Shields 2006-03-20 09:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Corporate Message, Corporate Reality

THAT'S TOO BAD.

I BELIEVE I SAW ROBERT KENNEDY PRAISE BP ON T.V.

SHAME HE'S BEEN SCAMMED TOO.

by Bush Bites 2006-03-20 08:47AM | 0 recs
its the logo

It is happy and green, that is why BP is so liked.  Plus they talk friendly.

by pjv 2006-03-20 11:57AM | 0 recs
Does anyone else want to hurl...

... when you see those BP commercials with "average people" saying what they think an energy company should do?

BP is the master of greenwashing. Between those guys and the coal commercials, especially the one with the little girl, I seriously want to throw my TV across the room.

I've always told people, "Don't piss on my shoes and tell me it's raining". Well, between the energy companies and big pharma (today's medicines pay for tomorrow's viagra), I'm standing in one stinky puddle.

by cjohnson 2006-03-21 03:22AM | 0 recs

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