By: Noelle M. Pierotti
Pace International Law Review, Articles Editor
Lately, the internet and news have narrowed in on BP and the destruction caused by its monumental oil leak, and the pressure has seemed to make BP balk. However, perhaps it is not the best strategy for BP to attempt to hide the devastating effects from the public. BP is already going to be dealing with ample lawsuits from the oil leak alone, yet it is now releasing huge amounts of known toxic dispersant into the ocean, Corexit, which will undoubtedly create other lawsuits. According to the EPA, Corexit may be toxic to marine life; however, the dispersant is an attractive remedy from BP’s perspective because it may also hide how much oil is actually spilled. BP wants to limit the amount of oil the public sees on the Gulf Coast shores, and using Corexit is a fast way to do that and a quick remedy in BP’s eyes. At this point, the oil is getting closer and closer to the Florida Gulf, so that “[t]he white sand beaches may soon be marred by ugly, sticky oil.” Needless to say, this would make BP’s situation even stickier, if that’s believable, as, according to Rick Steiner, a veteran marine conservation consultant, “they clearly want to limit the amount of oil coming to shore; that’s what people see.” Steiner also predicts that “if they can limit the amount of oil in evidence, they can limit the public outrage and likely pay less financial damages down the road.”
It seems that almost every strategic choice BP is making at this point is the wrong one. Deflecting blame is a fruitless measure, as anyone watching the news and keeping up with the massive oil leak now knows that BP is the only responsible party. In order to build public trust, BP should be transparent and truthful. Cutting off the live feed which would prevent the public from knowing what is happening to deal with the leak and not releasing how much oil is actually being leaked creates an aura of untruthfulness. However, BP also has a duty to its shareholders to uphold its own public image. Yet it has become increasingly difficult for BP to simultaneously keep any public image while also being completely forthcoming after over forty days of spillage. Nonetheless, BP has recently volunteered $500 million to donate to independent research to study the impact of spilled oil and dispersant in the ocean. It remains to be seen whether BP will be able to delicately balance its duty to shareholders, duty to the public, and its own need to develop legal strategies for the inevitable lawsuits.