The past few weeks, I’ve wondered what, if anything, other major oil companies are doing to address BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster. Have they been asked to help? Are they providing supplies or manpower to plug the leak or drill a relief well? Have they encouraged their employees to volunteer for cleanup efforts along the coast?
So far, it’s looked as if most were laying low, trying to fly under the radar and avoid the wave of distrust that’s been directed at the oil industry. But if we’ve learned anything from, say, Toyota’s recent recall troubles, we know that companies can profit from their competitors’ misfortunes — the trick, of course, is not looking like Mr. Schadenfreude while doing so.
Chevron has mostly avoided public comment, although the company’s CEO, John Watson, did manage to throw BP under the bus during last week’s congressional hearings when he said that the Deepwater Horizon disaster was “preventable”*. More to the point: “The expectation we share with the American people (that) the energy that we need will be produced safely and reliably … did not happen here.” That’s a little shady, but we’ve seen worse. And of course, testimony broadcast on C-SPAN isn’t quite the same as a national commercial.
Speaking of national commercials, this Royal Dutch/Shell ad jumped into rotation a couple of weeks ago. It doesn’t mention BP by name, but it certainly avoids mention of oil and focuses on clean energy:
Shell’s brand manager says that the campaign has been in the works for almost a year — and I have no reason to doubt her. I mean, it doesn’t exactly look like the sort of thing a major corporation could conceive, shoot, edit, plan, and distribute in the space of two months. However, I would like to know if any last-minute changes were made to the ad copy or the video editing to finesse the message. Hell, for all I know it could’ve started as a commercial about oil drilling in the Pacific.
ExxonMobil has taken a different approach: Ken Cohen, the company’s vice president of public and governmental affairs (i.e. the man behind ExxonMobil’s army of lobbyists), has launched a blog called ExxonMobil Perspectives. He’s gone to great lengths pointing out that ExxonMobil feels the pain of BP, its employees, and Gulf Coast residents, but in his first real post, Cohen also says that the disaster could’ve been prevented if BP hadn’t been so sloppy:
ExxonMobil and others have, over the course of many years, developed and implemented procedures and equipment that have proved very effective in safely managing our offshore wells. What we do know is that when you properly design wells for the range of risk anticipated; follow established procedures; build in layers of redundancy; properly inspect and maintain equipment; train operators; conduct tests and drills; and focus on safe operations and risk management, tragic incidents like the one in the Gulf of Mexico today should not occur.
And how, you ask, does ExxonMobil have the balls to talk about spills and cleanups when half the company is responsible for the second-biggest oil disaster in U.S. history? Simple: because they learned so much from the Valdez that it will never, ever happen again. Ever. Which is good, because the Valdez and the brand damage it caused was in some small part responsible for the ExxonMobil merger, and if ExxonMobil had another problem and had to merge with someone else, I don’t think the name would fit on business cards.
Oh, in case you’re wondering, ConocoPhillips CEO James Mulva also bashed BP in front of Congress, but at least he had the guts to say that more regulation would be a good thing. Whether he believes that, however…
As for the 46 other oil giants, I couldn’t say. Maybe someone should place a call to Iran or Iraq or Venezuela or…oh, right. Nevermind.
*Presumably, Shell would’ve avoided BP’s problems by using its disaster response plan — you know, the carbon copy of the response plan that’s employed by every other major U.S. oil company, which seems to have been drafted by some secretary at the White House in 2004 and filed away in a vault until last week.