ScamWow! BP’s miracle cleanup tool: PR and lobbying.

by Mike Gaworecki

July 13, 2010

There’s no way to clean up an oil spill. We’ve seen this time and again — in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, for instance, where oil from the Exxon Valdez spill is still having an impact on local ecosystems. Corporations like Exxon or BP that find themselves responsible for an oil spill — or, as was the case for Exxon and now is the case for BP, an oil disaster — are really left with only one option to handle the problem: public relations, damage control and fierce lobbying.

It’s clear BP knows this all too well, and is determined to spare no expense on the cleanup… of its image. We put together this "ScamWow" video to highlight this sad state of affairs:

We decided to spoof the original late night infomercials for the ShamWow miracle clean-up towel, which is touted as a quick fix for any cleaning problem (it’s made in Germany and "You know the Germans always make good stuff"), because BP is attempting to use PR damage control as a miracle cure for its sullied image. Except, unfortunately, PR has no miraculous cleaning powers. The company’s image may be less soiled as a result of the millions BP is spending on PR, but the Gulf of Mexico will be reeling from the impacts of the company’s negligence for decades.

Consider the estimated $50 million BP has spent on an all-out media blitz, complete with a TV ad featuring an earnest Tony “I’d like my life back” Hayward looking into the camera and assuring us “We will make this right.” What he means is, "We will do anything to make you think we will make this right" — anything short of, you know, actually reporting the true size of the spill, allowing journalists unfettered access to spill sites and oiled beaches to provide independent coverage of cleanup operations, stopping the damn leak in a timely manner, or god-forbid taking worker and environmental safety concerns seriously in the first place so that this spill never even happened.

“The Gulf spill is a tragedy that never should have happened,” Tony “The size of the spill is small in relation to the size of the ocean” Hayward tells us in his TV ad. We can agree on that, at least, Tony!

BP has engaged multiple PR and lobby firms to help wage its PR assault, which spans all conceivable media. According to our calculations, BP spent almost $6 million through the end of June on ads in newspapers like the New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today, while also purchasing Google and Yahoo ads that will display whenever people search for “oil spill” — surely an extremely pricey keyword at the moment that is generating a lot of clicks.

Considering the spill cleanup costs (estimated at $16 million a day), why would BP do this? Because public relations and lobbying is one way BP can turn public opinion in their favor and soften the blow from lawsuits, regulators, and Congress.  If the public could somehow be made to feel sympathetic toward BP, or to feel that BP is really going “to make this right,” the ultimate financial pain to BP might be lessened. So from where BP’s sitting — a place where the bottom line is the ultimate concern, not Gulf Coast residents’ livelihoods, not Gulf Coast ecosystems — the decision to give their image the vigorous scrubbing they can’t give the Gulf Coast ecosystems befouled by their oil is a no-brainer.

BP made $66 million a day in profits in the first quarter of 2010. If they want to keep raking it in hand over fist like that, they gotta do some damage control. It’s just that simple.

Oil spills are an inevitability of the supremely dirty oil drilling business, especially as companies are forced to dig deeper and take more outrageous risks to reach what’s left of the world’s oil reserves. Heard about BP’s plans to drill 2 miles deep and as much as eight miles horizontally from a gravel island the company built in the middle of the Beaufort Sea up in the Arctic? No, that’s not just a sick joke.

The Exxon Valdez spill is not our only example of how impossible it is to clean up spilled oil: Ask the villagers down in Ecuador who are still battling with Chevron to try and get their traditional lands cleaned up, or the people over in Nigeria who suffer from companies like Shell spilling the equivalent of a Valdez-sized spill every year. Oil is wreaking havoc on communities across the globe, and the companies responsible always seem to treat these disasters as little more than the cost of doing business. The Ecuadorian Amazon, the Niger Delta, the Gulf of Mexico — these are collateral damage in Big Oil’s relentless pursuit for reckless profits.

The real way forward is of course to stop drilling and invest in clean energy, but oil companies cannot be depended on to drive society toward clean energy. They are OIL companies after all.

The only way to stop oil spills once and for all is to leave it in the ground where it belongs. President Obama and Congress need to ensure we kickstart the clean energy revolution and stop drilling for oil. Check out our blueprint for how America can achieve 96% renewable energy by 2050 and create over a million jobs by 2030: Energy [R]evolution: A Sustainable USA Energy Outlook. Help promote our vision for the sustainable future! Then take action to tell Congress No New Drilling, Period.

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