BP-Big People? The Dinkum Oil

June 19, 2010

“(Obama)… is frustrated because he cares about the small people. We care about the small people. I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don’t care, but that is not the case in BP. We care about the small people.”  Carl-Henric  Svanberg  BP Chairman

BP’s credibility is sitting on empty after its latest PR efforts tanked.

While New Zealand health experts are debating the merits of stomach stapling to combat obesity, BP’s PR experts, assuming that they have any, given  the number of spoof sites proferring help*, will be considering the merits of mouth stapling to fight verbosity after Carl-Henric Svanberg’s off-the-cuff comments about “the small people” to reporters* after his White House meeting with President Barack Obama on Wednesday.

This was about the first time since the Big Spill that the BP chairman had poked his head above the public parapet, certainly in the US. His scripted statement was fine,  if somewhat stilted, but his response to questions was less so, no doubt because of language difficulties with slang terms like “the little guy”.  Erstwhile Muppets fans, even if antipathetic, would concede that the urbane chairman was more Swedish chief than Swedish chef.

Svanberg made his comments standing on the path leading into the White House with three senior BP staff lined up behind him. Two looked like Football World Cup players protecting their nether assets from a penalty shoot. The third, BP CEO Tony Hayward, relegated from the spokesman’s role, was protecting his back. This was wise after his earlier petulant sound bite  “I’d like my life back.” So would the wildlife of the Gulf and those who depend on it for their livelihood.

Hayward has become the most unpopular Pom since George III. He was excoriated by US congressmen on Capitol Hill yesterday, especially for his refusal to comment on drilling activities on the jinxed Deepwater Horizon off-shore well as Energy and Commerce Committee members took pot shots at BP for taking unacceptable risks.

It was like shooting dying fish in an oil barrel and it was certainly no barrel of laughs for the wayward Hayward. The more the committee members drillled down the redder his face got as he stonewalled in a manner which have made General Thomas Jackson proud. It may also make Hayward, like Jackson, vulnerable to friendly fire, in his case of a non-accidental variety. It’s hard to see him lasting the distance.

So  BP  still have their backs pinned firmly against the wall despite the fact the Chairman had just announced a long-term US $20 billion compensation fund, after a little help from the President, immediately before his blunder. 

The power of  social media to  amplify and multiply  gaffes at the speed of light detracted from any kudos the company might have won back. 

It’s not  that Svanberg is a dipstick: he fronted Eriksson for five years as CEO from 2003 and turned the company around. Before that he’d earnt the sobriquet the “Gentle Conqueror” at Assa Abloy, where he was key to the lockmaker’s acquisition of 100 firms in five years.

 Svanberg immediately apologised for having spoken ”clumsily” (at least he didn’t use the American politicians’ excuse that he“misspoke”) and gave media the dinkum oil in a subsequent attempt:   ”What I was trying to say – that BP understands how deeply this affects the lives of people who live along the Gulf and depend on it for their livelihood – will best be conveyed not by any words but by the work we do to put things right for the families and businesses who’ve been hurt.”

But his six spontaneous words will come back to haunt him and the company.

New Zealand Telecom head Paul Reynolds did a much better job of consuming humble fish pie in public, while keeping his tongue firmly in his cheek, after the agony of the XT system failures, even if his fly was a little undone*.  A scripted ad is easier to manage than a media bunfight, but Reynolds still did it with style.

But one shouldn’t mix oil and water even if  BP have given it their best shot. Elsewhere in cyberspace  Wwxploration’s website quotes Newsweek in declaring that  “Drilling is the very best tax advantaged investment”.

 “The world is addicted to oil. Put it to your advantage.
• The best tax advantaged investment
• Make up to 65%
Recession proof business
• Minimum investment – 10k
• Monthly dividend for 15 – 20 years
World’s #1 Commodity”

The biggest lesson of the Gulf debacle is that risky, cost-cutting oil exploration in marginal and  difficult sites isn’t going to cut it any longer. The disaster is an oilshed for the development of alternative sources of energy. The oil companies themselves will be increasingly seen to be the fossils fuelling innovation by others to find substitutes for the black gold touted in the ad.

New oil exploration is scheduled off New Zealand’s coast with the same drilling company used for Deep Horizon. Minister of Energy Gerry Brownlee must be nervous in case this turns out to be a case of  going to the well once too often.

Given the stick he’s received recently from more than the  Greens over mineral exploration in Godzone, mineral water to settle the stomach could be just what the doctor orders. That might not be so effective  as a staple diet but it knocks a smaller hole in the ministerial credit card.

#Lyall Lukey 19 June 2010 
http://www.lukey.co.nz/  http://www.smartnet.co.nz

 BLINKS     Wo Words   Vid-Video   So-Sound   Mm-multimedia

 BP Chief: “We Care About the Small People”    Vid 17 June 2010   
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAnsA96JK6Y  Vid   Classic BP Apology Spoof by Bob “Jack Mehoff”  Genz
BP Parody: Press Conference Ends Awkwardly  Vid
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwhXRxGlOcQ   Telecom CEO Paul Reynolds and the XT Network
http://www.wwxploration.com/invest/    Wo  Why Invest in Oil & Gas?