NEW YORK (
) -- It's been another week of non-stop news developments in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Yet among all the twists and turns involving the oil giants and politicians, one theme remained consistent:
fails in each and every effort to contain the worsening disaster, whether it's the environmental, economic, public relations or political aspect.
Soon enough, it might not be a matter of success or failure in BP's battle against environmental disaster, but just which BP failure is the worst among all the available choices: the oil giant's inability to slow the oil spill, its public relations gaffes, the share decline that BP is racking up for shareholders each day it can't get a grip on the leaking underwater well, or the long-term bill that BP will face as a result of all the damage?
Last Friday, May 7, drew to a close with all hopes pinned on BP's massive dome, yet the dome was quickly humbled by ice crystals, and BP gave up on that approach.
As another week drew to a close -- on another Friday, May 14 -- BP and the American public were experiencing disaster déjà vu, with the oil giant floating its latest hope for controlling the leaking underwater well. BP has become a Panglossian character in the oil spill saga. Hope springs eternal, even at 5,000 feet beneath the surface of the ocean.
BP planned to lower a smaller version of the dome, which it has been talking about ever since the original dome failed, down to the seafloor and pump enough methane into the "top hat" as the dome is known, to prevent the ice crystals from again getting the better of the oil industry's best technology.
The "top hat" is just one among many cards that BP has left to play. BP has also talked about a "top kill" or "junk shot," which would inject rubber or other junk material directly into the well to seal it. BP has also talked about inserting a thin tube directly into the leaking underwater well -- which we've dubbed the "cane" to go along with the "top hat" -- yet the appropriate "cane" metaphor at this point is simply that BP is leaning on one thing after another but not making much forward progress.
One could say that BP has put on its top hat and cane but has simply danced around the truth, deserving the equivalent of no more than a junk shot of confidence from the public.
There was plenty of negative progress for BP on the public relations front over the past week. The testimony of BP America President Lamar McKay before both Senate and House hearings was part and parcel of the "blame game" among the oil executives that didn't earn the industry many positive reviews. Republican senators called the testimony disappointing, if not outright untruth, and a cadre of Western senators introduced legislation to ban any offshore drilling in their states by Thursday.
President Obama used the oil executives "blame game" as a reason to chastise BP,
at his quickly called White House lawn press conference about the oil spill midday Friday, as the situation went from worse, to still worse.
The first public opinion polls about the oil spill were released during the week, and these polls were just about the only efforts in which BP had a high level of success -- if one judges success in terms of getting lots of votes for doing a bad job of managing the oil spill crisis, that is.
By the end of the week, the attacks on BP were spreading as far and wide as the oil spill itself. In the oil spill equivalent of war profiteering, there were reports that the chemical dispersant with which BP was fighting the spill -- and for which it still has on order another 800,000 gallons -- was not only far from the most effective or least toxic of the chemical dispersants available, but was sold by a company,
, once owned by oil giant
, and which had on its executive team a former BP board member.
One of the few aspects of the oil spill crisis that BP had been able to massage throughout the preceding weeks was the estimate for the amount oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico, the oft-quoted 5,000 barrels a day, which in his very scientific language, BP CEO Tony Hayward referred to as the best "guesstimate" available.
By Friday, though, BP's guesstimate was not only being questioned, but scientists with specialized techniques to measure underwater flows were stepping forward and saying that BP had refused their help in measuring the leaking well.
Two university scientists published estimates with a high of 70,000 barrels a day potentially being leaked into the Gulf of Mexico, and, in response, one of the congressman in charge of the recent hearings, Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA.), sent an investigatory letter to BP America President Lamar McKay asking BP to come clean with a good estimate for the rate of oil leaking from the well.
Indeed, it all begged the question,
Do you think BP will get the upper hand on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill before it becomes the worst oil spill in U.S. history?
And so, after the failure of the massive dome at the end of the last week, we asked
readers this very question -- and the question is still, if not even more, prescient now.
Yet the results were somewhat surprising. Even amid all of BP's failures -- both technical and public relations-wise -- the survey respondents still have faith in BP to avert the worst oil spill in the history of the U.S.
Approximately 58% of survey respondents said that BP would act in time to insure that the Exxon Valdez disaster would still wear the crown as the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
Another 42% of survey takers have a more pessimistic view of BP, believing that all the hope that went into the massive dome, was just the first of what will be many failures to control the oil spill.
The saddest thing of all, though, is that while the survey provided an answer to this question -- and an answer which is more positive in respect to BP than the recent news flow would suggest -- it's ultimately a question that we have to keep on asking, day after day, until BP takes control of the oil spill and cleans up this mess. Or doesn't.
-- Reported by Eric Rosenbaum in New York.
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