Sample Research Paper on BP Oil Spill and Crisis Communication

In any organization, communication is one of the most important aspects. This is one of the basic management function in an organization and therefore hard to accentuate on its importance (King, 2007). In simple terms, communication is the process of transmitting information, thoughts, opinions, ideas, and plans pertaining to different aspects within an organization. With this regards, it is hard to consider the interaction between human without communication. In addition, it is worth noting that effective and good communication not only leads to good human relations but also to overall business success (King, 2007). Moreover, communication lays the cornerstone for the organization’s process of grooming and upbringing.

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Communication problems are comparable to a headache in its progressive development. If the symptoms are not closely observed, a full throb will be experienced. The results may take much more time and effort in response to trying to connect the unbearable situation with the steps taken to prevent escalation of the headache in the first place (King, 2007). In today’s changing environment, effective communication has become a vital aspect in the process of discipline learning and creation. Communication is attributable to the organization focal on goals and objective achievement (King, 2007). Additionally, effective communication helps organization when focusing on intervention and investigation. Corporate communication on the other hand, offers an umbrella for different formats and forms that encapsulates public affairs, public relations, together with shareholders communication. This results to employee interaction, engagement, and interaction with each other, providing an understanding of vitality and a sense of engagement.

Situation Analysis

What happened?

On April 20, 2010, BP offshore oil spill turned the stretches of the Gulf of Mexico into a lifeless ocean (Alijani, Mancuso, Omar, & Ordogne, 2012). This happened after an explosion and fire occurred on the BP licensed Transocean drilling rig Deepwater Horizon that ultimately sank taking eleven lives and spilling more than 200 million gallons of oil. The Deepwater Horizon is a known rig licensed to BP. This horrific happening is one of the worst U.S. environmental disasters. The oil spill disrupted the fishing business, oyster harvesting and charter fishing boat operations. Even in cases that the oil spill is not visible on the beaches, hotels and restaurants that largely depend on the tourism dollars saw a drop-off in sales. From April 20, 2010 until July 15, 2010, the blowout dominated the news and thousands of lawsuits filled (Alijani, Mancuso, Omar, & Ordogne, 2012).

The well erupted as the workers of the Deepwater Horizon oil- drilling rig were finishing their exploration into the Macondo prospect, known as the offshore oil-and-gas drilling block of Gulf of Mexico (Haycox, 2012). Following the eruption, the rig burned, sunk, pouring over 4.9 million barrels of oil in the Gulf. This was a historic event in the petroleum industry creating the largest marine of oil spill ever to happen greater than Ixtoc blowout in the coast of Mexico and Alaska’s Exxon Valdez spill (Alijani, Mancuso, Omar, & Ordogne, 2012). Analysts have asserted that the Deepwater Horizon disaster was avoidable but the government and petroleum industry failed to address the risks management associated with this events.

The Human Error

More than 70% of high consequence falls in the second category of human-factor uncertainty with the 60% tracing back to maintenance and operations troubles (Williamson, 2011). Well, BP oil spill is no different as we get through we will discover that Deepwater Horizon was a ticking time bomb and the company had not drawn a crisis communication plan to help through the disastrous period. In such a disaster, there are unknown knowable where information exists but there is no way to for proper analysis and communication. Despite the effectiveness of communication plan or the present insight, due to our nature, we human cannot predict everything. Therefore, we have to be constantly alert for the happening of such category of uncertainty and hence the requirement to use communication tools from for disaster management. Whose fault was it then? From the known facts, the responsibility of the government broke down as well as that of the industry (Bea, 2010). The only one that did not change is the environment; unfortunately she took the biggest blow. In this regards, the oil spill was a collective set of breakdowns. The government is the crucial one because it is the head of the family and the industry is the child. In this scenario the child told the parent what to do leading to the unforeseen historic disaster. The parent and the child had a share in this one (Bea, 2010). The lessons learned from the BP oil spill were neither complex nor obscure. When we examine the communication during the course of the disaster and counting that Bp incurred heavy losses and until today BP has paid more than $5 billion in claims out of the $20 billion that BP set aside for the process of recovery (Alijani, Mancuso, Omar, & Ordogne, 2012).

BP Communication during the Crisis

In the hindsight of this disaster stand many timeless lessons in crisis communication. It is now easy to pinpoint the success and failures of communication, more than a year now since the British Petroleum Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Naturally, when there is crisis messages become hazy (Williamson, 2011). Unless managers set a crisis management plan, organization can easily lose the stakeholders to uncertainty and the crisis. BP’s CEO continuously stressed out this point. The importance of having a standby solid communication plan in response to oil spill crisis is emphasized from the individualist firms to the government owned corporations. The last thing that BP had to do is create a communication crisis plan in the course of the crisis. But that is what happened leading a communication crisis. As noted by Lt. Sue Kerver of the head manager of Coast Guards, the effectiveness of the communication crisis plan rely heavily on training – a crucial component pointing out to the Incident command Structure and the National Response plan in regard to communication (Williamson, 2011). Training is important from communication during the search, rescue operations to the environmental management. From the communication standpoint, the greatest challenge was acting on what was present at that time or waiting for reliable information. For the said reason, the team in charge had frequent course changing. Starting from the rescue, search, to the recovery the disaster management team comprehensive communication entailed response center set up, press conferences, fielding non-stop phone calls, media interviews, social media engagements, briefing, website updating, and press releases (Williamson, 2011). Using social networking sites such as Facebook, communication was unprecedented as a communication event attracting the attention of millions in the global scale.

Managers of some of teams had an already established crisis communication plan were the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism was headed by crisis manager, Herb Malone. It is evident the influence of oil spill on tourism and this team came in to bring the balance through the liaison with the public and the tourism board to urge tourists to return to the Gulf Shores (Williamson, 2011). On the onset, the team narrowed on its audience target and then provided information from authoritative sources for the sake of boosting tourism in the summer season of 2010. New Orleans principle of Deveny Public Relations manager John Deveny emphasized on the proactive communication strategy noting on the importance of preparing a proactive and reactive strategy to understand better how to handle own crisis (Williamson, 2011). Had BP’s liaison department manager had not put in place a crisis communication plan like the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, the public would have remained claim and the company’s image would have remained ‘intact’.

Many will say that there are communication similarities between Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, but experts in communication insist that these crises were handled differently. It is somewhat true, that the communication used in Katrina paved way for effective communication in the BP oil spill disaster. Catastrophes such as hurricanes are a crisis that many people understand because of their frequency. Many think of them as natural disasters that are out of human control. Unlike the oil spill, Katrina entity did not stretch over months (Williamson, 2011). The BP oil spill was something new in the Gulf Coast experiences- a fabricated disaster that went for months, presenting unknown uncertainties, further complicating the crisis. The timings and how information was disseminated of the two disasters was farfetched. Technological advancement allowed 24/7 communications in the BP oil crisis unlike Katrina’s.

In planned scenarios, the leading managers in the crisis management use technological advancements to help them communicate key messages when dealing with crisis. The managers and experts advocates for importance of communication. A word for the students pursuing incident command systems (encapsulating crisis communication) was that they should communicate credible, honest, and accurate information. And if they got it wrong, they admit the fault and quickly look at it with attention (Williamson, 2011). This was Lt. Kerver advice after his Coast Guard team communicated incorrect information that they promptly apologized and issued an immediate correction.

BP Managers Communication Skills: What They Would Have Done?

Plan Ahead

Smart organization regularly assesses risks for potential disasters and come up with crisis communication plans for such scenarios headed by the liaison department. Then they put this into practice. For instance, in the awakening of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the ‘America’s Mayor’ Rudi Giuliani had taken actions against the uncertain time for crisis communication planning and emergency management practice (Getz, 2011). Giuliani had taken Anticipation, Preparation, and Practice very seriously: saving lives and the federal government millions in dollars and other resources. Unfortunately, BP liaison had not acknowledged any real risks pertaining to deepwater oil spill, and thus did not have crisis communication plan in place. In its expansion project, BP sought to expand its deepwater oil exploration categorizing deepwater spill as ‘decidedly unlikely’. Before the disaster, BP claimed that if such a spill did happen, the industry was well equipped to mitigate the damage (Williamson, 2011). Honest to oneself, BP liaison at least on the second account had this as an opportunity to address a major disaster and the mangers could have prepared its crisis communication plan accordingly. Now we know that neither of these ever occurred.

Expressing Contrition, Conviction, and Compassion

In the midst where the company appears to have erred, public communication or rather the spokespersons admit on the mistake; expressing their deepest concern to the affected, stating firmly the commitment of the company on the cause identification, and the mitigation steps to ensure that this never happens in the future (Bea, 2010). This is only achievable if there is a well-laid crisis communication plan. The legal counsel who advises on apology and admitting guilt gears this. Business success hinges on its reputation and if this is shattered, this may take time and money to rebuild. Initially, instead of taking full charge of the fault and taking responsibility for the oil spill, Tony Hayward, BP CEO acting as liaison in his press conference keenly insisted was the fault of another company that owned the rig. And when he apologized, the apology came out as empty and insincere (Getz, 2011). Just because the head of BP’s liaison never communicated sincere concern and empathy for the victims of the disaster resulting from the poor communication plans, the public never trusted the BP to take charge of any other situation. Due to the poor crisis communication plan, they even lost trust if BP would implement mitigations for the future though the company promised to do so.

Sticking To the Known Facts

In the context of crisis communication, spokespersons should only state what they have confirmed and sought for information from the third party experts on matter that fallout of their jurisdiction. If asked hypothetical questions, they should refrain from speculations bridging only to what they know (Williamson, 2011). BP’s CEO (liaison) repeatedly underestimated the damage of the oil spill and commented on topics that incredible sources could otherwise answer. For example, when asked by the Financial Times about the amount of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, Hayward said, that almost nothing has escaped (Getz, 2011). Later confirmation stated that more than 50,000 barrels of oil were oozing to the Gulf totaling to 4 million barrels in the few months. Hayward told Associated Press that the spill was on the surface and there were no plumes but scientists from several respected institutions confirmed evidence of underwater oil plumes. Hayward also told Sky News that the oil spill influences to the environment was likely to be modest, which in reality the impact of the disaster is still measured by scientists until today.

Managers should empower employees to Blow the Whistle

The investigators report normally entails warning signs that might have been under looked. In the consensus of went wrong at the Deepwater Horizon rig, it is equally unsurprising to hear people say that the rig was to blow up eventually. Workers aboard the rig were worried of the warning signs though lacked predictive value making them to ignore them (Alijani, Mancuso, Omar, & Ordogne, 2012). The most damaging factor of BP’s culture is that all workers were too cowed to blow the whistle. BP mangers can change this culture save living lives and millions in dollars.

Following the Mexico Gulf oil spill, BP lost roughly half of its stakeholder’s value. BP’s public relations crisis is clear: the liaison blocked the flow of information on oil flow rate, muzzled the workers, and manipulated information flow by claiming proprietary rights on the presented footage (King, 2007). What happened to BP gives a forerunner of the attitude concerning the entire industry. BP liaison set tone for the competitors because BP is the largest deepwater operator in the Gulf of Mexico and top gas and oil producer in the US. In the end, BP’s management and leadership certainly made mistakes- operating without a crisis communication plan in context of petroleum industry. Again, it is important to realize that even the crisis communication plan that are well planned and executed cannot be compensate the flaws of the organization (Getz, 2011). Actually, BP’s managers can learn a lot from the stated factors. Through this as a guideline they can easily come up with crisis a communication plan. This is to say that, the worst spill in the petroleum happened under the nose of the BP and the affiliate companies and they less they could have done expect for a strong crisis communication plan and public relations team for effective communication. Had BP acknowledged the risk of deepwater oil spill, the company could have established crisis communication plan thus reducing the possibly of communication ‘breakdown’ whilst devising on remedy plans.



Alijani, G. S., Mancuso, L. C., Omar, A., & Ordogne, N. G. (2012). A GUMBO OF Catastrophic Effects – The Effects Of The Bp Oil Spill Measured During The Oil Spill And Six Months After The Oil Spill On Three Towns In South Louisiana. Enterpreneurial Executive , Vol 17, pp 1-5.

Bea, R. (2010). Explaining the equation behind the oil spill disaster. Science News , Vol. 178, Issue 1.

Getz, S. (2011, April 20). Lessons in Crisis communication: An analysis of BP’s response to the Gulf oil disaster. Retrieved September 20, 2012, from Taproot Creative:

Haycox, S. (2012). “Fetched Up”: Unlearned Lessons from the Exxon Valdez. The Journal of American history , 219-228.

King, W. (2007). Importance Of Communication In Organization. Retrieved September 20, 2012, from

Williamson, W. (2011, January 26). Crisis Communication During the BP Oil Spill. Retrieved September 20, 2012, from Enviromental communication :

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