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Enter the no-spin zone of the deep: the BP live feed

The last thing BP wanted was images of the undersea oil plume in the Gulf shown to the world. Yet the live ‘spillcam’ of the Deepwater Horizon geyser may have tempered ill-will against BP.

By Staff writer / June 5, 2010

This image from video provided by BP PLC early Saturday shows the oil leak still pouring out of the well head around the capping device in the Gulf of Mexico. Since it was installed, the capping device has collected about 76,000 gallons, BP said in a tweet Friday night.

BP PLC/AP

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It was the last thing BP wanted: An open, high-definition live video feed – a "spillcam," if you will – showing in excruciating detail the massive oil geyser fouling the Gulf of Mexico, a situation admittedly caused by the giant extractive firm.

But after a series of PR disasters – waffling, obfuscating, misplaced optimism, a gaffe-prone CEO – the decision by BP, under pressure from Congress, to put the live feed on the air is reaping some unexpected plaudits for the company. Indeed, BP expanded the feed from one to 12 simultaneous views last week, again under pressure from Congressman Ed Markey.

The BP live feed has become an Internet phenomenon, playing on traders' laptops on Wall Street and kept on all day in office cubicles across America.

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The fact is, since the spillcam came online, public approval of BP's work has stopped its freefall, and even inched up a smidgen, according to a new CBS News poll.

"You can see why BP was so reluctant to put that camera down there in the first place," says Kevin Grandia, who promotes alternative energy as a blogger on EnergyBoom.com. "Yeah, it's not good public relations in their mind, they can't spin-doctor it, but I hope they appreciate the fact that … it does show a willingness and a level of transparency and authenticity that people are going to appreciate more than anything they could spin."

Extractive companies like BP, which often operate in conflict zones, are used to things going wrong and working to ameliorate damage at the corporate level, often by trying to control the message.

That's the standard operating procedure BP fell into after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, sinking two days later, and causing the worst spill in US history. Wary of a falling stock price – nearly 40 percent of the company's wealth has been wiped out by the spill – damage control by BP's "community relations" unit kicked into full gear .

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