Smeared BP signs, bawdy protests outside BP headquarters in Houston, faux Twitter groups that satirize BP chief Tony Hayward and the company’s bumbling as it attempts to control the Deepwater Horizon geyser and the blowback from the Gulf oil spill.
Fifty-four days into the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the court of public opinion continues to turn against BP and its role in the worst ecological mess in US history: The April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent spill is emptying up to 40,000 barrels a day into the ecologically sensitive Gulf of Mexico.
Some Facebook protest groups want the government to seize BP’s assets. And on Twitter, a popular satirical feed tweets about BP chief Tony Hayward punching a dolphin for fun. Saturday, protesters are gathering in 44 cities worldwide – from Gulf Breeze, Fla., to Berlin, Germany – to vent their anger at the British oil giant.
Boycotting the local neighborhood BP station, isn’t likely to send a message to anyone but the private franchise owner. What’s more, BP pumps its products into what’s in essence a big pool of gasoline in the market, meaning consumers can hardly keep it out of their tanks even if they try. Even the siphoned oil from the well could make its way to gas stations.
But that doesn’t mean the gathering protest storm won’t affect BP.
Even if the only result of the BP oil spill will be tighter regulations for offshore drilling, the company will still struggle to repair the image of its tainted green-and-yellow Helios logo. From its bottom line to its hiring, from lawsuits to scrutiny of development rights, even a company whose brand was worth nearly $4 billion last year could be brought to its knees by the Gulf oil spill backlash, oil economists say. Potential final price tag for BP’s cleanup: $40 billion.
“It’s potentially a company killer,” Edward Chow, a fellow at the Center for Security and International Studies and a former Chevron executive, tells Steve LeVine at Energy Bulletin, an online trade publication.
BP’s value has dropped 40 percent since the explosion 50 miles off Venice, La. The mile-deep runaway well has become a poignant symbol of a familiar story in recent years: corporate short-cutting in search of profits and cozy relationships between the regulators and the regulated. For many, the BP oil spill has also become a dark analogy for a company – and a country – that grew complacent about the unknown risks of deepwater drilling.
“What’s most stunning and most depressing about this disaster is that BP management, from Tony Hayward on down, did not understand the risks that their company was taking with this well.” says Robert Bryce, author of “Power Hungry: The myths of ‘green’ energy and the real fuels for the future.”
At the same time, he adds, “Yes, the pressure on BP is ratcheting up, but remember this is an enormous company, the single biggest company in the UK, so I still have difficulty imagining a scenario where BP disappears.”
Congress, federal regulators, other rig contractors, and even the American people, share some blame for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. But by taking full responsibility for capping the well and cleaning up the remnants of the runaway geyser – an oath made in writing to President Obama – BP cannot avoid its bull’s eye position in the sights of a horrified and angry public.
BP’s prevarications on the existence of underwater oil plumes and its low-ball well flow rates have all polled badly for the company, with more than two-thirds of Americans disapproving of its attempt to set things right in the Gulf.
“This is a disgrace! This company should not be in business anymore. Any person that supports this company should not consider themselves an American. STOP THE OIL LEAK NOW, BP!!” Tara Buchell writes on Public Citizen’s boycott page, where 21,000 people have signed a petition vowing to not pump BP gas or shop in its stores for 3 months.
Over at the Worldwide BP Protest Day Facebook page, some of the participants started reporting in on Saturday morning.
“Madrid Protest accomplished,” wrote Stepanie Menina Rowan. “We stood out in the pouring rain. Due to weather not many supporters came but we still stood strong and united for the betterment of the earth. Good luck everyone!”