History helps us predict how certain scenarios can unravel in the future. When it comes to oil spills, the lasting effects of Deepwater Horizon have haunted BP for years following the incident. A recent Shell oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has resurfaced similar fears of PR crises following the inevitable public criticism of yet another oil spill.
An Experiment in Relativity
First, at an estimated 90,000 gallons spilled, the Shell incident is hardly as catastrophic as Deepwater Horizon, which involved human casualties as well as a significantly larger oil spill (estimated 210 million gallons) that took over three months to cap. Nonetheless, many speculate that the PR expenditures in this scenario will likely resemble that of Deepwater Horizon simply because of the escalated conversation about oil spills. There are also those who think the location of the spill will re-ignite bad memories in the local populous.
What do these two groups have in common? Both fear that cleaning up the PR crisis will take longer than cleaning up the spill itself.
What’s Worse? Neither Will Be Fixed Overnight
In a June 2016 article by The Times-Picayune, a New Orleans publication, the results of a study conducted on the lasting effects of 2010’s Deepwater Horizon are echoed:
“…in May 2010, 65 percent less shrimp was landed in Louisiana than in the previous year. Louisiana also saw a 54 percent decline in oyster landings in 2010, compared to 2009, the report said. And the state’s oyster revenue also dropped dramatically, by 51 percent over the previous year.”
With articles like these being printed six years after Deepwater Horizon, it is more than apparent that BP is still answering for the incident. That’s because not only are public interests affected, but also private ones. There are other industries that rely on natural resources, and those industries employ people who need to feed their families. And this is just one example of how the list of victims can be ever-expanding following an oil disaster.
The Economic Chain Reaction
Oil spills undoubtedly take a toll on the local economy; and when commercial fishing shares a spot among the top five industries in Louisiana alongside oil, you know that there will be some bickering among these industries in the event of a massive spill. When those spills happen, tensions flare up because while both industries are suffering heavy losses at the same time, one has to answer to the other industry, as well as to the public.
What’s the Solution?
The ultimate solution would be to avoid all these disasters completely, but industry experts are too familiar with the complexities of oil operations to entertain that as an easy, or even possible, solution. Mistakes will happen, and reputation crises will follow.
These days, the Internet can be a stronger engine for reputation crises than TV or print. Demand for online reputation management has grown in correlation to necessity, and some ORM firms have excelled in managing business reputations online in the event of disaster, even when the negative press is coming from multiple angles.