Big Oil’s Reality Check


Immediately after the Mariner Energy rig explosion hit, we began to see the disconnect between Big Oil and, well, everyone else.

Across decades of suing oil companies, I’ve seen it so many times before: The industry is so insular – and public agencies so much a part of the industry – that it becomes tone-deaf to outside reality. The result? Big Oil says things that are meant to reassure us, but instead they actually increase concern or even foment outrage. This is one of many reasons Big Oil fears juries.

When regular people suddenly discover what the oil industry considers “normal” in regard to exposing people to toxic chemicals and even radioactive waste, they inevitably become outraged and horrified. This process frequently results in large punitive-damage awards.

There are some noteworthy disconnect examples from Big Oil talking points this week.

Says the industry: This is no big deal, we had 133 fires on Gulf of Mexico rigs last year alone…Deep-water drilling is actually pretty safe…In 2007, federal regulators found that 80 percent of 15,077 Gulf wells were in 500 feet of water or less, and those wells have about the same ratio of blowouts…in fact, wells of 500 feet accounted for 33 of 39 blowouts from 1992 through 2006.

Where to begin in digesting this new “reality”?! 133 fires last year, are you kidding me? 15,000 wells? 39 blowouts before 2007? I’m assuming Big Oil’s PR people will amend and massage the packing of these messages in coming days – but the disconnect is already making a case that we need a complete investigation of offshore drilling with much more pre-drilling review before we can possibly get a handle on the “real” reality in the Gulf.

© Smith Stag, LLC 2010 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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