It’s easy to just assume BP leadership is an inept bunch, and certainly there are plenty of ugly examples to support that allegation. They can’t come up with an even remotely accurate oil-flow estimate. They can’t get the claims process to run in any sort of semi-effcient manner. They can’t process information requests with any sort of speed or urgency. And, of course, they can’t stop the oil from gushing into the Gulf, despite impressive-sounding efforts like “top kill,” “junk shot” and “containment cap.” They just can’t seem to get anything right.
But let me offer an alternative scenario to the assumption of complete incompetence and ineptitude: The oil giant is building its courtroom defense every day. Confusion over how much oil is being spilled is an embarrassing PR gaff now, but that may just be a means to an end. Low-ball estimates could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming years. When the Coast Guard declares a “safety zone” to keep prying eyes away from oil-soaked wildlife and beaches, it is also limiting collection of images that might become evidence.
The single best commodity BP can invest in right now is time. They bought some with their $5 billion fund contribution (they call it $20 billion, but we’ll see). They buy a little more with every delayed claim, every commitment to “study” instead of act. By using toxic dispersants for example, they kept much of the oil out of sight, below the surface, again buying time.
The biggest purchase of time will come with human health effects. BP will work hard to have us believe that the “event” is over when the oil stops spewing and some portion of the cleanup has happened. But for people living in the region, it will last for decades or even generations, shortening their lives and devastating their communities.