A Reminder of How to Suck: BP Deepwater Horizon

            In the Deepwater Horizon disaster of April 20, 2010, BP’s negligence and layered cost cutting and greed-based, risky decisions came to a climax (Meigs, 2016).  In the previous two decades, BP experienced oil spills, refinery explosions, and pipeline leaks.  Nobody at BP seemed accountable for the corrupt company culture.  Chief Executive Officers rotated with each incident, but BP’s Board of Directors continued to show carelessness for human safety and the environment (Heineman, 2011).  Killing 11 crew members (Meigs, 2016) and dumping five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over twelve months (Ingersoll, 2012, p.2), they showed complete lack of care.  “They have had incidents in Texas, Alaska, now two mishaps in the Gulf – this is more than some string of coincidences.  There has to be something about the way they are running the business that causes them to run into so many issues. I’d say it’s the intense focus on cost cutting,” said Dan Pickering, co-president of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Company (Blake, 2010).  Although regulators and Transocean were also at fault, the driving pressure to execute despite risks came mainly from BP.  The Deepwater Horizon team had disabled alarms, failed equipment, and ignoring safety protocols while pushing the boundaries with the record deepest well ever drilled (Meigs, 2016).

            BP had decades of opportunities to change their culture, improve their safety and maintenance procedures, and avoid this incident.  According to the University of California- Berkely’s Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, “This disaster was preventable if existing progressive guidelines and practices been followed.” (Meigs, 2016). Once the incident happened, though, BP did not manage the crisis effectively.  Bob Dudley, the new CEO who replaced BP’s Tony Hayward after the incident, said “There are lessons for us relating to the way we operate, the way we organize the company and the way we manage risk” (Heineman, 2011).  Tony Hayward and BP tried to blame Transocean, the owner of the rig that BP was leasing, as well as Halliburton, who was the contractor hired to cement the well casing.  This shows BP’s failure to take responsibility, which is key in a crisis.  BP ducked responsibility and created a lot of ill-will with the public.  In addition, then-CEO Tony Hayward minimized the incident in interviews, acting like the oil spill was insignificant, when it was the largest spill in history (Webb, 2010).  Similar to other BP incidents, the Board of Directors also ducked responsibility, failing to push for cultural and safety changes while replacing the scapegoat CEO.  Ideally, the Board of Directors would face some penalty.  Cutting executive bonuses when there is a safety or environmental incident, for instance, would incentivize BP leaders to do the right thing in the future.  Such measures were not taken.

            The reputational damage that BP suffered could have been improved with a better response.  Taking responsibility for the incident while visibly doing everything possible to mitigate the spill is one step.  Visibly changing the organizational strategy, culture, and reward structure is another step.  BP’s public relations team should be prepared for such incidents and should train and guide CEOs like Tony Hayward whenever there is a widespread incident or crisis.  Ducking responsibility makes a company look bad in the eyes of the public.  Making a mistake is one thing but reacting with an honest a proper response would have made BP appear honorable.  BP’s executives in interviews and in Congressional investigation hearings harmed their reputation (Jaques, 2015).

            When the crisis was happening, I remember that a lot of the news was around the food caught from the Gulf, including fish and shrimp.  For several years afterwards, and even during a trip to New Orleans, I was afraid to eat seafood harvested from the Gulf, fearing contamination.  This was a common phenomenon (Sandman, 2012).  I remember at the time shortly following the spill, BP rebranded all of their gas stations and television commercials to portray BP as a company that is “caring for our planet” and is highly sustainable (Caring for our planet, n.d.).  This rebranding and new messaging only came as a result of the spill.  At the time, it was upsetting to see this new messaging and marketing while the cleanup was still underway.  In fact, the well was still dumping thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf while BP was broadcasting how environmentally sustainable they were.  This kind of response led to public distrust.  How can a company claim to be green while destroying a marine ecosystem due to such neglect?


Blake, Rich. (2010). Ousted BP CEO Tony Hayward’s Biggest Blunders.  Retrieved from https://abcnews.go.com/Business/ousted-bp-ceo-tony-haywards-biggest-blunders/story?id=11253285

Caring for our planet. (n.d.). BP. Retrieved from https://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/sustainability/caring-for-our-planet.html

Heineman, Ben. (2011). How the BP Commission Dropped the Ball. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2011/01/dropped-ball-on-bp-governance

Ingersoll, C., Locke, R., & Reavis, C. (2012).  BP and the Deepwater Horizon Disaster of 2010. Cambridge, MA. Retrieved from https://mitsloan.mit.edu/LearningEdge/CaseDocs/10%20110%20BP%20Deepwater%20Horizon%20Locke.Review.pdf

Jaques, T. (2015, April 22). Lessons from an oil spill: how BP gained – then lost – our trust. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/lessons-from-an-oil-spill-how-bp-gained-then-lost-our-trust-40307

Meigs, J. (2016). Blame BP for Deepwater Horizon. But Direct Your Outrage to the Actual Mistake. Slate. Retrieved from https://slate.com/technology/2016/09/bp-is-to-blame-for-deepwater-horizon-but-its-mistake-was-actually-years-of-small-mistakes.html

Sandman, P. (2012, April 17). Why Do Many People Still Refuse to Eat Seafood from the Gulf of Mexico? Retrieved from https://www.psandman.com/articles/seafood.htm

Webb, T. (2010, June 1). BP’s clumsy response to oil spill threatens to make a bad situation worse. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/business/2010/jun/01/bp-response-oil-spill-tony-hayward

Published by Art Ocain

I am a DevOps advocate, not because I am a developer (I’m not), but because of the cultural shift it represents and the agility it gains. I am also a fan of the theory of constraints and applying constraint management to all areas of business: sales, finance, planning, billing, and all areas of operations. My speaking: I have done a lot of public speaking in my various roles over the years, including presentations at SBDC (Small Business Development Center) and Central PA Chamber of Commerce events as well as events that I have organized at MePush. My writing: I write a lot. Blog articles on the MePush site, press-releases for upcoming events to media contracts, posts on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/artocain/), presentations on Slideshare (https://www.slideshare.net/ArtOcain), posts on the Microsoft Tech Community, articles on Medium (https://medium.com/@artocain/), and posts on Quora (https://www.quora.com/profile/Art-Ocain-1). I am always looking for new places to write, as well. My certifications: ISACA Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), Certified Web Application Security Professional (CWASP), Certified Data Privacy Practitioner (CDPP), Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), VMware Certified Professional (VCP-DCV), Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE), Veeam Certified Engineer (VMCE), Microsoft 365 Security Administrator, Microsoft 365 Enterprise Administrator, Azure Administrator, Azure Security Administrator, Azure Architect, CompTIA Network+, CompTIA Security+, ITIL v4 Foundations, Certified ScrumMaster, Certified Scrum Product Owner, AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner See certification badges on Acclaim here: https://www.youracclaim.com/users/art-ocain/badges My experience: I have a lot of experience from developing a great company with great people and culture to spinning up an impressive DevOps practice and designing impressive solutions. I have been a project manager, a President, a COO, a CTO, and an incident response coordinator. From architecting cloud solutions down to the nitty-gritty of replacing hardware, I have done it all. When it comes to technical leadership, I am the go-to for many companies. I have grown businesses and built brands. I have been a coach and a mentor, developing the skills and careers of those in my company. I have formed and managed teams, and developed strong leaders and replaced myself within the company time and again as I evolved. See my experience on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/artocain/

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