By Rick Outzen
In the weeks after Deepwater Horizon explosion in April 2010, but before the oil and tar balls began washing ashore, BP sent out into the coastal communities of the Gulf Coast an army of young, female marketing reps to handle the scared, angry mobs of locals worried about their businesses and homes.
We labeled them the “BP Barbies” because they couldn’t do much more than smile and hand out cards with the oil giant’s toll-free number. The message of the BP Barbies, which was reinforced with millions of dollars of advertising, was “We will make this right.”
Business owners, commercial fisherman and others were encouraged to file claims. They were told that BP had set aside the money necessary to make them whole.
Once the well was capped, the BP Barbies went away, but the BP public relations team didn’t.
This summer the oil giant mounted a campaign to stem the steady tide of claims. The company first set up a new toll-free number asking people to submit any information on fraudulent claims. Again millions were spent publishing the number in daily newspapers across the coast.
In a federal court filing Monday, BP requested in federal court a suspension of settlement payments while former FBI Director Louis Freeh heads an independent investigation of the court-supervised settlement program. The company claimed in court and in press releases that it had uncovered new allegations of fraud and conflicts of interest inside the settlement program.
That same day, BP was ordered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to respond to allegations of natural gas market manipulation and threatened with fines of $28.8 million.
Once again BP is trying to deflect the public’s attention from its misdeeds. They want the media to focus on the business owners filing claims and their attorneys and not their violations.
And the list of violations and criminal investigations, just over the past eight years, is long:
2005: Texas City Refinery Explosion-15 deaths, 180 injured. BP pled guilty to felony violations
BP pays $60 million for California Air Pollution Violations
2006: BP pipeline corrodes and dumps largest spill ever on Alaska’s North Slope.
2007: BP pays $300 million in fines and penalties relating to illegal price fixing in the propane market.
2009: BP fined $87 million for safety breaches, pled guilty to felony violations
2010: Deepwater Horizon explosion-11 deaths, 16 injured. BP pays $4.5 billion in criminal fines and penalties
2013: European Commission launches in May an investigation into whether BP, Shell and others colluded to fix gas prices across Europe.
BP Barbies failed to calm the natives in the summer of 2010, and the latest ploy by the BP spin masters won’t work. The oil giant’s legacy of crime and environmental abuses is too extensive to ignore and cover-up.
BP committed to “make it right.” The people along the Gulf Coast get to decide when it’s right, not BP.
Rick Outzen is the publisher of The Independent Weekly and a regular contributor to Ring of Fire.