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BP Just Wants to Be Loved (and to Not Pay for the Gulf Oil Spill)

BP Just Wants to Be Loved (and to Not Pay for the Gulf Oil Spill)
Photo from Wikipedia

The folks over at British Petroleum want the world to know they feel real bad about that explosion and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico back in 2010. Last week, the company even took out a nice-sized ad in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post saying as much.

It seems they wanted to make it clear that they feel just terrible about that oil spill in the Gulf. Seriously. Even as they are fighting against paying out a whole bunch of money for that oil spill thing, BP still wants everyone to like them.

The company took out those full-page advertisements in the nation's largest newspapers to make their case that the formula being used to give out settlement payments is not valid, despite being upheld by a district judge earlier this year.

"Whatever you think about BP, we can all agree that it's wrong for anyone to take money they don't deserve," the ad stated.

The London-based company has had something of a rough time of it in the public image world since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, killing 11 workers and starting a massive oil spill that lasted for weeks as engineers struggled to figure out how exactly one goes about capping an oil well down at the bottom of the ocean.

Of course, the aftermath of one of the worst oil spills in history was a tango in the legal world where those impacted by the spill tried to get BP to pay up and BP lawyers did their best to try to keep the cost as low as possible. (This is a fish/swim, bird/fly, company/dodge situation - it's just how these things tend to go.)

In April, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier agreed with a court-appointed claims administrator's interpretation of how the company was to pay out a multi-billion settlement to the plaintiffs. BP's lawyers appealed the decision which is now slated to be reviewed by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals next Monday.

The thing is, BP just wants to be loved, or at least - and this is really a sensible strategy for any mammoth corporation - to be looked on by the public as a benign, caring public entity.

They even sponsored the 2012 London Olympics, noting in an advertisement that touted their efforts to offset the carbon footprint of the event by various means, including "energy-rich grasses" that emit less carbon when burned. (The TV spot also features South African runner Oscar Pistorious, among other athletes - you know the BP people must have been slapping hands to forehead about that now that the famed athlete, who runs on blades, has been accused of murdering his girlfriend.)

Even before the Gulf Oil Spill - but after March 2005 BP refinery explosion in Texas City - the company ran an advertisement where pictures flashed showing transformations while someone who sounds a lot like either Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellen intones: "Beyond darkness, there is light ... Beyond power, responsibility ... Beyond petroleum, BP."

Yeah, this is a company that has invested some time, effort and advertising dollars, in between the public relations disasters, to try and get the public to look on them as a friendly neighbor. Now, they'd really like to reinforce that viewpoint, even as they appeal Barbier's ruling on paying up for the Gulf oil spill.

BP has paid out more than $42 billion in clean-up costs and compensations from the spill, according to CNN. However, the trial deciding what the final fine will be for the actual spill isn't over yet (Barbier is scheduled to hear the second part of the trial, looking at how much oil was actually spilled, in Septemver.) It's possible the compensation fund created to pay for all of this may run out of cash by September if they stick to the compensation formula approved in Barbier's ruling, according to the Guardian.

As the company's lawyers prepare to try to persuade the three justices on the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that Barbier misinterpreted how they are supposed to pay out the damages for the oil spill, they were also thoughtful enough to get the word out that plaintiffs may want to hold off for a bit before cashing those checks. The company sent out letters to lawyers, warning them that their clients might have to pay the money back if the July 8 hearing goes BP's way.

The latest newspaper ad - the company took out one like it in 2010 right after the oil spill -- blames lawyers and politicians for encouraging people and businesses to submit claims for losses that BP lawyers contend are inflated or nonexistent, according to the Associated Press.

Still, at the end of the day, even in an ad, BP takes a moment to remind the public that it's those politicians and legal types they're mad at, not the regular people.

"Even though we're appealing the misinterpretation of the agreement, we want you to know that the litigation over this issue has not in any way changed our commitment to the Gulf," it says.

They don't want to have to pay for damages they don't feel are just, but they still want to be well liked. Of course, that's understandable. Somewhere out there, other large corporations, and maybe Sally Field, totally get where BP is coming from.


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