June 16, 2010

Internal BP email shows how the company handles a crisis

Posted: 12:52 PM ET

BP’s history provides a window into its corporate culture. In fact, you really don’t have to go back too far – just five years or so.

Texas plaintiff attorney Brent Coon represented many victims and their families after a 2005 BP explosion at a Texas City, Texas refinery, which killed 15 workers and injured 180 others.

Coon’s team uncovered more than seven million internal BP documents. He says most of the documents are BP emails, employee surveys, and other internal documents from the public relations department and chief counsel’s office.

One of those documents is an email that was written only three hours after the Texas City explosion happened. It was circulated throughout the company’s public relations department and to other managers at BP.


The subject line said, “Media coverage and loss of life.” It says, “looks like injuries and loss of life are heavy,” but because the incident happened before a holiday weekend, the PR person notes the media coverage will probably just “go away.”

Then, the last line of the email states, “This is a very big story in the US right now - but the Terry [sic] Schiavo story is huge as well.”

Terri Schiavo was the 41-year-old, brain-damaged, Florida woman whose story about whether her feeding tube would be removed had captivated the country.

BP’s public relations team saw this as positive for the company. Remember, 15 people had died only a few hours before this email was written. The rescue workers were still removing bodies from the scene when this email was sent out.

Sadly, they were probably right. My guess is that most people outside of Texas have never even heard about the 2005 refinery explosion in Texas City. But if we had paid closer attention, perhaps we could have learned a long time ago about BP’s safety problems, and how some employees felt the company placed profit before people’s lives.

Now, because of the enormity of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, this story will not just “go away.”

We wanted to talk to BP about this email to get their side of the story. BP responded with a statement, but did not specifically address the email. Here is part of their response: “BP has worked diligently since the accident in March 2005 to address safety concerns at the Texas City site. BP has spent more than $1 billion at Texas City to address safety concerns since 2005. We continue to work cooperatively with OSHA to resolve these matters. We are determined to learn from this event and get better as a company.”

Filed under: Abbie Boudreau • Special Investigations Unit

Share this on:

Powered by VIP