Oil spill will not transform BP or the industry

Richard D North's letter to the editor of the Financial Times

Sir, Steady the Buffs! It is not all that useful for the Financial Times to pile in with bog-standard media analysis of what may come to be called the Deepwater Horizon, or Transocean, or Macondo, or even the Halliburton spill, as in “A spreading stain” (Analysis, May 7). Behind the rhetoric and the graphic use of BP’s silly “Beyond Petroleum” logo, there is little chance of this disaster “transforming both the company and the industry”.

As your editorial of the same day reminded us, the US administration needs all sorts of oil exploration to proceed. Moreover, David Rothkopf was clearly right that “a boot on the throat is no way to do business”.

It is worth additionally stressing now that regulators can’t wash their hands of industry’s failings. They have signed-off on industry’s disaster assessment and management plans. Catastrophes are a good moment to avoid the blame game and to stress that we're all in the risk business together. I feel for the unfortunate BP in this crisis and I think it is worth remembering that major oil corporations have, rightly, thrived in spite of very serious blows to their reputations, deserved and not. Shell endured Brent Spar and a long-running problem in the Niger delta. Exxon had its Valdez horror. BP, as is constantly in our minds now, has had difficulties in Alaska and Texas. It is important to remember that investment in companies often survives very bad news.

Richard D. North,

Media Fellow,

Institute of Economic Affairs,

London SW1, UK

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