|July 9, 2010|
|Is the Gulf Spill BP's Bhopal?|
|By Greg Hazley|
|Union Carbine's deadly 1984 gas leak in Bhopal, India, is considered by many the worst industrial disaster in history. While the lingering PR effects of that incident have ebbed and flowed over the years, the Deepwater Horizon mess playing out in the Gulf could prove to be similar long-term image drain on BP, despite its desire to make good and move on as quickly as possible.|
Hill & Knowlton senior VP Chad Tragakis has taken a long view on the BP mess in the Gulf and wonders if the spill is akin to Bhopal, an unwanted PR gift that will keep on giving for decades.
Twenty-six years later, the Bhopal leak, which killed thousands, was recently brought back into the limelight as sentences perceived to be light in India were handed out to former UC officials and the country's prime minister said it will again seek extradition of UC's former chief.
Some may also remember the PR-savvy acting troupe known as the Yes Men who pulled off a stunt in 2005 that brought new attention to the Bhopal disaster and Dow Chemical, which acquired Union Carbide in 2001.
Activists in that country are pointing to the Obama administration's tough stance against BP as cause for more action. It's true that BP is taking steps UC never made in the wake of the gas leak, but although the oil companies efforts are unprecedented, they don't seem to be enough for the residents of the area or the American public at large.
As H&K's Tragakis sees it, BP's desire to plug the well and move on might not be so simple.
"A full 25 years later, and Bhopal is still generating community outrage, criticism from NGO activists and a robust online campaign, pointed media coverage, interest from policy-makers and reputational risk for Dow.
"So, if the recent echoes of Bhopal are any indication, it appears that the very actions by which BP hoped to save a little time and a little money are going to cost them plenty more of both."
Reports have speculated that BP could spin or sell off the unit responsible for the Macondo well spewing oil to keep the BP brand alive. But the issue continues to be a PR nuisance to Dow nine years after it bought UC and the PR baggage it continues to pack.
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