BP fights to limit the slick – and the damage to its reputation

BP is struggling almost as hard to limit the damage to its reputation over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as it is to bring the leaking well itself under control – which may take three months, it became clear yesterday.

Although BP did not own or operate the Deepwater Horizon exploration rig which exploded and sank, leading to the spill, the company had leased the rig and owned the licence to drill in the seabed. That means that under US law it has to take full responsibility for the clean-up operation.

This may end up costing the firm as much as $500m (£327m) if the leaking well, which is pouring oil into the sea at a rate of 5,000 barrels a day, cannot be capped and can only be stopped by the drilling of a relief well, which is likely to take two to three months. The present clean-up operation, involving more than 70 vessels, is costing the firm $6m a day, and the relief well may be a $150m operation.

Yet the enormous costs are far from the only problem for the British company. In the US the incident is being seen as "BP's oil drilling disaster" even though the operation which led to the blowout was run by the Swiss-based oil drilling company Transocean, which owned and operated the Deepwater Horizon rig; only six of the 126 people on board at the time of the accident were BP employees.

BP's reputation in the US was already fragile after an accident at its Texas City refinery in 2005, which killed 15 workers and injured more than 170 others. The company's safety practices were ferociously criticised in an official inquiry.

BP is now likely to feel the full force of public anger if, as seems likely, a large area of the Gulf coast is devastated by the oil which began coming ashore yesterday. Some reports are already suggesting that if the leak continues for another three months, it will be the biggest oil spill in history.

Although the company has mobilised a substantial clean-up operation alongside its efforts to halt the leak, some environmentalists in the US have accused it of not responding quickly enough. After the rig exploded on 20 April and subsequently sank, it took the company four days to realise that the well itself was leaking.

"There's a feeling that BP didn't take the clean-up seriously at first or understand the concern," said Cynthia Sartou, chief executive of the Gulf Restoration Network, a leading environmental pressure group.

Ms Sartou is not interested in who might have caused the accident. "I think BP is 100 per cent responsible," she said. "It's no use trying to shift the blame to Transocean. They had control over the equipment used by Transocean. It was BP's well, and they are responsible under the law, and morally it's their duty to do all they can to gather up the oil, protect the shoreline and stop the well from leaking, and also to pay for the environmental and economic damage."

Given the scale of the looming pollution disaster, which is likely to devastate coastal wildlife and the fishing industry, BP is also likely to be the focus of anger from environmentalists who have been concerned for years that a major accident would happen in the waters of the Gulf.

"BP and the rest of the oil industry have been making representations to the American public for the 15 years I've been working in this area, saying there's no problem, don't you worry your little heads about any oil or gas drillings, we're really good at this and we can do it without causing a disaster," Ms Sartou said.

"People are facing ruin. We have fishermen who may go out of business, with the whole fishing season shut down, charter boat captains who make their living taking people out, who are not going to be able to do that, people who come here to birdwatch who won't be able to. The federal government has spent millions of dollars on the wildlife refuges along the coast."

She added: We've had long conversations about the expansion of oil exploration into other parts of the Gulf and been told our concerns are trivial, they have fail-safe mechanisms, they use the best technology, nothing like this could ever happen – that's why I'm so angry and cynical. I've been told I'm crazy for 15 years."

A BP spokesman denied that the company had been negligent, saying: "We have taken [our responsibilities] very seriously from the beginning, and immediately we knew about the accident we began an oil spill response programme."

Timeline: How the leak developed

Tuesday 20 April

First reports of an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. Eleven of the 126 crew members are reported missing. Initially, officials say environmental damage will be minimal.

Saturday 24 April

After a second explosion sinks the rig, the US Coast Guard discovers two leaks in a drilling pipe 5,000 feet beneath the sea, pictured above. They are estimated to be releasing 1,000 barrels a day. By the end of the weekend the slick is expected to cover an area of 600 square miles.

Wednesday 28 April

With the oil slick coming within 20 miles of the Mississippi, the US Coast Guard begins a controlled burn of the leaking oil and steps up containment efforts. Meanwhile, an awards lunch recognising BP for its "exemplary safety and environmental management" is called off.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn