BP Oil Spill: How to Make an Environmental Disaster Disappear

This post is part of a blogging series by marketing students at the Presidio Graduate School’s MBA program. You can follow along here.

by Joseph Herr

Think of an unspoken race with family, friends, and colleagues to be the “first to know” about everything. Subscribe to TweetDeck and a feed reader and watch our complicated world unfold 140 characters at a time. When you see your acquaintances, impress them with your awareness of what’s trending—an uprising in the middle east, the rediscovered prowess of honey badgers, or green bean casserole. Substantive or not, just stay on top of the trends. Wait, what was that about an environmental disaster?

I know, sarcasm is a terrible teacher, and I’m in no position to lecture. I realized today after catching up on a year of recovery from the BP Oil Spill that I have been playing this news game at the expense of taking intentional dives into issues that I care about. In April 2010, I spent time looking for information on the spill at NOAA, the National Estuary Programs, and the response sites. I even called the Deepwater Horizon response line to try to volunteer. The person I spoke with was looking for vets and oil spill specialists, and I’m neither. Of course, I didn’t fly to Alabama and I all but stopped following the recovery effort as an endless stream of other news stories poured in and trended over the spill.

Soon after we notice that our conversations with friends, family, and colleagues all include, say, the BP oil spill, we stop talking about it. Once a trend is ubiquitous, it disappears, which could partly explain why environmental catastrophes seem to slip through our collective consciousness these days. Unfortunately, when monumental events compete on news outlets with certifiable non-events like Charlie Sheen, they follow trend dynamics similar to snap bracelets.

Louisiana Bucket Brigade and Tulane University track Gulf oil spill damage

Of course, not everyone has stopped talking about the spill.  Gulf locals, scientists, and even BP are very much in the conversation (or much worse, feel the direct impacts daily) and will be for many years. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade has an Oil Spill Crisis Map where they’ve tracked over 3,400 public reports of human health and environmental incidents tied to the spill.

The science is still unfolding. We knew that a mind-blowing 50-100 Million barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf over 84 days last year. A new study published in Nature Geoscience suggests that 40% of the hydrocarbons released weren’t oil; rather, they were gases like methane (CH4), which have been largely overlooked but cause serious ecosystem damage through oxygen depletion, for example.

Fortunately, more science is coming. As of this week, the $500 Million, BP-funded Gulf Research Initiative is finally underway.  This program will fund research on ecosystem impacts and recovery, human health, and how to avoid future deepwater spills.

On the first anniversary of the BP oil disaster, this human and environmental tragedy is once again getting some of the attention it deserves. What have you heard lately on the recovery effort?