Crisis Communication After Oil Rig Explosion

Nine days after the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded on the tragic night of April 20th, 2010, the Houston Chronicle reported, “a slow-motion environmental disaster may be in the making with the discovery Saturday that [a severely underestimated] 42,000 gallons a day of crude oil is spewing from a well on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico near where a huge drilling rig sank last week and it could be months before it’s stopped.”  Later that same day, Mobile Baykeeper’s Executive Director Casi Callaway hired Caplan Communications from the Mobile Incident Command Center in Mobile, AL. Our crisis communications team began supporting the people, livelihoods and environment on America’s Gulf Coast as life there changed forever.

On April 29, Caplan Communications was asked to respond with a crisis communication operation on behalf of Mobile Baykeeper, the largest environmental advocate in the Gulf region, following the BP Deepwater oil rig explosion and subsequent blow-out and spill disaster. Caplan was referred to Mobile Baykeeper as a result of its work with victims of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and “The Whole Truth Campaign.” With an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 gallons of oil a day gushing into the sea, Caplan began its work positioning Mobile Baykeeper as a leading voice on behalf of the wildlife and citizens of the Gulf.

Instantly, we engaged and began to message our client and prepare her to deliver top-line news frames that would rivet a national audience and educate the prominent media. We positioned Mobile Baykeeper as the genuine local news authority to CNN, MSNBC, NBC News and the New York Times among other major media. The region that spans from the Mobile Bay Estuary all the way to Galveston Bay was the most productive fishery in the world, with 69% of all domestic shrimp and 70% of all domestic oysters at stake. Likewise, the Gulf also is the heart of America’s petrochemical sector, boasting 4000 oil platforms that pump more than half of U.S. crude.

Consequently, they had to “own the message.” During the weeks to come, Callaway constantly expressed how the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico had the potential to destroy the most productive fishery in the world. Mobile Baykeeper called on the U.S. government to demand greater transparency, monitoring and caution in implementing crisis clean-up solutions, such as controlled burns and the use of untold quantities of chemical dispersants, which could exacerbate the situation.

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