BP to pay the largest criminal penalty in U.S. history


If you have ever questioned the power of crisis communications, or the importance of proper communications during a crisis, go online and search for the mind-numbing testimony of ousted BP CEO Tony Hayward, when he embarrassed himself and his once-luminous company during his Congressional testimony. You could practically count the handprints of countless unseen lawyers admonishing him to say as little as possible and to admit to nothing.

What other explanation could there have been for such obfuscation as when he “guesstimated” 5,000 barrels of oil per day were spilling from the uncapped well into the Gulf and onto the once-pristine shores, when the number was actually closer to 60,000 barrels per day. He then truculently defended his woefully understated response by saying, “A guesstimate is a guesstimate.” Or, when he predicted the environmental impact of the soon-to-be-millions of oil awash in the Gulf would be “very, very modest.”

The most egregious of his comments had people questioning what oil skills he could have possibly possessed to garner the top job at BP in the first place. For example, when a Congressman asked what happened at the explosion? Hayward sniveled, “I don’t know; I wasn’t there.”

Or, when asked for more information and less stonewalling, his testimony included such cover-your-ass gems as, “I’m not a drilling engineer” or I’m not an “actually qualified” engineer in these matters; "I’m not a cement engineer;” and “I’m not an oceanographic scientist.” It was clear Hayward was not a lot of things, including a competent crisis communicator. For someone who had served for years as head of oil exploration and production at BP before ultimately becoming CEO, Hayward went out of his way to portray himself as ignorant about any aspect of drilling operations. He even testified before a disbelieving Congress that he had “no prior knowledge of the drilling of this well, none whatsoever.”

Today, the government struck back.

BP will enter a guilty plea and pay a $4.5 billion fine, the largest criminal penalty in U.S. history, for its actions during the massive 2010 oil spill, and for obstruction of justice for lying to Congress.