BP's "Commited to the Gulf" ad

The context of its claims


  1. On February 22, BP posted this ad to YouTube as part of its ongoing campaign to rehabilitate its image following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
  2. Committed to the Gulf. Committed to America.
  3. The spill, which goes unmentioned in the ad, was triggered by an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on April 20, 2010. The explosion killed 11 workers and caused a rupture in the well that took 87 days to cap.

    The commercial's release dovetailed with the start of a civil liability trial that media outlets have been referring to as "the trial of the century." Ideally, I'd fact-check and contextualize some of the claims made in the ad using only primary sources. But the story's complexity makes that impossible to execute with veracity within the time-frame of the assignment. I'm instead relying mainly on the work of journalists and news organizations whose coverage I've followed - and learned to trust - since the story broke nearly three years ago.

    Claim #1: "Today, the beaches in the Gulf are open for everyone to enjoy."
    I could not find any evidence that any beaches in the affected areas remain closed due to the spill. But that doesn't mean oil isn't still a problem along the Gulf coast. As Debbie Elliott pointed out on National Public Radio last month, there are still submerged tar mats that can soil shores when the waters churn, as was seen last fall during Hurricane Isaac. And most of Louisiana's marshy coast doesn't qualify as "beach." Elliott mentioned 200 miles of Louisiana coast is still stained with oil; Mark Schleifstein reported as much last year.

    Claim #2: "We've shared what we've learned so we call produce energy more safely."
    BP has committed to contribute $500 million to fund the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative over ten years. That organization was among the sponsors of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference held in New Orleans in January. It was the largest gathering of scientists and engineers so far gathered to discuss the environmental effects of the spill, the largest in the country's history.

    Exactly how large that spill was was a matter of debate until late last year, when BP plead guilty to 14 criminal charges stemming from the explosion. In its guilty plea, again according to Schleifstein, "BP confirmed it made misrepresentations to the federal government about the flow rate" of the oil gushing from the well. "Soon after the spill, BP officials told federal response officials and Congress that only 5,000 barrels of oil a day were leaking from the well, when internal BP documents indicated its own experts believed the well could have been leaking as much as 100,000 barrels a day. Federal officials later estimated the total amount of oil released at 4.9 million barrels."

    BP agreed to pay $4.5 billion in fines and fees as a result of the plea. It's the largest criminal payment in U.S. history, resulting in the company increasing by "approximately $3.85 billion... the $38.1 billion charge taken against income as of the end of September" as a result of the spill.

    Claim #3: "We're working to refuel America for generations to come. Our commitment has never been stronger."
    Last week, BP CEO Bob Dudley told a conference of energy industry executives at a conference on Houston that his "company intends to spend about $4 billion every year for the next 10 years in the Gulf."

    The 2010 oil spill occasioned a major restructuring of BP. Last October, the company sold its 50% stake in a Russian oil company that had provided about 25% of its output.

    Prior to the spill, BP was the world's second biggest energy company. It is now the fourth. It is still Europe's second biggest energy company, although in February it reported a $1.6 billion decline in profits from $7.7 billion a year earlier.

    The civil trial that began in late February pits BP against federal prosecutors and plaintiff's lawyers looking to prove the company guilty of gross negligence. The company believes it should be held to the lesser legal standard of negligence. The fines resulting from simple negligence would be about $4.5 billion. Fines for a gross negligence conviction would swell to roughly $17.6 billion dollars.