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BP Oil Spill, also known as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, occurred between April and July 2010 was the largest accidental spill in the history of the industry. The spill itself and the unsuccessful attempts to stop it were criticized by internet users and the event itself became the subject of a variety of mediums including comics, image macros and games.
On April 20th, 2010, the oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, leased to BP in 2001, exploded after an erosion of various materials, like mud and methane. At the time of the explosion, the rig was produciing up to 336,000 gallons of oil a day and holding nearly 700,000 gallons on board. Two days later, a second explosion caused Deepwater Horizon to sink, and on the 24th, the Coast Guard reported nearly 42,000 gallons of crude oil had spilled 5000 feet below the surface.
By May 3rd, carcasses of threatened and endangered animals began washing ashore and 16 days later, oil began seeping into the shores of Louisiana marshland. On May 27th, scientists announced that the spill had become the most damaging in history, leaking nearly 800,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf per day. By June 1st, BP’s stock dropped more than 50% in US trading markets since the explosion. Officials estimated that at max, the leak was spilling 2,604,000 gallons of oil per day into the ocean, with a total of 205.8 million gallons spilled by the time the well was sealed in September 2010.
May 2010: @BPGlobalPR
In early May, a novelty Twitter account @BPGlobalPR was created to mock the way BP’s actual Twitter account, @BP_America was handling the disaster. They often used the hashtag #bpcares with their sarcastic and sometimes dark tweets. By May 26th, the blog had been featured on CNN who noted the account had more than 38,000 followers, compared to the 5000 that BP’s official account had at the time. The next day, Mashable published an exclusive interview with “Terry,” the pseudonym for the man running the account. Following this in-character interview, Wired journalist Matt Honan claimed the account was written by the blogger Mike Monteiro via Twitter, although he denied it was him.
On June 2nd, 2010, a manifesto from a man known as Leroy Stick was posted on the blog Street Giant, claiming he started the Twitter feed as a way to call BP out for what he saw as empty public-relations statements when he felt they should be providing hard answers. Two days later, he did an interview with Ad Age where he continued to refuse to reveal his name. The same week, The Daily Beast published a series of tweets from both accounts, asking users to spot the differences between the two writing styles. On June 9th, when the account had nearly 150,000 followers, BP went to Twitter to ask that the parody feed specify that it is not directly related to the oil company. As of November 2012, the account has broken 150,000 followers but updates sparingly.
2010: Social Media Response
Following the spill, people frustrated with the situation took to social media as a way to speak out about it. BP set up Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts to keep consumers updated on their clean up efforts and much of the initial backlash was directed at them. A Facebook group calling for a boycott of the oil giant has more than 772,000 likes as of November 2012.
May-October 2012: Greenpeace Photos
In August 2010, Greenpeace filed a request in compliance with the Freedom of Information Act looking for any communication relating to endangered and threatened animal species to be released to the public. The first of these photos were made available nearly two years later in May 2012, showing dead sea turtles covered in oil. That October, more photos were released of a dead sperm whale, which was found dead 77 miles from the spill site from undetermined circumstances on June 16th, 2010. Though these photos had appeared in the New York Times and on a teacher’s blog, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had asked that the photos not be shared with the public. After the photos were released, the NOAA confirmed that the whale was included in the tally of carcasses found after the spill but they could not determine the animal’s cause of death, as the body was too decomposed when it was found. Discussion of the attempt to hide the dead whale photos took place on The Age, the Guardian and the Huffington Post.
November 2012: BP Pleads Guilty
On November 15th, 2012, BP agreed to plead guilty to fourteen charges including 11 felony counts of misconduct and neglect in the deaths of workers at the explosion site and one count of obstruction in congress and was given a fine of $4.5 billion. Furthermore, two BP employees were charged with manslaughter and a third was charged with lying to federal investigators outside of the larger settlement. This is the single largest criminal fine and total criminal resolution in history. The day the settlement was announced, “BP oil spill” was mentioned on Twitter nearly 5000 times.
New York Times – A BP Parody Is Asked (by BP) to Declare That It’s Not Real
Chicago Tribune – BP oil spill: Executive charged with lying to authorities
The Guardian – US downplayed effect of Deepwater oil spill on whales, emails reveal WARNING: Graphic images
Huffington Post – Photos Of Dead Sperm Whale Found In Gulf Raise Questions About Truth Of BP Oil Spill Disaster (PHOTOS) WARNING: Graphic images