According to statistics, more than 700 explosions are reported across America each year. Many of these explosions occur at plants and factories, while some occur in residences and office buildings. Some explosions are on a small scale and result in only minor damages and injuries. Others take place on a larger scale and can result in multiple casualties along with millions or billions of dollars in property and environmental damage. The type and nature of an explosion depends upon many factors, including the nature of the combustible material involved and where the blast takes place.
Many large-scale gas and other explosions happen due to the negligence of large American corporations and businesses. Oil and gas companies are among the most frequent businesses that find themselves in the spotlight when an explosion occurs on their watch. Following the explosion, victims and the general public often turn to the corporation itself for answers. The leaders of these businesses are suddenly faced with a crisis and a major public relations issue. In the aftermath of an explosion, how businesses and corporate leaders respond to destruction is important. The public and private response can lay the groundwork for determining the future of the company as well as those who were affected by the explosion.
Public Response to Explosions – Deepwater Horizon
On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, working on behalf of BP, was stationed off the coast of Louisiana. Around 10:00 p.m. that evening, a bubble of methane gas escaped from the well of the rig and burst through several barriers, causing a massive explosion aboard the ship. The Deepwater Horizon burned for approximately 24 hours after the explosion before it eventually sank in the Gulf of Mexico. As a result of the explosion, 11 Transocean employees aboard the ship were killed and numerous others were hurt.
Following the explosion, the ship began leaking oil, eventually resulting in a massive spill off the Gulf Coast. The resulting spill created an ecological disaster, killing thousands of marine animals including sea turtles and mammals. The resulting damages stemming from lawsuits, clean-up costs, and fines resulted in BP paying out nearly 54 billion dollars.
In the aftermath of the explosion and oil spill, then-BP CEO Tony Hayward was pushed into the spotlight. Hayward, a British businessman, had become head of the oil company a few years earlier. Following the Deepwater explosion, Hayward made a number of controversial statements, including saying he “wanted his life back” and referred to the explosion and resulting oil spill as “relatively tiny.”
Hayward’s comments angered victims and their family members, who believed he was minimizing the scale of the crisis and taking an insensitive approach to their suffering. Hayward’s comments eventually led to his resignation and replacement as BP’s CEO shortly after the explosion.
The PR Role of a Company Following an Explosion
A gas explosion can be an extremely traumatic and catastrophic event. When the explosion takes place on a national scale, an appropriate public relations response is appropriate. During times of crisis, leaders of oil and gas companies must display empathy for victims and their family members. Any public comments made following an explosion must also recognize the vast impact that a major explosion can have on individuals, property, and the environment. Failing to understand the magnitude of a massive oil and gas explosion can result in a harsh public response and damage to a company’s reputation as well as its bottom line.
Public Admissions of Fault
One area where public statements become difficult is the admission or allocation of fault for an explosion. When an explosion occurs, it is usually the result of several failures that took place over an extended period of time. With the Deepwater Horizon explosion, issues were discovered within the rig for at least a year leading up to the blast. Taking corrective action could have undoubtedly helped to prevent the blast.
The cause of an explosion may not be readily apparent to company leaders immediately after it occurs. While a leader must show public compassion and empathy, they are also motivated to walk a fine line when it comes to accepting blame or fault for the explosion. Any admissions made in public will certainly be used later when litigation is initiated by victims and their family members. For that reason, oil and gas companies are often advised to carefully craft their public statements to show concern while at the same time admitting very little which could later harm them in a legal proceeding.
The Company’s Reputation After an Explosion
When a major explosion and the resulting public relations crisis ensues, major companies often find themselves in a difficult position. The company must make an initial statement expressing the appropriate amount of concern while not accepting full legal responsibility. As the clean-up and mitigation efforts begin, the company remains front and center. Actions that are taken during this time are just as crucial as the statements made in the immediate aftermath of the explosion.
Following the Deepwater Horizon spill, BP ran an advertising campaign with television commercials reinforcing the efforts it was making to clean up the spill. Company leaders, however, internally maintained a policy filed with the United States government that they could not promise to restore property or ecology to normal following a spill.
The ongoing efforts made by companies are important to maintain their reputation as trustworthy producers. However, as with the initial statement, companies must be careful to avoid over-promising certain results. Making guarantees or promises may also subject a company to liability in the event that it falls short of its own goals.
National Gas Explosion Attorneys
There is no doubt that an oil and gas explosion is a major event in the lives of those affected. Oil and gas companies are often front and center following these incidents, however, the real victims are the individuals who are injured or killed and their loved ones. It is important to hold these companies accountable for their actions.
Here at Burg Simpson, we have a dedicated team of national explosion accident lawyers. We are not afraid to take on large corporations or businesses and we have the resources to do so. If you or a loved one have been affected by an explosion, please reach out to us using our online intake form or give us a call at (866) 695-2010 to see how we can help.