Monday, December 10, 2012

Overwhelmed oilman

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill is one of the largest environmental disaster to occur in U.S. history. If I asked each one of you what you remember most about the whole situation I think a few of you at least would answer with one of Tony Hayward's upsetting statements.

Tony Hayward, the former CEO of BP.

Here are some of the more well-known: "I'd like my life back;" "The impact to the environment is very, very, modest;" "The ocean is big;" and "It's America– of course there will be illegitimate claims." Most of these outrageous statements were filmed and can be found on YouTube - go HERE

The sad part of these statements is that they got Americans to hate Tony Hayward instead of uniting the country to work to stop the oil spill. 

In the research paper I wrote as the culmination of the Advance Science Communication course, I examine Tony Hayward's character during the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. 

Now how do you analyze someone's character? Well, you use rhetorical analysis. No, not the same as rhetorical questions. Rhetoric refers to the type of words, tone, structure, and meaning used when speaking or writing. It's sort of like what your English teacher made you do with Shakespeare's sonnets. (Oh memories of high school English!)

Oh yes, I did. Mr. Ford's 2006 AP English class. Check out the girl in the gray sweater! (This is an earlier Christmas present for you, readers.)
I read articles from The New York Times and The Washington Post about Hayward really focusing on word choice and actions that suggested a certain type of role. What I found was that Hayward's character changed from before, during, and after the oil spill. 

Before the spill, Hayward took on the role of a reformer. He became CEO in 2007 and started to changes things up. His goal was to improve safety and he did so by instituting changes.

During the spill, Hayward was at first a strong leader. He spoke confidently and assured the American public that things were under control. The problem was they weren't under control and after awhile Hayward turned into an overwhelmed oilman. That's when it went downhill for him. Soon after utter some of those saying I listed above Hayward was out of a job. Good thing too because he made it harder for America to clean up and move on. 

What's Hayward up to nowadays? Well, he's back in the oil business - a much riskier, small oil business. Really nothing has changed. Hayward's still the leader of an oil company but now he's trying to redeem himself by playing a more challenging game. 

Why do we care about Hayward's character? Well, it says a lot about how industry treats communication. Without good communication, the information from authorities won't be trusted and the we have a much harder time figuring out what is correct. We hope that understanding the typical roles a CEO spokesman falls into may us figure out who to trust. This story also highlights that people should be held accountable for their communication choices. But how do you hold a CEO accountable? I have no idea. 

I think a great start is to teach young scientists and engineers about good communication. Any Mines students out there - take Advanced Science Communication (LAIS 423/523)!!! You will enjoy it (no, long essay for undergrads). I also think it is my job to take what I know about communication and share it within industry. But these are just my thoughts. What other solutions do you guys think are out there? 

Thanks for tuning in!