So who's behind BP's piece?
For Geoff Morrell, the BP spokesman who penned the piece, media scolding is nothing new.
Morrell was the press secretary for the Pentagon from 2007 until he joined BP in 2011, and he has been talking up the Gulf's recovery ever since. He's also not shy about taking aim at those who don't play up the rebounding environment. In a speech to a Society of Environmental Journalists conference in New Orleans last month, Morrell implicitly criticized his audience for failing to provide the "full context" in stories about the spill response.
"Many of you reported on the spill when it first happened—and in the months that followed—but what's happened in the years since, in my opinion, has been underreported," he told the reporters. "As a result, too few people realize that the Gulf has shown remarkable resilience, defying dire predictions made at the time of the accident."
And why does BP keep diving into the argument?
Attacks from environmental groups on oil companies come with a stream steady enough that they rarely raise eyebrows, even among environment and energy insiders. But when the tiger turns after its tail is pulled, that's when the companies find themselves in the limelight. And when the topic of discussion is an offshore oil accident that killed 11 people and leaked nearly 5 million barrels of oil, that limelight is rarely flattering.
Obviously, the company cares about its image, and wants to defend it in a public platform. "This was an opinion piece submitted by BP to an influential newspaper to counter several op-eds about the Gulf that previously were published in this and other media outlets. It's no different than any other op-ed by any other company in any other publication," BP spokesman Jason Ryan said in a statement.
But there's a bigger risk for BP than public image: Resolving oil spills—and the compensation claims they spawn—can easily become a perpetual process. Just ask ExxonMobil, which for more than two decades has been debating the impact of the Exxon Valdez disaster on Alaska's Prince William Sound, as well as fighting requests to continue to pay for it. The company has already paid out billions in fines and compensation for the spill, but the terms of its 1992 settlement with Alaska and the federal government allowed for the case to be reopened as damages continue to be assessed. Requests for more have come ever since.
In Alaska, the case hinges on how well the ecosystem has recovered from the spill. That's not an easy assessment: Ecosystems lack a static health condition before they're hit by an oil spill, nor do they maintain one after. Natural weather cycles (think polar vortex), climate change, environmental changes elsewhere, and subsequent human activity all complicate assessments of how well an ecosystem has healed.