Wednesday, June 16, 2010

BP's Options

I feel like talking about some current events right now, mostly because the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is such a big deal. Talking about it months from now may or may not make sense, so might as well do it now.

I'm going to come right out and say it: I think this is going to be bad. Really bad. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the oil gushing out right now ends up on the shores of Europe or Africa. BP's CEO made a rather silly statement early on to the effect of "this spill is ok, because the ocean is really really big." I don't have to explain the silliness of that, but I do think that fact matters: it's the reason this isn't going to threaten our survival on the Earth.

So far, every attempt to plug the leak has failed. It's been somewhere around 50 days since the explosion; at this point the specific number of days loses significance. It's pretty clear that they can't stop it with anything other than the slow solution, though we don't know if that'll work either. The amount of oil that has spilled out is a subject of debate over estimates, but by now it's easy to assume it's more than anything in U.S history, and likely will be the worst in world history before it's done.

There are two things I hope will come of this. One is that hopefully this will become a major impetus for alternative energy. That's the easy one. The other probably won't happen, but would be nice, and very interesting: BP needs to change. The way this is going, they are in the running to become... well... "reviled" is a good world. They probably have a chance at surviving this as a company, but I think they'd have a better chance if they change their entire paradigm of operation.

How? By becoming a "do-gooder" company. Currently, BP's purpose in the world is to supply people with petroleum. That mission needs to change to supplying the world with energy, and repairing the damage done. I'd propose that instead of fining them out of business, we should give them a directive that they spend a portion of their time money and manpower to clean up the gulf oil spill, until it is cleaned up.

I remember reading something about that sort of concept of business in the book What Would Google Do by Jeff Jarvis. The idea is that instead of doing everything you can as a business to extract as much money as possible from the world, you instead extract as little as you can and stay in business. This has two purposes: one, it makes you look better, and two, it makes it almost impossible for some new company to show up and undercut your prices. A company's purpose (morally, logically, philosophically) is to create value, not to extract value. Most oil companies have been in the business of extracting value. Now if BP is to survive, and perhaps even flourish, it needs to start over with a new philosophy of creating value, through clean energy and through cleaning the mess it has made. If it's smart and energetic about it, it can survive and come out of this disaster and in 5-10 years be better off than it was before.

Do I think any of that will happen? No, I avoid having high expectations. Hopes, yes. Expectations, no.

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