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ConocoPhillips' slick PR no match for Bohai spill

By Jiang Hongbing (People's Daily Online)

16:51, September 06, 2011

Edited and Translated by People's Daily Online

If U.S.-based ConocoPhillips cannot meet the lowest standard of social credibility and adopts a negative attitude toward environmental responsibility in China, its so-called "crisis management" will not only fail to help it but will also make it incur more losses.

After ConocoPhillips's repeated delays and a series of "concealment and deceits," China's State Oceanic Administration has finally ordered the company to halt its operations and production at the Penglai 19-3 oilfield in the Bohai Bay. ConocoPhillips instantly made an announcement on the following day, in which it has promised to suspend the production activities "pending certain steps."

Compared to its earlier procrastination and even false reporting that it had thoroughly sealed a leak, ConocoPhillips has seemingly improved by making an immediate response. Furthermore, ConocoPhillips has also questioned the veracity of a piece of related news by the China Central Television and asked the latter to correct its mistake.

ConocoPhillips's rapid and tough response to the allegedly "false" news amid trouble has showed that it is virtually good at execution. However, the fact that it is highly sensitive and vigorously defensive of its image has stood in contrast to its indifference to China’s marine pollution.

After the Bohai Sea Oil Leak Incident occurred, ConocoPhillips, facing the oil leakage floating widely on the sea surface, kept the true situation of the incident hidden for a very long time. Once the incident turned into focal point of the media, ConocoPhillips immediately lied in July that the oil leak points had been effectively controlled, and the work of cleaning up the oil spill had been fundamentally finished.

When it was threatened with the pollution-cleaning deadline set by the State Oceanic Administration of China (SOA), ConocoPhillips lied again on the last day before the deadline that it had completed the job of thoroughly checking up the potential oil leak points and sealing up the existent oil leak points. When its lies were exposed, it said that the job was delayed because of the weather.

From these countermeasures, it can be seen that the ConocoPhillips, as a well-known multinational corporation, really deeply knows the essence of the public relations in a crisis: In the beginning of the crisis, delay the release of information and block the passage of information as much as possible. If the lies are exposed, give replies as soon as possible to seize a dominant position in the public opinion. Appear sincere, but be deceptive in reality and have nothing to say regarding the truth. However, facts have proven that if the ConocoPhillips does not have the basic trustworthiness and responsibility for the environment, this kind of crisis public relations will not help it out but instead will cause more trouble.

According to the investigation results released by the SOA, this Bohai Sea Oil Leak Incident was a caused by a series of illegal operations and stupid human errors. It could be predicted that, given the diffusion of ocean pollution and fishermen's severe losses, it is in the name of justice and a requirement of the law that the criminal side is punished accordingly. No matter how rich you are and how many public relation skills you have mastered, you will not be able to escape from the obligations you are supposed to hold. Only if the ConocoPhillips takes responsibility for the society, environment and public, can it get out of this crisis.

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