NEW ORLEANS — Nearly 20 months after its massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill — and just as the nation focuses on New Orleans, host of the BCS title game — BP is pushing a slick nationwide public relations campaign to persuade Americans that the Gulf region has recovered.
BP PLC's rosy picture of the Gulf, complete with sparkling beaches, booming businesses, smiling fishermen and waters bursting with seafood, seems a bit too rosy to many people who live there. Even if the British oil giant's campaign helps promote the Gulf as a place where Americans should have no fear to visit and spend their money, some dismiss it as "BP propaganda."
The PR blitz is part of the company's multibillion dollar response to the Gulf oil spill that started after the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and leading to the release of more than 200 million gallons of oil. As engineers struggled to cap the out-of-control well, it turned into the largest offshore oil spill in U.S.
Now, BP is touting evidence that the Gulf's ecology has not been severely damaged by the spill and highlighting improving economic signs.
"I'm glad to report that all beaches and waters are open for everyone to enjoy!" BP representative Iris Cross says in one TV spot to an upbeat soundtrack. "And the economy is showing progress, with many areas on the Gulf Coast having their best tourism season in years."
The campaign, launched just before Christmas, has ramped up for the two-week period around the Sugar Bowl and Bowl Championship Series title game to be played on Monday between LSU and Alabama.
The company is paying chefs Emeril Lagasse and John Besh to promote Gulf seafood, it's hired two seafood trucks to hand out fish tacos and seafood-filled jambalaya to the hundreds of thousands of tourists and fans pouring into the city for the football games and it's spreading its messages at galas, pre-game parties and vacation giveaways.
But the ad campaign rings hollow to many folks here.
"They talk about areas being all open. There are areas that are still closed," said A.C. Cooper, a shrimp fisherman in Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana. He listed some bays and fishing spots that he says the state still has closed due to oil contamination. "It's bogus, it's not the truth."
He added that last fall's shrimp harvest was dismal. "The numbers on our shrimp are way down," he said. "They (BP) make it sound like they're doing a lot, but they're not doing much to help the fishermen out ... I got good fishermen struggling to pay their bills right now."