Now it’s time to test the Risk and Crisis Evaluation Methodology we published back in 2008 on the BP Gulf of Mexico spill. The methodology was originally presented in our book (F. Oboni & C. Oboni, Improving Sustainability through Reasonable Risk & Crisis Management, 2007).
Let’s start with the probability of the spill. We are not oil experts, so can only assume that this accident, declared by various voices in the media as “almost impossible”, had a probability of occurrence that could have been evaluated (before it occurred) by some experts (BP’s or third party) at one in a million or less. We will not discuss the technical details leading to that value, we just assume it as the reasonable numeric translation of the upper bound probability of an “almost impossible” event.
1. As per foreseeable public relation consequences, a large magnitude spill scenario, following our simplified methodology (refer to the link above) would have certainly fallen in the “intolerable” are of public relation consequences.
2. As per the physical consequences, even if a company “rosy scenario” attitude would have lead to ignore possible casualties on the platform, long range biological and environmental effects, damage to the fishing industry, but had just used past large spills from, say the mining industry, the scenario would have lead to easily estimating direct losses and close indirect consequences at least 1B$, may be more.
3. A loss of share values in the order of 30% could also have been foreseen, as a minimum and, based on other industrial accidents, the maximum loss possibly going, if bankruptcy is avoided, as high as 90%. Past cases have also shown that duration of the share value loss can go as long as a decade…
If we place now the “upper estimate” probability (one in a million is expressed numerically as 10E-6) and the 1B$ “minimum estimate” loss on the probability-cost diagram (See red bubble starting at 1B$ at the bottom right of the Figure)
and compare the values with a “generalized large company” tolerability curve we have been using for the 2008 study, we can see that the scenario is intolerable even with these rough and oversimplified assumptions…Let’s put it this way: when we encounter cases like this one (and we do in our practice while performing quantitative risk assessments for our clients) we certainly ask our clients to go way more into the details of the analysis…
Of course, one can also assume that BP’s own tolerability curve (did they develop one?) is/was so much higher than the one we used (because BP is such a powerhouse) that the risk would have turned “tolerable” in their analysis (did they perform an explicit/formal one?): to that we will answer that in this paper we have let aside many physical potential consequences (see above) and purposely neglected to add to the physical losses the reputational ones to express a bare minimal estimate of losses which would be difficult to argue against. If you go back a few paragraphs you will see that the public relation costs were deemed intolerable to start with, let alone all other ethical and human implications of such a catastrophic scenario.
Reality is now showing costs of consequences that are easily hiking well above 10B$, and history will tell if the company emerges alive from this crisis (Banks emerged because of governmental bailouts: will BP “dirty and oily business” be bailed out because of strategic vital importance or because many institutional investors (pensions) count on the company’s dividends?).
We know that, of course, the large flow oil spill in the Gulf o Mexico scenario is not the only one a large company has to consider when defining their mitigative prioritizations.
For example, the figure we are using using shows the result of a large company ERM study, which resulted in defining fourteen scenarios that were lying over tolerability (see How to Rationally Prioritize Risks).
Methods exist to properly prioritize risks and bring large industries into tolerable areas without breaking their financial backs.
One last consideration is the following: the same type of rational reasoning should be used by regulators in order to ensure that rules and guidelines are reasonable and cover areas that really matter to the public and our environment.
In 2007/2008 we presented a book and a paper with a Generic Phased Crisis Model and a Simplified Model of Public Reactions which can be used to evaluate crises acceptability, stressing the fact that such a simplified approach was fine to evaluate crises at a rather crude screening level. Finally, we noted that there are still companies that do not perform Entreprise Risk Management (ERM), and that among those who perform it, some use overly crude systems that blur reality either in too dark or too rosy tones. We stressed that the future lies in using Risk to weigh decisions, rather than just guiding mitigation.
We showed a simplified form of Quantitative Risk Assessment applied to world-wide famous cases and went along explaining that useful metrics to measure the “Enterprise disservice” of a company can be the Share Value drop in case of a crisis, which, of course, compounds with the direct and other indirect costs of such a crisis. We also explained that other metrics that can be used such as, for example: Loss of habitat (km2); Loss of species (biodiversity, number of species); Loss of human lives (number of casualties); Any complex metric that can be derived for example by using “multiple portfolio” analysis.
We wrote that a priori Estimates of the probability of the disservice to happen can be derived, in terms of “framing ranges” by using simplified approaches from our book. An example has also been published (See Example).
Finally we compared the risk, i.e. the combination of probability of a mishap with its consequences to a “large company” risk tolerability curve to show how significant the crises/risks were/had been for the cases considered in our paper.
Was BP, like many other players world-wide, a victim of the syndrome we described in this post?.
Will humans ever change?