Author: Roberto, Michael A.
Source: Richard Ivey School of Business
Company Name: BP
Number of pages: 19
On the night of April 20, 2010, a series of explosions rocked the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Gas in the Macondo well had surged upward unexpectedly, causing a mix of drilling mud and seawater to spew uncontrollably into the air much like a volcanic eruption. Eleven crew members died during the explosion. The nation mourned their loss, and people watched as BP struggled to contain the environmental damage. Millions of barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico in the weeks that followed. The federal government relied on BP to manage the accident’s aftermath, in part because government officials lacked the expertise required to stop the spill. Meanwhile, BP downplayed their responsibility for the failure. As the firm failed repeatedly to stop the spill, the public became angry. This industrial disaster became the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Drawing on the Presidential Commission’s investigation, as well as numerous journalistic accounts, the case provides a detailed description of the events leading up to this catastrophic accident. Readers examine the key decisions that BP and its partners made as they drilled this well. They discover the alternative choices that could have been made and learn about the disagreements that took place (as well as those that failed to surface). Moreover, the case provides an opportunity to examine how BP’s history and organizational culture shaped the way those decisions were made. The case describes how Tony Hayward and his predecessor, John Browne, led the firm and shaped the culture during the past two decades. In addition, the case explains how the regulatory environment and political forces shaped decision-making in the oil industry. The case concludes by examining the aftermath of the accident, particularly the public relations miscues that BP experienced as it tried to manage the crisis.
This case has three primary learning objectives. First, it provides students an opportunity to examine how and why catastrophic failures occur. Second, the case highlights several factors that drive enhanced risk-taking in organizational decision-making. Finally, the case enables students to learn about the characteristics of an effective versus ineffective safety culture. The case can be used in courses in organizational behavior, decision-making, ethics and leadership. Instructors will find it appropriate at all levels, ranging from undergraduate courses to executive education. The case typically works best if students already have developed a familiarity with basic concepts regarding organizational culture and decision-making. Students do not need prior technical knowledge about the offshore oil drilling process to understand and analyze the case.