Days after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sank in the Gulf of Mexico, a conservative nonprofit group called the Institute for Energy Research asked BP to contribute $100,000 for a media campaign it was launching in defense of the oil industry. Although BP took a pass, the group’s advocacy arm went ahead with a campaign — only instead of defending BP, it vilified the company as a “safety outlier” in an otherwise safe industry. The campaign’s Web site features dozens of images of the burning rig, oil-smeared birds and other environmental devastation from the spill.
“BP is a victim of its own carelessness,” the group’s president, Thomas Pyle, wrote as part of the campaign’s kickoff in early July. “The rest of us should not be.” To backers of BP who were familiar with the discussions and spoke on the condition of anonymity, it seemed an awful lot like a shakedown. The initial proposal contained no criticism of the British oil giant or its handling of the spill. A BP spokesman declined to comment.
But Pyle, previously an oil-industry lobbyist and an aide to former congressman and Texas Republican Tom DeLay, said the anti-BP message was part of a separate campaign and was not intended as retaliation. “A lot of people were trying to lump the industry together as one cohesive unit,” Pyle said in an interview. “Our point was to not judge the whole industry by one incident and one actor.”