Content Analysis on BP 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Crisis

This post reveals the results of one of the primary research methods I used in my BP 2010 crisis case study- content analysis. As BP’s crisis was widely discussed in the press, this was the best quantitative primary research method to be used. It gave a solid basis of quantitative information and proved some of my main points. If you want to get a general understanding of the entire study, check all posts in the “BP” and “Theories” sections of this rather academic part of my blog. There you will find information about the theories applied to the case study, the research methods and main findings as well as the proposal of new crisis communication models and theories.

For the content analysis, 400 articles from different newspapers and different periods throughout the crisis were reviewed. The overall analysis was separated in three main clusters: 1) Victims Cluster (April 2010 – October 2010), which was reviewing articles from the Guardian and BBC News in the first six months after the crisis; 2) Shareholders Cluster (April 2012 – December 2012) reviewing articles from financial sources (Reuters, Bloomberg, The Telegraph, The Financial Times, BBC News and Wall Street Journal) in the second half of 2012 when a number of events of great importance happened, related to BP’s investors and shareholders; and 3) Strategic Shift Cluster (February 2013 – August 2013), which was reviewing articles from BBC News, The Guardian, Huffington Post, The Telegraph, New York Times, The Financial Times and Wall Street Journal in the period during BP trial, when the company changed its strategy from defence to attack.

content analysis

In order to be analysed in an easier way, the Victims Cluster was separated in three sub-periods – April-May, June-August and September-October. In the first sub-period, which was straight after the drilling rig platform blowout, the score was negative – (-27). The score for each period was determined by the frequency of key words that appear in the articles of that period. The score for each article was determined by the type of the article – neutral – 0, positive manor – (+1), positive major – (+2), negative manor – (-1) and negative major – (-2). During the second sub-period the frequency of negative key words increased to (-67). This was the period when BP share price had hit the bottom on the stock markets with $27.02 per share (BP: NYSE). During the third sub-period the company took control over the situation and made a very important step in the right direction by replacing its British chief executive Tony Hayward with the American Robert Dudley. This had positive effect on BP and the content analysis results proved it – the frequency of negative key words in the third sub-period reduced to (-7). The most frequent key words that appeared in the articles from the Victims Cluster were: “oil spill/ leak”, “disaster/ incident/ accident”, “costs”, “compensations” and “share price fall”.


The Shareholders Cluster covered the period from April 2012 to December 2012. During this period key events that were of great significance for BP and directly related to their shareholders and investors happened. These events were also argued to be in the core of BP’s sudden shift of strategy and also shift of stakeholder salience groups. The Shareholder Cluster was also separated in three sub-periods – April-June, July-September and October-December. In the first sub-period the score was average, keeping at (-27). In the second sub-period it reduced by half to (-13). During these two periods BP’s shares fell and rose slightly but did not make any significant difference to the situation. Shareholders and investors also gave small indications for change of their position toward the crisis and the way BP dealt with it until then. For the first time the articles from these two sub-periods started to contain key words such as ‘’settlement’’ and “agreement”.

During the third sub-period it could be observed from the graph that the frequency of negative key words rose significantly to (-59). This could be explained with two key events that happened in November 2012, directly affecting BP’s shareholders and investors. Firstly in the autumn of 2012 the company was fined by the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) for lying about the true amount of oil that gushed into the Gulf of Mexico after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig. BP had to pay a record sum of more than $500m to its investors and shareholders for that, but what was worse is that the company broke the trust of its principal stakeholders. An interesting thing that should be pointed out is the fact that the news of BP being fined by SEC did almost not appear in the articles of that period. The second event that was the breaking point in BP’s strategy was when the company signed a settlement with the Department of Justice and opened itself to uncontrollable compensation claims and settlements. Key words that appeared the most in the articles from the Shareholder Cluster were: ‘’settlement’’, ‘’trial/ court-case/ lawsuit’’, ‘’compensation costs/ payments’’, ‘’criminal penalties’’ and ‘’low shares’’.

The third sluster- Strategic Shift Cluster, was reviewing articles from the period between February 2013 and August 2013 when BP changed its strategy from defence to attack and went to court. This cluster was, like the other two, separated in three sub-periods – February-March, April-June and July-August and was the one characterised with the biggest score of negative coverage. As it is shown in the graph, the frequency of negative key words was high in the first sub-period scoring (-54). This is the time when the first phase of BP trial was due. During the second sub-period of the Strategic Shift Cluster the frequency of negative key words reduced to (-37). This could be explained with the fact that BP seemed to be in control of the situation by that time and was defending its position firmly. However, during the third sub-period an event that had a very negative effect over BP and the direction of the trial happened. The investors and shareholders decided to sue the company as a group in relation to the accusation of lying about the true amount of oil spilled into the ocean for which BP was fined by SEC in 2012. As a result of that the frequency of negative key words increased significantly in July and mostly in August 2013 scoring (-97). The key words associated with the Strategic Shift Cluster were: ‘’settlement’’, ‘’absurd/ fraudulent/ fictitious/ false claims’’, ‘’criminal charges/ penalties’’, ‘’trial’’, ‘’compensation payments’’ and ‘’contracts ban’’.

The content analysis provided a solid basis of quantitative information which applied well to the findings made out in the literature review as well as in the secondary research. However, a qualitative method was needed as well in order to consolidate the arguments the research aimed to prove. My next post will reveal the results from my second primary research method- interviews.

Lidiya Kirilova


One thought on “Content Analysis on BP 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Crisis

  1. Pingback: BP 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Crisis: What The Specialists Say (Part 1) | World of Crisis Comms

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