BP leaking credibility by the barrel

Are you as big a fool as I am? I’ve been giving BP the benefit of the doubt on the gulf oil disaster – until this morning, when I learned that the gusher could be spewing 11 to 16 times as much as BP has been saying. That’s equivalent to a new Valdez spill every four or five days. The bigger estimate is from of a Purdue University fluids expert without an apparent dog in this fight.

Either volume is a lot for the ecosystem to choke down. But if BP’s 5,000-barrels-a-day estimate is spin (and as of this morning on CNN, BP was sticking to that estimate), it has colossally backfired. In addition to the permanent damage to the company brand, the number has real implications for how you clean the mess up.

“I am concerned that an underestimation of the oil spill’s flow may be impeding the ability to solve the leak and handle the management of the disaster,” said U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass. “If you don’t understand the scope of the problem, the capacity to find the answer is severely compromised.”

Until this morning, I’ve viewed the tragedy less as a product of BP’s greed than the inevitable consequence of our oil  addiction. To the extent we drive more miles than we need to in autos bigger than we require, I reasoned, we all share blame for this. Now, I just wonder what else BP is hiding.

So, apparently, does the Today show’s Ann Curry, who grilled BP’s COO this morning, putting the company’s sinking credibility on excruciating display. Spoiler alert: If you expected an apology, you’ll be disappointed.

At the risk of putting too fine a point on it, in a crisis, come clean. Early on. It’s how you start making the best of a bad situation — or in this case, a situation going from bad to worse.