What BP’s Bob Dudley didn’t say

BP’s Bob Dudley outlined his vision for the company’s future before a gathering of the energy industry faithful at CERAWeek today. It’s part of an ongoing effort in which BP wants to define itself beyond the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Dudley’s speech comes, of course, as the civil trial over the Deepwater Horizon disaster is in its second week in New Orleans, a point that he acknowledged. He once again talked about BP being “among the many responsible parties” for the accident and how the company “stepped up from the outset” and did the right thing.

Then he went on, once again, to talk about lessons learned and the company’s efforts to share those with the industry, which culminated in this:

“Two years ago when I stood here on this very spot, I said I was determined that we would emerge from the Deepwater Horizon accident as a safer, stronger, more sustainable company.  I said we would meet our commitments and that we would apply what we had learned throughout our organization. We have made good on those promises.”

Have they? For that, we have only Dudley’s word. BP is determined that, three years removed from the Deepwater Horizon, it should get to define its own story. But there’s a powerful technique in storytelling: show don’t tell.

Last week, the BP executive who led the company’s internal investigation into the Deepwater Horizon disaster testified that his report didn’t examine management’s contribution to the accident, which killed 11 men.

Mark Bly said the report deviated from BP’s own policy by not examining management’s role, something that he and Dudley’s predecessor decided at the time.

Policies don’t mean much if you can decide to exempt yourself from them when they’re needed. If Dudley wanted to show how he’s changed BP’s safety culture, he could have addressed the lesson learned from this incident and how it’s being applied throughout the organization.

Will BP ever examine the cultural causes of its operating failures, or will management continue to get a pass? How it addresses that issue has a lot to do with the credibility of BP’s story going forward.