Crude Business: A play about the BP oil spill in one act



Photo illustration by Jason Willis

Susan Elizabeth Birnbaum: Director of the Minerals Management Service.

Hayward: The CEO of BP.

Kevin Costner: An actor. Portrayed here by a telephone.

James Cameron: A director of moving pictures.

Barack Obama: The nosy neighbor.

Hayward’s Secretary: Hates his job.



Curtain up on the office of Tony Hayward. Hayward is standing by his desk, talking to Susan Elizabeth Birnbaum. A desk calendar displays the month of May.

Birnbaum: Well I really gotta get going. We just started to download like a terabyte of porn torrents as I left. I better make sure that’s on track. Say hey to your fam for me.

Hayward: Thanks for stopping by, Birnie! The two exchange a high five, followed by a behind-the-back stealth low five.

Birnbaum exits stage left. Enter Hayward’s Secretary. Hayward is playing minesweeper on his computer.

Secretary: Sir, I’ve been meaning to ask you about our safety regulations.

Hayward: Okay. What is that?

Suddenly, from stage right, in the Gulf of Mexico, there’s an explosion.

Hayward: … What?

Secretary: Sir, one of our underwater oil rigs just exploded. It killed 11 people. It’s spilling millions of gallons of oil into the ocean daily. Sir, I need to ask, what is our contingency plan for this situation?

Hayward: Our contingency… is… what… I will tell you…. in a second…

Hayward stares at his computer screen, clicking away.

Secretary: Sir… are you Googling the word “contingency?”

Hayward: What. No. What? Well, first thing’s first.

Secretary: Try to plug the oil leak?

Hayward: No, underestimate the damage we did. And estimate it in barrels. Most people measure things in barrels, right?

Secretary: Only laughs and monkeys, I think.

Hayward: Still, that’s only a couple million gallons, right? There’s like a trillion bazillion gallons of water in the ocean, right? I think the environmental impact of this disaster will be very very modest.

Secretary: It will probably kill every living thing in the spill radius, devastate the economies of the coastal cities, and turn the Gulf of Mexico into a toxic soup for nearly a decade.

Hayward: I see your point. Our stock might go down. Alright, step two…

Secretary: Plug the leak?

Hayward: No, blame someone else. Who else is involved? Transocean? Halliburton? I bet one of those bastards put a faulty screw in there or something. Send out a press release. AND SEND IN THE SCIENTISTS!

Secretary leaves stage left. In walk four men in white lab coats, carrying beakers, microscopes, and wearing goggles. There is no doubt in the audience’s mind that these are scientists.

Hayward: Okay, damage control. Throw some ideas out.

Scientist A: We could put even more chemicals in the ocean to disperse the oil. Nobody’ll care about a tiny bit more toxic stuff at this point, right?

Scientist B: We could try to put a cap on the leak. Like a really big cap? I don’t think I’m accurately emphasizing the bigness of the cap.

Scientist C: Let’s put some mud in there…. like heavy mud! And a bunch of golf balls and other crap…. I don’t, I just got here!

Scientist D: Okay. What if. We buy the word “oil.” FROM GOOGLE. And put ads up there that say how great we are? Problem solved.

Hayward: Those are all terrible ideas. Start on them right away. Hayward pushes a button on his desk and a trap door in the floor opens, dumping the scientists into a chute.

Hayward: All right, what say we take one month off for lunch and meet back here.

House lights dim. When they come back on, Hayward has a half eaten tuna sandwich at his desk. The calendar now reads June. He presses the button on his intercom to talk to his secretary.

Hayward: Well, where are we now?

Secretary: We’ve made no progress. Wait… yes, we’ve actually made it worse.

Just then, President Obama smashes through the wall of Hayward’s office with his bare fists.

Obama: Whose ass do I have to kick around here?!

Hayward: Mr. President, I am doing my best to fix this and all you are doing is looking to kick asses and chew bubblegum, respectively. Really, isn’t this your fault?

Obama: How is this my fault?

Hayward: Well you didn’t stop me from doing it, right?

Obama: You’ve got to clean this oil up now.

Hayward: What are we supposed to do with watery oil?

Secretary: Kevin Costner is calling for you on line two, sir.

Hayward: The guy from “Dances with Wolves?” What does he want?

Costner’s voice comes out over speaker phone.

Costner: Mr. Hayward, after playing a fishman who drank filtered pee in the movie “Waterworld,” I wondered if that could also be done with oil. Turns out it can!

Hayward: Hmmm pass. We’ve got this handled. We’re working on a relief well thing that can stop the leakage in about two months. So we’ve got that on our plate already.

Secretary: James Cameron is here to see you, sir.

Hayward: The guy who made “Dances with Wolves in Space?” What does he want? Enter James Cameron stage left.

Cameron: Mr. Hayward, you are an idiot. I have a team of undersea robots I was going to use for Titanic 2, where frozen Jack Dawson comes back to life, saved by mermaids, and takes revenge on the surface world. We can use these to determine exactly how badly you screwed up.

Hayward: Hold on everybody. We’re all smart people. We can figure this out. Let’s order out for Thai food, put our heads together, and do this right.

House lights down. Actors quickly cover the stage in a foot of oil, put up a Christmas tree, change the calendar to December, and put on fake beards. House lights up. Everyone looks pensive.

Hayward: Yeah, I got nothin.’