The Royal Dutch/Shell Group, more commonly referred to as Shell, is a global conglomerate of over 1,700 companies in over 90 countries and territories, including the...
Royal Dutch Shell
The Royal Dutch/Shell Group, more commonly referred to as Shell, is a global conglomerate of over 1,700 companies in over 90 countries and territories, including the major U.S. branch, Shell Oil. The Netherlands’ Royal Dutch company joined with Great Britain’s Shell Transport and Trading Group in 1903.
Royal Dutch Shell is ranked number 28 in the Top 100 Air Polluters Index.
Drilling in the Arctic
Just one year after the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster, Shell Offshore (a subsidiary) announced they planned to apply for a single permit to drill in the Arctic. After half a year of appealing, Royal Dutch Shell has received conditional approval by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to drill exploratory wells in the Arctic next summer. The Oil Spill Response Commission released a report in response to the initial request questioning the ability of Shell to respond to cleanup in the event of a spill in the Arctic. Shell pushed for permits that would allow them to emit thousands of tons of pollutants into the air sheds off the coast of Alaska. The air permits were denied by the Environmental Appeals Board after a case opened by the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission and the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope.
Niger Delta - Pollution and Human Rights Conflicts
Shell has become internationally infamous for their role in pollution and human rights violations in Nigeria. Shell requested the Nigerian militia protect its facilities from a nonviolent group in the village of Umeuchem in 1990. After 2 days of violence and 80 villager deaths, a judiciary panel determined that the villagers were in fact nonviolent and posed no threat.
While numerous ethnic groups have been affected by Shell’s operations, the case of the Ogoni people is most recognized. The Nigerian government, which is paid off heavily by Shell for their right to drill in the country, hanged nine environmental activists in 1995 for speaking out against Shell’s actions. One of the nine was Ken Saro-Wiwa, a widely recognized activist who led a nonviolent campaign against Shell and it’s environmental and social degradation of the Niger Delta. Nigerian people argue that the trial and his murder was an intimidation tactic conducted to deter further protests. Shell faced trials thirty years later, accused of helping the government to illegally detain, torture and murder protesters. Shell is still denying allegations. In order to avoid a trial over its alleged involvement in human rights violation and the death of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, Shell agreed to pay $15.5 million in settlements.
Shell is responsible for an estimated 1.5 million tons of oil spilled in the Niger Delta over the last 50 years—equivalent to one Exxon Valdez Spill every year for the past fifty years.
Shell is a member of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), a consortium of industrial corporate executives who portray themselves as allies in the solution for environmental justice. The WBCSD published a book Changing Course: A Global Business Perspective on Development and the Environment. In the section on “best practices,” Shell discusses its contribution to “human resource development” in Nigeria where Shell has extracted $30 billion in oil since 1956. Little if any of that $30 billion goes back into the communities of the Niger Delta.
A WikiLeak cable released in December of 2010 reveals that Shell has employees in nearly every relevant branch of the Nigerian Government. In the leaked cable, Peter Robinson, the Shell Vice President for Africa, was quoted telling the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs that the Nigerian government doesn’t understand the oil industry. “Amateur technocrats run the oil and gas sector. They believe that they can control the industry via spreadsheets and pushing through the PIB [Petroleum Industry Bill.]”
On its website, Shell acknowledges that Nigerians want the company out of their area or a greater share in oil revenue, and then blames them for oil spills and massive pollution:
“Local people demand better public services and a greater share of the oil revenues that companies like the Shell Petroleum Development Company pay to central government…” “…They [Nigerian groups] cause massive pollution by damaging wellheads and other facilities. That has created major environmental problems from oil spills, increasing community resentment of oil companies still further."
Ad campaigns and Shell’s website claim oil companies are a positive influence on Nigeria, providing job opportunities and economic development, yet delegates of Essential Action and Global Exchange note that oil companies in the Niger Delta employ “inadequate environmental standards, public health standards, human rights standards, and relations with affected communities...These corporations' acts of charity and development are slaps in the face of those they claim to be helping."
The Guardian reported in March 2007 that on September 1, 2006 and again on November 13, Shell was issued a legal notice that it was failing to operate safely. Months earlier, on July 27, 2006, Shell was told by the North Sea safety regulator that it had “failed to ensure the health and safety of your employees and others.” Just eight days before this notice was served, an Aberdeen sheriff's court had ruled in a fatal accident inquiry that Shell could have prevented the two deaths if it had properly repaired a hole in a corroding pipe on a Brent platform. Shell had earlier admitted responsibility for this accident but on the day of the sheriff's report, the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee complained that the Brent Bravo platform still had leaks, dangerous stairs, and lifts left broken for six months.
Shell has been gas flaring for almost 50 years. Gas flaring, a method of eliminating toxic gas by burning it in high plumes, has been devastating Nigeria, with over 20 billion cubic meters of gas burned per year. These gas flares can be seen from space and cause constant light pollution. The gas that is burned ends up in waterways and fields where an estimated 20.25 million people rely directly on the land for their food, water, and livelihoods.
Shell owns 27.5% shares in Sakhalin Energy, the operator of the Sakhalin-2. This project is expected to add 5% to the world's current liquefied natural gas (LNG) capacity, and aims to be the premier energy source for Asia-Pacific. It is also Russia’s first offshore gas project. The project is a mainly export-driven initiative in a remote region of Russia with limited infrastructure and harsh environmental and climatic conditions. According to an article in the New York Times, the project has had a "turbulent history," and in 2006 a Russian envieonmental regulator threatened to halt work on the pipeline.
East Resources, a Pennsylvania-based oil and gas company involved in fracking, was bought by Shell in July 2010 for $4.7 billion. During the 2010 election cycle, Shell contributed $308,000 to Pennsylvania Republican Tom Corbett in his successful gubernatorial bid. Corbett, who is a known ally to the fracking industry. Corbett also recieved a combined $280,000 in 2009 from Terrance Pgula, the founder of East Resources, and his wife Kim Pegula.
Shell (along with Falcon Oil & Gas and Bundu Oil & Gas) has applied for an exploration license in the Karoo, the semi-desert region around South Africa. Shell claims to be “working collaboratively with local communities to ensure all concerns are addressed and considered,” yet the Science and Technology Minister of South Africa Naledi Pandor denied Shell’s claim that they were “in regular communication.”
According to a report by Havemann Inc., Specialist Energy Attorneys, the introduction of fracking by Shell would decentralized local economic development, affect the lives and livelihoods of local communities through water resource disruption, affect the value of the area for tourism and thus the local tourism economy, and affect the local sense of place through changes in the visual or landscape character. In response to full-page Shell ads about hydrofracking in the Karoo, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ordered Shell to withdraw “unsustainable” and “misleading” claims.
In July of 2011 the state of Colorado approved Shell for hydraulic fracturing in the Spanish Peaks, a unique formation in southern Colorado.
The Athabasca Oil Sands Project (AOSP) is a joint venture in tar sands extraction in Alberta Canada, with 60% ownership by Shell.
On it’s website, Shell admits that “fuel produced from oil sands bitumen emit 5-15% more carbon dioxide than the average barrel of crude consumed in the US on a life-cycle basis,” however reviews conducted by NRDC in 2008 and again 2010 on many of the same studies and literature show a significantly higher range of 8 to 37% greater emissions. The more conservative estimates on Shell’s website come from the government of Alberta and an “independent” energy resource and analysis company, CERA. According to the NRDC staff blog, their studies lack "a full and complete life-cycle analysis," which is imperative for comparison. Shell’s use of the government's low-estimates is further proof of the strong connection between Canada and the oil industry, which have partnered to lobby European countries on accepting tar sands imports by preventing protective legislation.
A process called Shell Enhance was created by Shell Canada with help of Government scientists at Natural Resources Canada. The treatment has been in use since 2006 and boasts the removal of sand and clay particles from tar sands froth. Gary Lunn, Minister of Natural Resources, said about the partnership: "This technology demonstrates Shell Canada's dedication to innovative solutions, and is a great example of how governments and industry can work together to develop clean technologies."
The Canadian Government has contributed $120 million to this project.
Following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, John Heifmeister, former president of Shell Oil, pubically blamed the US government for the spill. According to Heifmeister, if the government didn’t respond to pressure from environmental groups by making drilling on land so difficult, then there wouldn’t be so many spills offshore, a significantly more risky endeavor.