July 2013by John Donovan.
No one disputes that cancer-causing benzene, explosive methane and other hazardous compounds are present in the abandoned oil waste. But while Shell’s testers argue the chemicals don’t pose major health risks, residents and the investigators representing them say that people and pets have become sick and died from a spectrum of illnesses as a result of living in the community.
By Sandy Mazza, Staff Writer: Posted: 07/19/2013
Carson is on the verge of declaring a local emergency to spur more rapid cleanup of its environmentally contaminated Carousel housing tract, which sits on a former oil tank farm that left untold amounts of petroleum just a few feet below the neighborhood’s 285 homes.
The city filed a claim for damages this week in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging that Shell Oil Co. is trespassing and creating a public nuisance that is causing injury. On Thursday night, council members told staff to prepare an emergency resolution seeking immediate remediation of the problem.
“Five years is long enough,” Councilman Mike Gipson said. “The people of Carousel tract need some answers now. When will this be resolved? And how? No one is answering that. Everyone is passing the buck while people’s lives are hanging in the balance. It’s not fair.”
It isn’t clear how the regulatory agency overseeing the cleanup — the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board — will respond to Carson’s declaration. Officials have known about the problem for five years and, as it stands now, actual cleanup won’t begin until next year at the earliest.
“It’s really expressing the city’s concern about the state of the current environmental investigation,” Carson Planning Officer Sheri Repp-Loadsman said. “We’re looking at the best ways to use the (local emergency) resolution as a tool.”
The council will consider adopting the emergency resolution at or before its Aug. 6 meeting, Repp-Loadsman said.
Two years ago, the regional water board ordered Shell to clean the soil to a depth of 10 feet below the residential community. Since then, the company has conducted extensive testing inside homes and below ground to determine whether the oil is turning into hazardous vapors.
No one disputes that cancer-causing benzene, explosive methane and other hazardous compounds are present in the abandoned oil waste. But while Shell’s testers argue the chemicals don’t pose major health risks, residents and the investigators representing them say that people and pets have become sick and died from a spectrum of illnesses as a result of living in the community.
The oil was discovered during soil testing in 2008 near the 50-acre community on the city’s southernmost boundary, near Wilmington. Soon after it was found, Shell investigators began tests to determine how bad the contamination was.
The crude stems from the tank farm that occupied the land from the 1920s through 1966, when construction began on the Carousel tract. Shell used the area to store crude oil and, when the company vacated the property, it demolished oil reservoirs and left the rubble and waste petroleum in the ground. Though the tanks reached a below-ground depth of roughly 10 feet, the oil has leaked at least 50 feet below ground, investigators said.
Since 2008, residents have been warned not to let their children play in backyards. Rigorous testing has temporarily displaced homeowners while investigators take over their homes to test the air quality and sub-slab vapors. In the past year, Shell’s pilot tests have dug up front yards, exposing smelly, oil-soaked soil. The water board has required Shell to submit a so-called Remedial Action Plan by the end of this year to outline the steps it will take to clean the soil and its time line. The actual cleanup is scheduled to begin once the water board approves that plan.
However, attorneys representing the residents and the city argue that Shell’s tentative plan to clean soil to a depth of 10 feet below some homes — and only on land that isn’t developed — is extremely flawed.
The July 16 complaint was filed on behalf of the city by Girardi and Keese, the same law firm representing residents suing Shell. Girardi and Keese and its investigator, Erin Brockovich, battled PG&E in a contamination case involving the desert town of Hinkley, Calif., that was dramatized in a 2000 feature film.
The complaint demands “full and total abatement of the contamination down to approximately 40 feet below the Carousel neighborhood.”
Bob Finnerty, an attorney with Girardi and Keese, said several complaints have already been filed on behalf of 1,008 clients who say they have been physically and financially harmed by living in the neighborhood.
“The soil is contaminated down to 50 feet,” Finnerty said. “The water board is exploring the removal of 10 feet to determine whether or not that would be sufficient. The reality is that would be a simple Band-Aid procedure and, in a few years, residents would have the identical problem of vapor intrusion into their homes.”
@sandymazza on Twitter
Now Superintendent Thomas Murphy has approached OSSL saying that he is going to investigate. He has presented himself “as an independent person to the ongoing issues in Co Mayo” with clean hands. I can only guess that he did not receive a share of the free booze received from Shell by hundreds of his fellow County Mayo Garda police officers. With all due respect to Superintendent Murphy, he can hardly be described as “independent”. However, if Superintendent Murphy decides to press ahead, the first person he should approach is Detective Chief Superintendent John Gilligan. He should ask Gilligan if he personally helped unload a delivery of alcohol at Bellmullet Garda station. (He did) If Gilligan declines to answer without first seeking advice from his lawyer, that alone would speak volumes. Superintendent Murphy may also wish to ask Gilligan and the other Garda who offloaded the free booze, who paid for it, who delivered it and who ended up drinking it?
By John Donovan
We have already published several articles about Shell’s corruption of the Irish Police Force, the Garda.
Shell has spent almost €100,000 at legitimate retail value on supplying free alcohol (brought across the border) to quell the thirst of hundreds of Garda officers involved in supposedly policing the controversial Corrib Gas Project on an impartial basis. Complaints have been made over the past several years by environmental campaigners and members of the local population all alleging that the police are working for Shell.
The Garda is currently the subject of public ridicule on YouTubeover the Shell alcohol corruption scandal.
Shell used a small local company, OSSL, as a “Mr Fixit” to ease the progress of the much hated pipeline by spreading gifts around where deemed necessary, for example on land owners.
To hide what was going on, invoices were falsified and OSSL had to hand over to Shell receipts for goods purchased for distribution to the lucky recipients, such as the free booze showered on County Mayo police.
Now more revelations:
- OSSL allege that Terry Nolan, when Chief Executive of Shell EP Ireland, demanded that Neil Rooney of OSSL should give a false statement to a Garda Ombudsman inquiry into a violent incident that took place at Pollathomais in County Mayo involving Garda Superintendent Joe Gannon, allegedly described by Nolan as being “Shell’s man”.
- During the Royal Dutch Shell Plc AGM held in May, Peter Voser, the Chief Executive of the oil giant publicly agreed to intervene with a view to resolving outstanding issues with OSSL. So Voser is now personally involved.
- The Garda has appointed Superintendent Thomas Murphy from the Swinford district of County Mayo to investigate the allegations made by OSSL.
- OSSL claim that in 2003 they engaged in a covert operation on behalf of Shell EP Ireland and discovered that the objective of the cover of darkness activity was to fool planning officials and avoid a potential delay of up to a year and considerable embarrassment for Shell. From what I have seen, the mission seems to have been executed like a comedy caper, but the intent was serious and apparently successful.
- OSSL owner Desmond Kane is so appalled by the continuing treacherous treatment his small company has received from Shell, including the failure of the Peter Voser intervention, that there are fears for his health.
“FACE OFF IN POLLATHOMAIS”
This was a particularly violent face off in Pollathomais between lawful protestors on the one side and Shell and its agents, including the Garda led by Superintendent Joe Gannon on the other. As can be seen in a YouTube video, a digger machine used by Shell became the focus of the fracas. It was in regard to this ugly confrontation that Shell EP Ireland CEO Terry Nolan demanded that Neil Rooney, who witnessed events, must falsify his evidence given to the investigation carried out by the Garda Ombudsman. Nolan informed Rooney that his statement had to be changed because the policeman involved in the incident was going to be hung out to dry and he was, as Nolan allegedly put it“our man” and “had to protected at all costs”.
After Rooney consulted with his OSSL colleague, Desmond Kane, over the demand to submit a new statement, he understandably declined to do so. Shell’s whole attitude to OSSL then changed dramatically for the worse. Neil Rooney says: “there is no doubt in my mind that that refusal to lie ‘on demand’ for the Shell CEO cost us our positions and livelihood and we are still paying a massive price.”
INTERVENTION BY PETER VOSER
I supplied OSSL with admittance cards to the May 2013 Royal Dutch Shell Plc AGM with a recommendation that they should raise their dispute with Shell EP Ireland directly with Peter Voser in the Q & A Session. This was after Mr Voser had chosen for several months to ignore emails from OSSL. Now he was publicly cornered into speaking on this potentially explosive subject and quickly agreed to a meeting with a view to resolution. He accepted a condition set by OSSL. Iain Middleton, Royal Dutch Shell Contracting and Procurement Leader for Europe subsequently confirmed in an email to OSSL that he had been asked by Peter Voser to meet with Desmond Kane and Neil Rooney of OSSL in Dublin. OSSL had insisted on someone representing Shell who had not been involved with Shell EP Ireland. The meeting came to nought because Shell wrongly calculated that it could still keep a lid on the scandal.
GARDA/SHELL INVESTIGATION OF THE ALLEGATIONS
The Garda says it has already carried out an internal investigation of OSSL allegations and found no evidence to support them. In other words the Garda investigated the Garda and the Garda conveniently cleared the Garda.
Shell has used precisely the same clever formula.
Shell says that it carried out an internal investigation and found no evidence to support the allegations. Shell investigated Shell and Shell conveniently cleared Shell.
This whitewashing process allows a scandal to be covered up. The end result is a sanitizing statement carefully and deliberately designed to deceive.
Both the Garda and Shell know that in fact the allegations are true.
Now Superintendent Thomas Murphy has approached OSSL saying that he is going to investigate. He has presented himself “as an independent person to the ongoing issues in Co Mayo” with clean hands. I can only guess that he did not receive a share of the free booze received from Shell by hundreds of his fellow County Mayo Garda police officers. With all due respect to Superintendent Murphy, he can hardly be described as “independent”.
However, if Superintendent Murphy decides to press ahead, the first person he should approach is Detective Chief Superintendent John Gilligan. He should ask Gilligan if he personally helped unload a delivery of alcohol at Bellmullet Garda station. (He did) If Gilligan declines to answer without first seeking advice from his lawyer, that alone would speak volumes. Superintendent Murphy may also wish to ask Gilligan and the other Garda who offloaded the free booze, who paid for it, who delivered it and who ended up drinking it?
There is a volume of correspondence between OSSL and Shell when the alcohol issue is discussed and no denial is made by Shell. A classic example is an email exchange that took place on 22 May 2012 between OSSL and the current CEO of Shell EP Ireland, Mr Michael Crothers. OSSL detailed a threat it had allegedly received from a party acting for Shell in relation to the supply of large amounts of alcohol to the Irish Police Force and related falsification of invoices. 22 minutes later OSSL received a reply from Mr Crothers. He did not take issue with or make any denial in respect of the statements about the threat to OSSL, the large amounts of alcohol showered on the Irish Police, nor on the related disguised invoices. Instead he dealt with another matter raised.
It is notable that in a letter dated May 28, 2013 Mr Crothers sent to a member of the Irish Parliament, Ms Clare Daly, Crothers claimed that Shell had arrived at a “full and final settlement” with OSSL in 2012. Clare Daly had written to Mr Crothers on my behalf. If a full and final settlement had been agreed, why did Peter Voser intervene? Why did the recent meeting between OSSL and Iain Middleton take place if all had already been resolved? Mr Crothers mentions in the same letter an invoice raised by OSSL for the alcohol requesting payment from Shell. If the invoice is fraudulent, why has this crime – an attempt to extort money from Shell on false pretenses – not been reported to the Garda?
In his letter Mr Crothers made plain his disdain for the tactics adopted by OSSL perhaps not expecting that OSSL would ever get to see what he had said about them:
Since last August OSSL has sent hundreds of emails, conducted public demonstrations, made statements on Facebook and has engaged with media in relation to its allegations. Emails demanding money have been directed to SEPIL staff and Royal Dutch Shell leaders. Emails have also been sent by OSSL to numerous journalists, with many senior Shell staff blind-copied on these mails. Local residents have also received emails.
Bearing in mind his repeated protestation in the letter that the OSSL allegations had been investigated and no evidence found to support them, Clare Daly was entitled to conclude that OSSL was engaged in a nasty campaign blackening the name of Shell for no good reason.
Why then did Shell decide at the very highest level to subsequently meet with OSSL again when OSSL had no grounds to pursue Shell, were making false accusations against Shell and doing so in an invidious way?
CONCERN FOR THE HEALTH OF DESMOND KANE
Mr Neil Rooney says that his OSSL colleague, Desmond Kane, has a longstanding heart condition and that the sheer frustration and trauma of being stone-walled and threatened by Shell and its agents is having a bad affect on his health. Information about his current condition has been conveyed to Shell which does not seem interested in the slightest.
Shell and its agents have warned Mr Kane and Mr Rooney of the prospect of imprisonment for their involvement in potential criminal activity in carrying out Shell’s instructions. The fact that both individuals have continued to reveal the truth is out of disgust and outrage at the way Shell pressured them into such activity in the first place and then ditched the company after they refused to give false testimony to the Garda Ombudsman investigation.
I have been in direct contact with Alan Shatter, the Irish Minister for Justice.
Given the gravity of these matters what is needed is a genuinely independent inquiry. Not another internal investigation of the Garda by the Garda.
SOME OF THE RECENT CORRESPONDENCE IS SHOWN BELOW.
CLICK TO ENLARGE ON EACH IMAGE.
EMAIL FROM MICHAEL CROTHERS, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF SHELL EP IRELAND TO TD DEPUTY, CLARE DALY
EMAIL FROM IAIN MIDDLETON OF SHELL TO DESMOND KANE OF OSSL
EMAIL TO OSSL FROM SUPERINTENDENT THOMAS MURPHY OF THE GARDA
The Department of Energy has confirmed that it has been investigating reports of “sinkholes” or “depressions” on a north Mayo tidal estuary where the final section of the Corrib gas pipeline is being laid.
The company says they are “not sinkholes” but are “shallow temporary depressions of approximately one to two feet in depth”.
However, residents living along the pipeline tunnel route through Sruwaddacon estuary – a special area of conservation (SAC) – say that some of the holes are up to three metres deep and three metres wide.
Terence Conway of Inver and Shell to Sea said that when the hole occurs, the surrounding sand bears a “blue tinge” and is unstable.
Mr Conway noticed the first in a series of holes on May 20th, again on June 14th, and each day during this first week of July, at Aughoose.
The areas lies above where the 500 tonne boring machine – named Fionnuala by Shell after one of the Children of Lir – has been deployed to dig a 4.9km sub-sea tunnel.
“The contractors for Shell have staff out at 5am on the strand, raking over these holes, but no caution signs have been erected in spite of our requests,” he said.
“This is a public strand, and so at one point we put up our own fence to warn people, but it was taken down,” Mr Conway said.
“Adults might be ok, but these are a risk to children. We were told we wouldn’t feel or see this work on the surface at the Bord Pleanála oral hearing nearly three years ago.
“We argued at the hearing that it was not suitable to try to dig a tunnel through an SAC, and one with the particular fluid subsoil here known as dóib.”
The Department of Energy said that the developer had notified it about “depressions in Sruwaddacon.
The department’s consultant tunnelling expert undertook a site review earlier this week, and the “depressions” were being “considered” in this context, it said.
Shell E&P Ireland said that regular “interventions” for maintenance and inspection of the tunnel-boring machine included changing cutter heads.
“This involves the use of compressed air at the front of the machine to protect the workers and to maintain stability at the tunnel face,” it said in a statement to The Irish Times.
This week has seen large numbers of people continually walking down to Shell’s tunneling compound, disrupting work and blocking Shell traffic, and many people from the camp have taken advantage of the sunny weather to spend the days helping locals with turf collecting- many hands make light work! Meanwhile the guards have spent their time patrolling around harassing people on the roads.
Cops blocking the gate to the camp
A Brief blow by blow
Thursday morning as a convoy passed the camp, 20 Gardaí tried to block the gate to the camp and threw people into ditches, pushing one person’s head into the water in the ditch and generally being a bit violent. Two people were arrested. One was let out with a caution and the other was held in custody, brought to court in Castlebar Friday morning and denied bail, so he is now in Castlerea Prison awaiting a court appearance 5th July.
Later on Thursday morning a small group went to Belmullet Garda station to collect their friends and one person was dragged outside the copshop, pushed to the ground and arrested for alleged criminal damage on Sunday 23rd June. He was held overnight and brought to court in Castlebar on Friday morning. He has been granted bail and released on the condition he not enter or interfere with Shell property or traffic, and signs on once a week at Belmullet Garda Station. He will be up in court on 10th July.
Thursday afternoon a large group of 30 or so people walked down to the Shell compound in Aughoose, stopping work inside the compound and stopping any Shell traffic from entering or exiting the compound for over 3 hours. Once again IRMS (Shell private security) was policing the public road, pushing people and holding people until the guards arrived. Two people were arrested on the road. One person was released and will appear in Belmullet Court on 10th July, the other was arrested for outstanding fines and brought to Mountjoy women’s prison in Dublin. She was held overnight and released Friday morning.
Thursday finished off at 6pm when the guards finally attempted to clear the road, everyone left and no one else was arrested. A long queue of 20 vehicles and lorries which had been stuck inside finally were able to leave the compound.
Friday 28th June at 7am one person climbed a tripod erected in the road between Bellanaboy refinery and the Aughoose tunneling compound, stopping all traffic going into the compound until 11.30am when the road was cleared and the person was arrested. That person is being charged with Sections 8 and 9 of the public order act and will be up in Belmullet court on 10th July.
Three people walking back to camp from the tripod on Friday were followed by guards, and an attempt was made to arrest one of them but they jumped into a field and got away. This isn’t the first time that people have been harassed on the roads this week by Gardaí. Tuesday night as people were walking back from the pub the guards were stopping people who were walking in twos or alone, asking for names addresses and even emails. One person refused to give his details, saying he hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary and was only walking home, and he was arrested and brought to Belmullet garda station. He was released in the early hours of the morning with no charges.
Other things that have happened this week: Windows of a Shell house were broken, graffiti appeared on the main gates of the tunneling compound, and a Shell truck ran into problems with spuds up the exhaust and someone doing in its tyres. Who knows what else the pixies have gotten up to….
This is the pipe being laid between the refinery and the tunneling compound
For a century, Shell has explored the Earth to make our lives more comfortable. But in its wake, says Andrew Rowell, lies corruption, despoliation and death
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh went to the Shell Centre on the Thames riverside near Waterloo last Tuesday, to crown the company’s centenary celebrations. Critics claim the timing of the Queen’s visit was slightly unfortunate: it came just one day after the second anniversary of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s death in Nigeria: he was campaigning against Shell’s oil exploitation in the region.
The Shell Transport and Trading Company (STTC) has risen from its humble roots in a cramped office in the East End to become one of the most successful corporations of the century. What we collectively know as “Shell” is in fact more than 2,000 companies. Last year, the Shell Group’s profit was a record pounds 5.7 billion, the proceeds from sales of pounds 110 billion. “Were our founder, Marcus Samuel, to reappear today, I do not think he would be displeased with what has grown from his efforts,” says Mark Moody-Stuart, STTC’s chairman.
As part of the centenary celebrations, the cream of the City were invited to a reception at the Guildhall. There is also to be a commemorative book. Whilst it may mention the Shell Better Britain Campaign, and even the controversy over Brent Spar, not everyone will agree with the authorised biography’s version of Shell’s history. Here is a less authorised approach.
After it merged in 1907 with its rival Royal Dutch, the Royal Dutch Shell company was formed; its first chairman was the Dutchman Henri Deterding. By the 1930s, Deterding had become infatuated with Adolf Hitler, and began secret negotiations with the German military to provide a year’s supply of oil on credit. In 1936, he was forced to resign over his Nazi sympathies.
During the early 1940s, as the world waged war, Peru and Ecuador had their own armed border-dispute – over oil. Legend in Latin America says that it was really a power struggle between Shell, based in Ecuador, and Standard Oil in Peru. The company left a lasting reminder of its presence in the country: a town called Shell. Activists in Ecuador are seeking to get the town renamed Saro-Wiwa.
In the post-war years, Shell manufactured pesticides and herbicides on a site previously used by the US military to make nerve gas at Rocky Mountain near Denver. By 1960 a game warden from the Colorado Department of Fish and Game had documented abnormal behaviour in the local wildlife, and took his concerns to Shell, who replied: “That’s just the cost of doing business if we are killing a few birds out there. As far as we are concerned, this situation is all right.”
But the truth was different. “By 1956 Shell knew it had a major problem on its hands,” recalled Adam Raphael in the Observer in 1993. “It was the company’s policy to collect all duck and animal carcasses in order to hide them before scheduled visits by inspectors from the Colorado Department of Fish and Game.” After operations ceased in 1982, the site was among the most contaminated places on the planet, although Shell is now trying to make it into a nature reserve.
At Rocky Mountain, Shell produced three highly toxic and persistent pesticides called the “drins”: aldrin, dieldrin and endrin. Despite four decades of warning over their use, starting in the 1950s, Shell only stopped production of endrin in 1982, of dieldrin in 1987 and aldrin in 1990, and only ceased sales of the three in 1991. Even after production was stopped, stocks of drins were shipped to the Third World.
Another chemical Shell began manufacturing in the 1950s was DBCP, or 1,2 -Dibromo-3-Chloropropane, which was used to spray bananas. This was banned by the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1977 for causing sterility in workers. In 1990, Costa Rican workers who had become sterile from working with the chemical sued Shell and two other companies in the Texan Courts. Shell denied that it ever exported the chemical to Costa Rica and denied that it exported it to any other country after the ban in 1977. The case was settled out of court.
Just as people had begun to question Shell’s products, so they began to challenge its practices. In the 1970s and 1980s, Shell was accused of breaking the UN oil boycott of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) by using its South African subsidiary and other companies in which it had interests. Shell, singled out by anti-apartheid campaigners for providing fuel to the notoriously brutal South African army and police, responded by hiring a PR firm to run an anti-boycott campaign.
By the 1980s criticism of Shell’s operations was spreading. From Inuit in Canada and Alaska, to Aborigines in Australia and Indians in Brazil, indigenous communities were affected by Shell’s operations.
In the Peruvian rainforest, where Shell conducted exploration activities, an estimated 100 hitherto uncontacted Nahua Indians died after catching diseases to which they had no immunity. Shell denies responsibility, and says that it was loggers who contacted the Nahua. By the end of the decade, the company’s image was suffering in the US and UK, too.
In April 1988, 440,000 gallons of oil was discharged into San Francisco Bay from the company’s Martinez refinery, killing hundreds of birds. The following year, Shell spilt 150 tons of thick crude into the River Mersey, and was fined a record pounds 1 million.
But by now, the company was responding to growing international environmental awareness. “The biggest challenge facing the energy industry is the global environment and global warming,” said Sir John Collins, head of Shell UK, in 1990. “The possible consequences of man-made global warming are so worrying that concerted international action is clearly called for.”
Shell joined the Global Climate Coalition, which has spent tens of millions of dollars trying to influence the UN climate negotiations that culminate in Kyoto next month. “There is no clear scientific consensus that man-induced climate change is happening now,” the lobbyists maintain, two years after the world’s leading scientists agreed that there was.
At the same time, the company has taken its own preventive action on climate change and possible sea-level rise by increasing the height of its Troll platform in the North Sea by one metre. By 1993, as Shell’s spin-doctors were teaching budding executives that “ignorance gets corporations into trouble, arrogance keeps them there”, 300,000 Ogoni peacefully protested against Shell’s operations in Nigeria. Since then 2,000 have been butchered, and countless others raped and tortured by the Nigerian military.
In the summer of 1995 there was the outcry over the planned deep-sea sinking of the redundant oil platform Brent Spar, and in November Ogoni leader Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed, having been framed by the Nigerian authorities. At the time Shell denied any financial relationship with the Nigerian military, but has since admitted paying them “field allowances” on occasion. This year in Nigeria, the three-million-strong Ijaw community started campaigning against Shell, leading to another military crackdown.
“The military governor says it is for the purpose of protecting the oil companies. The authorities can no longer afford to sit by and have the communities mobilise against the companies. It is Ogoni revisited,” says Uche Onyeagucha, representing the opposition Democratic Alternative. In Peru, Shell has returned to the rainforest. It acknowledges “the need to consider environmental sustainability and responsibility to the people involved”, but the move is still criticised by more than 60 international and local environmental, human-rights and indigenous groups.
“Shell has not learnt from its tragic mistakes,” says Shannon Wright from the Rainforest Action Network, which believes there should be no new fossil-fuel exploration in the rainforest: “They continue to go into areas where there are indigenous people who are susceptible to outside diseases.” Meanwhile, Shell publicly talks of engaging “stakeholders”.
It hopes that we, as consumers, will continue to give it a licence to operate. However, for each barrel produced, the ecological and cultural price increases exponentially. Everyone knows we need to reduce our consumption of oil: but Shell’s very existence depends on selling more of it. Senior executives are said to be “girding our loins for our second century” because “the importance of oil and gas is likely to increase rather than diminish as we enter the 21st century”. Can we let that happen?
Since the Gulf oil disaster in 2010, BP has spent hundreds of millions of ad dollars to cleanse its image as a dirty-energy giant. In the company’s latest TV ad, wind turbines whirl in the sun as a voiceover touts the number of American jobs created by BP and promises, “We’re working to fuel America for generations to come.” There’s just one problem: BP’s commitment to wind energy is virtually nonexistent.
In April, BP announced that it is selling off its entire $3.1 billion U.S. wind energy business – including 16 farms spread across nine states – as “part of a continuing effort to become a more focused oil and gas company,” according to a company spokesperson. Indeed, though it famously rebranded itself “Beyond Petroleum” in 2000, BP also exited the solar energy business back in 2011. Today, its alternative energy investments are limited to biofuels and a lone wind farm in the Netherlands.
And BP is far from alone. You wouldn’t know it from their advertising, but the world’s major oil companies have either entirely divested from alternative energy or significantly reduced their investments in favor of doubling down on ever-more risky and destructive sources of oil and natural gas.
Not that those commitments to alternatives were ever particularly grand. Using very generous estimates, BP holds the oil industry record for the highest percentage of expenditures committed to alternatives, with just 6 percent of its overall expenditures in 2011, right before it started selling off its solar operations. Chevron and Shell run a distant second with highs of 2.5 percent; none of the others have ever even cracked 1 percent.
“The bottom line is that oil companies only invested a drop in the bucket [in alternatives] even in the ‘heyday’ of the early 1980s,” says Douglas Cogan, vice president of investment firm MSCI ESG Research. “Most of the largest [oil company] investors have dropped out in recent years, following the precedent that Exxon set 30 years ago.”
Take ConocoPhillips, which highlights its “emerging technologies and alternative energy sources” activities on its website – but fails to mention that in April 2012 it divested all of these activities to focus exclusively on its “core business” of exploring for and producing oil and natural gas, and specifically to take advantage of the North American “shale revolution” and tar sands production in Canada. “ConocoPhillips is an independent oil and gas company,” says a spokesperson. “We do not have an active renewable energy segment within our portfolio.”
The newly created Phillips 66 (already the third-largest U.S. oil company) took over ConocoPhillips’ “downstream” activities – meaning everything after exploration and production. Other than limited investment in second-generation biofuel research, Phillips 66, too, has abandoned alternatives.
How about Shell – the world’s largest corporation, according to Fortune? In 2010, the company launched an ad campaign called “Let’s Go,” hyping its efforts to “broaden the world’s energy mix.” The ads are still running today. But the numbers tell a different story. Shell reports spending about $400 million a year on alternatives, out of the $23 billion it spent on all expenditures in 2012. At its peak in 2007, Shell was spending just 2.5 percent of its total capital expenditures on alternatives. Today it’s down to 1.5 percent.
Shell abandoned solar in 2006 and maintains only minor investments in wind and some hydrogen research today. The bulk of Shell’s alternative investments today are in biofuels. Meanwhile, it presses ahead with the world’s deepest offshore oil well in the Gulf of Mexico and refuses to do more than “pause” plans for drilling in the U.S. Arctic – even after one of its drilling rigs ran aground in Kodiak, Alaska in January.
As with all these companies, the expenditures that Shell reports publicly on alternatives are difficult to pin down or verify. Shell includes the money it spends on carbon capture initiatives and “other CO2 related work”; both are commendable, but neither one is an alternative energy source. BP, similarly, uses the mysterious phrase “lower-carbon businesses.” In fact, no major oil company has ever spent enough on alternatives for it to amount to even 10 percent of its revenues or assets – the Security and Exchange Commission‘s threshold for public reporting requirements on financial expenditures.
In 2010, Chevron launched its “We Agree” public relations campaign, with ads announcing “It’s time oil companies get behind the development of renewable energy,” that still run today. Yet Chevron’s alternative investments have been falling as a proportion of its total expenditures, not rising, for years: From 2.5 percent of overall expenditures in 2008, alternative energy dropped to 2.3 percent in 2010 and 1.5 percent in 2012.
In 2011, Chevron’s Corporate Responsibility report – which for years had been an alternatives showcase – announced that the company would take “a pragmatic approach” to these investments, focusing on geothermal energy, next-generation biofuels and efficiency solutions. Yet wind and biofuels are conspicuously absent from the 2012 report; the words “alternative energy” and “renewable energy” do not appear anywhere in its pages. “Chevron spent $5.4 billion from 2002 to 2012 on alternative energy,” says company spokesperson Morgan Crinklaw. That’s about $500 million a year, out of $34 billion total expenditures in 2012 alone. (This figure includes the work of its private subsidiary, Chevron Energy Solutions, which does work on solar, but does not have to provide public disclosure of its finances.) Meanwhile, Chevron remains one of the world’s oiliest oil companies, with one of the highest percentages of oil assets among the majors.
Like ConocoPhillips, Marathon, the nation’s fifth largest oil company, divested all its downstream activities in 2011, for similar reasons – in order to expand its U.S. shale and Canadian tar sand operations. Today, it maintains partial ownership of a methanol plant that converts natural gas into motor fuel, while the newly spun-off MPC includes ethanol in its portfolio.
Of course, some companies were never into alternatives. Since 2002, Exxon Mobil, which took in $45 billion in profit last year alone, put a grand total of $188 million into its alternative investments, compared to the $250 million it dedicated to U.S. advertising in the last two years alone. (This figure and previously cited advertising data were provided by Kantar Media.)
It’s worth mentioning one slight exception to the trend: France’s Total, the world’s 9th-largest oil company, which greatly increased its solar operations in the last year. But Total, too, had a long way to improve. The latest available figures from MSCI ESG Research put its alternative investments at just about $84 million a year from 2005 through 2010, or, at best, less than 0.6 percent of total expenditures. Moreover, the company’s fairly extensive coal operations stand in contrast to the good it’s doing in alternatives.
There are clear reasons why some biofuel investments remain while wind and solar have all but disappeared. Since 2009, both the U.S. and the European Union have had policies in place requiring biofuels in motor fuel, compared to on-again, off-again tax credits for wind and solar energy. And why bother putting real investments in alternatives at all, when polished ad campaigns have already convinced the public that the companies are still “green”?
In reality, all of the companies are putting more and more resources toward dirty energy sources that were never before accessible – or never before considered acceptable. With limited regulation and oversight, and with plenty of subsidies and tax breaks, all of the companies discussed here are upping their oil and natural gas antes by drilling deeper than ever into the oceans (including Exxon in the Russian Arctic), increasing operations in the Canadian tar sands, dramatically expanding hydraulic fracking in ever-more parts of the U.S. and the world, and drilling for oil in Iraq and Kurdistan. It all makes perfect sense, if you go by what Exxon vice president J.S. Simon told Congress in 2008: “[T]he pursuit of alternative fuels must not detract from the development of oil and gas.”
guardian.co.uk,June 2013 17.19 BST
Oil company Shell will resume talks next week in London with lawyers representing 15,000 of the poorest people in the world who are claiming millions of pounds’ compensation for oil spills on the Niger delta. But Martyn Day, of Leigh Day law firm which is acting for the communities, said the case could still go to a full high court trial in London in 2014.
Liam Heffernan was arrested on June 12 and has been on hunger strike since last Monday.
Liam Heffernan was arrested at Aughoose last Wednesday for allegedly obstructing Shell construction vehicles as they moved in to bore a tunnel to carry a pipeline in the area.
Campaigners claim his arrest was without lawful authority or reasonable excuse.
They say Heffernan was taken to Belmullet Garda Station where he was offered the opportunity to enter into a bail bond, on the condition that he stay away from Shell’s tunnelling compound at Aughoose.
A Shell to Sea statement said the campaigner explained his motives to the judge, who told him his arguments were better directed towards the government or the High Court.
Heffernan then agreed to enter bail conditions pending another court appearance on July 10, but campaigners say the judge found unspecified problems with his signature and remanded him in custody until the court’s next sitting.
He began a hunger strike on Monday and will tomorrow mark his tenth day in prison, when he is again due before Harristown Court in Castlerea.
Shell to Sea has asked supporters to attend the court in solidarity with the campaigner.
Jun 19th, 2013 by John Donovan.
…an independent investigation into how the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s guidelines are enforced found ‘discrepancies’ between Shell’s story and other accounts of the size and cause of spills… urged Shell to publish all investigations carried out prior to 2011, potentially exposing the company to multi-million pound lawsuits…
Royal Dutch Shell’s claims to be reducing the amount of oil it spills in Nigeria have been undermined by a report into how it publishes data on environmental disasters.
The Anglo-Dutch firm has been at pains to show that most spills in the Niger Delta are the result of thieves hacking into pipelines, a crime known as ‘bunkering’.
But an independent investigation into how the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s guidelines are enforced found ‘discrepancies’ between Shell’s story and other accounts of the size and cause of spills.
Holland’s National Contact Point for the OECD told the oil giant to ‘be prudent’ when publishing spill investigation data.
It also called on Shell to publish figures from before January 2011, when the company began putting information about leaks on its website.
And it repeated UN concerns that investigators are ‘at the mercy of the oil companies’ when assessing the size and severity of spills. The report follows a complaint by Friends of the Earth and
Amnesty International, which submitted evidence of spill investigations it said were heavily influenced by the company.
‘Shell has repeatedly stated operational spills are going down and sabotage is going up. This is all based on a process where the investigator is being investigated,’ said Audrey Gaughran, of Amnesty.
She called for more independent assessment to offset weakness in local regulation.
Shell has pointed to improvements in the way it reports spill information since 2011.
But Gaughran urged Shell to publish all investigations carried out prior to 2011, potentially exposing the company to multi-million pound lawsuits.