Climate Change - Shell’s role in one of the biggest threats to biodiversity
As one of the world’s major oil companies, Shell has a significant role
in causing - and therefore responsibility for - man-made climate
change. Although Shell has gained high profile publicity for its
statements on climate change and lobbying of Tony Blair for tougher
action on climate change, the company’s own figures tell a different
story. Indeed, Shell is explicit about how much fossil fuel it extracts
and is in fact aggressively pursuing a policy of increasing the rate of
extraction year on year:
In 2005, Shell produced 3.518 million barrels of oil equivalent (boe)
per day. Production is expected to grow and reach 3.8-4.0 million boe
per day by 2009, which is an increase of between 8 and 13%.
Earnings in Shell’s exploration and production division - the division
that explores for and extracts oil - increased by 45% in 2006.
Also in 2006, Shell added 160,000 square kilometres of exploration
acreage to its portfolio, with new exploration licences in 14 countries
and says it “will pursue an exploration programme to add more new
Meanwhile, Shell’s investment in renewable energy amounted to $1
billion between 2001 and 2006. This may sound impressive, but an
investment of $15.6 billion in production and refining in 2005 alone
puts it into context.
Climate change was described by the Natural History Museum in its
exhibition The Ship as “one of the most pressing issues of our time”.
This is a view that concurs with that of leading politicians, including
our own Prime Minister, and of leading scientists.
Average global temperatures have risen by 0.6°C since 1900. The ten
warmest years on record have occurred in the last seventeen years.
Climatologists say these increases in global temperature can best be
explained as the impact of man-made pollution and predict that if
urgent action isn’t taken average global temperatures could rise by
almost 6ºC by 2100.
Temperature increases of this scale would have a devastating effect on
animals and plants around the world. A study, published in
‘Nature’ in 2004, of six wildlife-rich parts of the world suggests that
a quarter of land animals and plants, altogether one million species,
could become extinct if average global temperatures rise by just 2ºC.
The authors used computer models to simulate how the ranges of 1,103
species - plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs, butterflies and
other invertebrates - are expected to move in response to changing
temperatures and climate. They also assessed whether or not animals and
plants would be able to move to new areas. They concluded that 15 to 37
per cent of all the species in the regions studied could be driven to
extinction by the climate changes likely between now and 2050.
Computer models also suggest that large areas of tropical moist forest,
the most bio-diverse habitat in the world, could turn to savannah as a
result of man-made climate change. The Amazon region is expected to
suffer a particularly sharp warming and a large decrease in rainfall,
and the Hadley Centre warns that the region would be able to support
only shrubs or grass at most.
The full impact of forecast climate change on UK wildlife is unclear.
The Environment Agency is already talking of beech woods dying and
heaths burning due to hot dry summers. Many of Britain’s most special
animals and plants, such as the Snow Bunting and Snowdon Lily, are
confined to high mountains and could be crowded out if lowland species
spread higher due to the warmer weather. Others may be unable to move
in response to a changed climate because they are hemmed in by built-up
areas or farmland. Already, there is clear evidence that spring is
arriving earlier here. Trees, such as oak, are coming into leaf, and
birds, such as chaffinch and robin, are breeding earlier in the year
than previously. Also, some common butterflies, such as the peacock and
comma, have extended their ranges northward.
An impact of climate change that can be predicted is sea-level rise.
The warming of the oceans expands the volume of water, causing levels
to rise around the world. Melting of glaciers and ice caps on land adds
to this. Britain’s mudflats, salt marshes, shingles and sand dunes are
all at risk. These are home to special flowers such as the oyster-plant
and internationally significant populations of migratory birds,
including oystercatcher, knot and redshank. They are particularly
vulnerable because many abut sea defences that prevent their spreading
Direct Impacts - Shell projects’ impact on wildlife, communities & ecosystems
Although Shell has a commitment not to drill for oil and gas in natural
World Heritage Sites, it continues to explore and operate in protected
and sensitive wildlife areas. Shell is involved in many projects around
the world which are directly threatening and damaging wildlife, as well
as blighting the lives of people who live alongside them. Here is
information on three of the most current and pressing cases, (though
there are many, many more):
Sakhalin II, Russia
Environmental campaign groups including Campaign Whale, Environmental
Investigation Agency, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace UK,
International Fund for Animal Welfare UK, Marine Connection, Whale and
Dolphin Conservation Society, and WWF UK have warned that Shell’s
Sakhalin II project off the coast of Sakhalin Island, Russia, is in
grave danger of pushing the Western Pacific Grey Whale into extinction.
The project significantly adds to the pressures on the critically
endangered Western Grey Whale. Only around 100 of these creatures
remain, with just 20 breeding females. Their summer feeding grounds are
in the vicinity of the off-shore oil and gas platforms and associated
pipelines. Risks created by the project include the threat of oil
spills (including in frozen seas), noise from construction and ship
Shell’s mitigation measures for protecting the whales are woefully
inadequate and the company chose to ignore scientific advice and
continued with construction of an off-shore platform base in summer
2006. This was despite the concerns of an independent scientific review
panel set up to work with Shell and resulted in one panel scientist
resigning in protest.
County Mayo, Ireland
‘Small Family Farms, Big Oil Interests: The small, sparsely populated
farming community of Rossport in North Mayo County is a beautiful,
unspoiled part of Ireland’s western seaboard. Since 1996, the discovery
of the Corrib gas field off the nearby coast has brought a group of
committed activists from Rossport into the public eye as they oppose
the construction of Shell Oil’s illegally-approved pipeline through
Leading this fight is Willie Corduff, a lifetime resident of Rossport
who still lives on the farm passed down to him by his father. The
proposed pipeline would cut directly through Corduff’s land,
jeopardizing the delicate bog ecosystem and threatening both the safety
of Rossport’s citizens and the local farmers’ way of life.
Shell Oil planned to start production in 2003, bringing the toxic,
unrefined gas ashore at Rossport via a high pressure pipeline
stretching six miles to a refinery to be constructed in neighbouring
Bellanaboy. Despite objections by many Rossport citizens, Shell was
granted permission by the Irish government to run the pipeline across
the property of more than two dozen farmers and landowners. By granting
Shell permission to construct the pipeline, the Irish government
violated federal environmental and development laws requiring local
participation and review.
In response, Corduff and his neighbors began a grassroots campaign to
rally the support of his fellow Rossport residents in challenging the
pipeline. In June 2005, after refusing Shell access to their property,
Willie Corduff and four other men were jailed. Known as the “Rossport
Five,” they were released after spending 94 days in jail. Protests
ensued throughout western Ireland and since their release, the campaign
to stop the pipeline and refinery has continued, with hundreds of
people joining in the protests at the Shell refinery site, forming
blockades. Due to these efforts, construction on the pipeline has been
halted. In August 2006 Shell agreed to re-route the pipeline, although
the changes are said to be minor and the new route is yet to be
publicized. However, in October 2006, Shell broke ground on the
refinery in Bellanaboy, making it clear that the pipeline project will
continue despite daily protests at the construction site, where state
supplied police guard the gates.
(Text from http://www.goldmanprize.org/node/605)
September ’08 update:
The world's biggest pipe-laying ship, the Solitaire, arrived in Mayo,
triggering retired local teacher Maura Harrington to begin a hunger
strike, which she was able to end 9 days later when the Solitaire left
Irish waters. Local fisherman Pat O'Donnell was arrested whilst trying
to defend his lobster pots, which were in the path of the ship. He was
in the process of taking legal action against Shell as he has the right
to leave his pots there. For an interview with hunger striker Maura
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - Shell acquires leases
In March 2005, Shell acquired rights to explore for oil off the coast
of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The coastal plain of the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge is truly one of America’s last wild places. It
contains no roads, trails, or structures and is a pristine habitat
which supports large populations of caribou, muskoxen, all three
species of bear, wolves, dall sheep, and snow geese. Thousands of
migratory birds inhabit the Refuge.
Drilling in or transporting offshore oil through the coastal plain of
the Refuge would be ecologically damaging. The coastal plain is the
biological heart of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The U.S.
Department of Interior estimates that oil and gas drilling in the
coastal plain would result in major adverse impacts to the vast
Porcupine River caribou herd, damaging or displacing up to forty
percent of the herd. Development would threaten denning areas for polar
bears and disturb the fragile ecosystem of the coastal plain, which
also serves as crucial habitat for musk oxen and at least 135 bird
species that gather there for breeding, nesting and migratory
Similarly, drilling off the coast of the Arctic Refuge would threaten
the habitat of the endangered bowhead whale. Offshore drilling creates
loud industrial noise, and ice and ice flow make it difficult if not
impossible to clean up oil spills. Bowhead whales cannot detect oil in
the water and therefore cannot avoid contaminated areas.
Update, November 2007:
‘Shell is the only company that has been
investing hundreds of millions of dollars to open up for oil
exploration the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas of the American Arctic,
endangering marine ecology and the indigenous Inupiat culture. This
year I wrote a 14-page declaration as part of a major lawsuit filed by
conservation groups and indigenous communities against Shell Oil and
The United States Department of the Interior. We miraculously won this
case in the 9th Circuit Court of San Francisco, a resounding victory
stopping all Shell operations for this year in the American Beaufort
Sea. But it is only the beginning of a long struggle - Shell is not
only spending money, but also hiring some of the most influential
people in politics, including Gale Norton, once George W. Bush’s
environment minister.’ This comes from acclaimed photographer and
campaigner Subhankar Banerjee, who has worked extensively in the area,
Nigeria's gas profits 'up in smoke' by Andrew Walker, BBC News, Nigeria, 13.1.09
The latest deadline set by the Nigerian government to stop flaring
natural gas from oil wells in the Niger Delta has passed without
stopping the flames, which campaigners say are poisoning local people.
"Sometimes you can't tell whether it's the dawn breaking or the flame,"
says activist Vivian Bellonwu, the frustration clear in her voice,
after seeing nothing change despite the 1 January target.
"It's a history of shifting goal posts, missing deadline after deadline".
Everyone agrees gas flaring wastes billions of dollars in useful gas.
Campaigners say it causes huge environmental damage and according to
doctors, it is responsible for causing chronic health problems among
people who live in the Delta.
But the government and the oil companies are blaming each other.
"It's all insincerity from the government and the companies -they're destroying lives and livelihoods," says Mrs Bellonwu.
Nigeria flares the second largest volume of gas of any producer, behind Russia.
Communities who live near Nigeria's more than 1,000 onshore well heads
are blighted by gas plumes that rise from the ground, spreading toxic
smoke and chemicals over their farms.
Social Action, the organisation Mrs Bellonwu works for, has been
representing the communities who live near the many gas flares that
light up the watery marshland and mangrove swamps of the Delta.
"When you approach a gas flare, the first thing you notice is the heat, the villages around the flares are all very hot."
The flames also light up the sky 24 hours a day, and the noise that
comes from them is a continuous roar like a jet aircraft taking off.
She says doctors have reported higher rates of cancer, children with
asthma and a suggestion the burning gasses may be making residents
"The smoke in some places is overpowering. It can't be good."
Royal Dutch Shell, the largest operator of onshore wells, has not
commented on the claims that gas flaring affects the health of local
Nigeria's onshore oil production started in the 1950s.
As the oil comes up through the well head, it emerges with little bubbles of gas.
But until the 1980s with no way to store or transport it, there was little market for natural gas produced in Nigeria.
The operating oil companies simply burned it off.
Since then the price of gas has risen, transportation techniques have
developed and drilling technology has improved allowing more oil, and
consequently more gas, to be drawn through a single well.
Now experts believe Nigeria is burning billions of dollars of gas from
its aging wells, letting potential profits go up in smoke.
Even more ironically, campaigners say, the biggest need for that gas is in Nigeria.
Nigeria is in the grip of a power generation crisis and the gas that is
being burned could go a long way towards providing the electricity the
country desperately needs in order to develop its economy.
The government and the oil companies agree they want to end gas flaring.
Shell says it has reduced the amount of gas flared by more than 30% since 2000.
Some links you might find interesting and, with any luck, inspiring:
www.artnotoil.org.uk/gallery/v/Shell/ - for Shell’s Wild Lie online.
The site also hosts the online Art Not Oil galleries from the last
three years. Art and culture playing its part in the very necessary
dismantlement of the oil industry!
www.shelloiledwildlife.org.uk - spoof site set up by London Rising Tide
Friends of the Earth UK’s take on Shell, ‘Wildlife Destroyer of the Year’
www.shellfacts.com - Shell’s neighbours tell the truth about the company
www.carbonweb.org - PLATFORM’s authoritative fossil fuel resistance resource
www.remembersarowiwa.com - keeping the spirit of Ken Saro-Wiwa alive
www.corribsos.com - Shell to Sea, County Mayo, Ireland
www.struggle.ws/rsc - Supporting Shell to Sea in resisting Shell’s plans for County Mayo
www.groundwork.org.za - groundWork, South Africa, campaigning for environmental justice
www.gcmonitor.org - polluted communities fighting back
www.eraction.org - Environmental Rights Action, Nigeria
www.risingtide.org.uk - helping build a movement for climate justice across the UK
www.climatecamp.org.uk - the crew that took its summer holiday in 2007
at Heathrow Airport, and its 2008 holiday at Kingsnorth coal-fired
power station in Kent, also happens to be a thriving UK-wide network
committed to taking direct action to save the climate
www.permaculture.org.uk - get your hands in the ground and plant the future!