Andreas Späth

Don’t trust Shell

2011-03-30 07:26

Shell wants us to believe that in exploring for and extracting natural gas from underground layers of shale in the Karoo using the polluting and extremely water-intensive technique of hydraulic fracturing or fracking, they have all of our best interests as well as those of the environment at heart.

They must also think us the most gullible halfwits this side of the Niger Delta.

In a recent full-page newspaper ad, the multi-billion dollar oil giant’s Bonang Mohale writes passionately about his company’s “commitments to the Karoo”, promising not to despoil and pollute it in the way fracking has been documented to mess up formerly pristine landscapes and water sources  elsewhere. He describes natural gas as a “more environmentally friendly” option and a “cleaner energy source” and twice refers to its role in building a “sustainable energy future”.

Pure greenwash! In 2008 the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority ruled Shell’s use of the word “sustainable” in an ad about its involvement in extracting oil from Canadian tar sands “misleading” and in violation of industry codes for “environmental claims”, “substantiation” and “truthfulness”. The same standards ought to apply here.

In complete contradiction to their PR-laced public utterances, Shell has an atrocious environmental and human rights record, as even a cursory glance into their skeleton-packed closet reveals:

• In County Mayo on Ireland’s west coast, a fishing and farming community has been fighting a protracted battle against Shell’s plans to build a pipeline and gas refinery that has involved violent clashes with police, hunger strikes, arrests, and masked men beating up local activists and sinking an outspoken opponent’s fishing boat.

• In 1995 Greenpeace activists stopped Shell from sinking the Brent Spar oil platform, laden with tonnes of toxic and radioactive waste, at sea.

• Shell has a long and sinister history of environmental destruction and human rights abuses in Nigeria. More than a thousand oil spill cases have been brought against the company in the Niger Delta, where it continues to illegally flare natural gas, a practice that causes more greenhouse gas emissions than all other sources in sub-Saharan Africa combined. Long implicated in bribing local officials and politicians, WikiLeaks cables reveal that Shell inserted employees into all main ministries of the Nigerian government and “knew everything that was being done in those ministries”. Shell is deeply implicated in the Nigerian government’s 1995 execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 fellow environmental and human rights activists and in 2009 agreed to pay their families $15.5m as a “humanitarian gesture”.

• Environmentalists have warned that Shells’ Sakhalin II oil and gas operations in Russia will contribute to pushing the critically endangered Western Pacific Grey Whale towards extinction.

• Shell has plans to drill for oil just 30 kilometres from Western Australia’s ecologically sensitive Ningaloo Reef and off the coast of the USA’s fragile Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

• Shell has contributed more than a million dollars towards defeating legislation to set goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in California.

• Shell is coming under increasing pressure from environmentalists, indigenous communities and its own shareholders over its extraction of oil from tar sands in Canada, which involves strip mining large swaths of forest and wetlands and uses and pollutes vast quantities of water while generating at least five times more carbon emissions than conventional sources of oil.

If Shell were a person, we’d have no hesitation in recognising this list as the shocking resume of a sociopathic career criminal whom we’d never let anywhere near our homes or children. We cannot afford to trust them with the Karoo.

Note to Shell: Even in the extremely unlikely event of you being able to convince us that you are capable of producing gas in the Karoo without wasting and polluting our water, we wouldn’t want you to. We don’t even want you to explore for it. We want you to leave the gas in the ground. The age of carbon-based fossil fuels – of coal, oil and natural gas – is coming to a close and until you propose to help us develop our abundant, clean, green and truly sustainable renewable energy sources, including solar and wind power, stay out of the Karoo.

- Andreas has a PhD in geochemistry and manages Lobby Books, the independent book shop at Idasa’s Cape Town Democracy Centre. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath

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