I recently returned from the land of windmills, wooden shoes, and Royal Dutch Shell. I was in The Hague, Shell’s international HQ, to draw attention at their annual shareholder meeting to the company’s escalating problem in a remote corner of northern BC. where I was protest

I was there to make it clear that Shell has an escalating problem in British Columbia’s Sacred Headwaters, where the company has ambitions to transform ~402,000 Hectares of salmon, bear, sheep, caribou, etc. habitat into a coalbed methane gas field.

I was joined by Alaskan Native Robert Thompson and Trish Rolfe and Keren Murphy from Sierra Club US, who were there to speak about Shell’s offshore plans for the Chukchi Sea; Doug Norlen from  Pacific Environment who was there to speak about Shell’s Sakhalin offshore project in Russia (Click here for more); and Paul de Clerk from Friends of the Earth International to speak about Nigeria and Shell’s attempts to block progressive climate policy in Europe.

You see, Shell has spent vast amounts of money in recent years to improve the company’s reputation on social and environmental responsibility, triggered in large part by the deserved heat they took from their destructive activities in the Niger Delta (which are continuing to this day). Shell has written new policies, new guidelines, and extolled new commitments.

They have printed ads so ironic that they (a) are choking hazard (as you read them, food or beverage gets stuck in your throat); and (b) are withdrawn by order of the courts as they misrepresent the company’s actual activities.

They have produced beautifully-done short films on the great work Shell does, and how great it is to work for them…

…And then there’s their actual performance on the ground.

In the Sacred Headwaters Shell’s commitment to being a ‘Good Neighbour’ seems to include suing the peskier neighbours for lost revenue to get them to quiet down and let equipment through.

It seems to include, potentially, the strategic withholding of archaeological information from the BC government to expedite road repair work.

Shell’s commitment to transparency seems to exclude any indication of what production-phase development might look like, even though it is highly implausible that they don’t have a range of possible scenarios based on the current resource data.

Shell is in a pickle, because they have been hearing a lot of ‘we don’t want Shell, period.’ But Shell’s corporate culture isn’t very accommodating of ‘No’ – so their commitment to being a ‘Good Neighbour’ is doomed to failure in every instance where a significant portion of the community (recent poll shows twice as many people oppose Shell’s project as support it) refuse to grant Shell a social license to operate.

Furthermore, Shell’s promises to ‘protect the environment’ are laughable considering the scale of the project that would be necessary to make it economic. There is absolutely no way to drill thousands of wells with interconnecting roads and pipe without harming and disturbing bears, sheep, caribou, salmon, and the entire ecosystem of the Sacred Headwaters (e.g. see Pembina Institute report on CBM and Salmon).

Basically, there is little reason for people in Northwest BC to trust Shell.

And that was how I framed a question I posed to Shell’s CEO and Board at the AGM. I asked, given the current lack of trust, if Shell would be willing to postpone all activities until affected communities have all of the information they think they need before they can make a definitive decision.

The response by Malcolm Brinded, Shell’s Head of Exploration and Production,
proves that communications memos circulate widely – the lines he used were nearly identical to those used here in BC: ‘early stages’ ‘small number of wells’ ‘protect the environment’ ‘just answering questions’ etc.

I don’t think Shell gets it yet.

The company’s issue managers aren’t going to make this issue go away.

An illustrative example of the way in which Shell executives manipulate the truth: Malcolm Brinded, Shell’s Head of Exploration and Production, attempted to appease Alaskan Native Robert Thompson’s concerns over oil spills from Shell’s proposed Chukchi Sea operations by referring to Sakhalin as an example where no significant Shell-related oil spills have occured in decades – a fine example to use since Shell’s project has not yet entered commercial production, according to Pacific Environment’s Doug Norlen.