Shelling out or just a Shell game? By William Bowles

18 May, 2010

19 May, 2010 — Update

Whoops! The ‘press release’ was a hoax (I thought it was too good to be true, shades of the Yes Men as it is in fact a production of the Yes Lab). However, it doesn’t alter any of my comments. Here is the mail I just received on the hoax:

Shell Flummoxed by Fakers

Company flummoxes back; activist group takes responsibility

The Hague – Hours before Shell’s annual general shareholder meeting on Tuesday, and not long after BP’s oil rig catastrophe, millions of people around the world received press releases announcing that Shell would implement a “comprehensive remediation plan” for the oil-soaked Niger Delta. The plan included an immediate halt to dangerous offshore drilling, the end of health-damaging gas flaring, and reparations for the human damage caused over the decades of Shell’s involvement.

The “good news” was fiction, created by an ad-hoc activist group called the Nigerian Justice League to generate pressure on Shell to withdraw from, and remediate, the Niger Delta. According to the activists, Shell’s operations in the Delta have helped transform that area into the world’s most polluted ecosystem, which has in turn resulted in a human rights catastrophe.

(The NJL developed the project as part of the Yes Lab (, a workshop run by a group called “the Yes Men” to share their experiences and facilitate the projects of others. The Yes Lab is in the midst of a fundraising drive.)

“Shell, Chevron, and the others are perpetrating a massive, life-threatening hoax by claiming that they can’t quickly stop their gas flaring, reduce their oil spills, and clean up their mess in the Niger Delta,” said Chris Francis of the Nigerian Justice League. “Our press release revealed the truth: that there is a decent way forward, instead of the continual deceit we get from them.”

Shell’s public relations staff quickly and energetically moved to contain the fallout from the fake release. On Tuesday, Shell attempted to eliminate the Justice League’s spoof Shell website by complaining that it was a “phishing scheme” to the upstream internet service provider. Shell then sent a threatening legal letter to the Danish internet provider hosting the site.

In a related story, the Financial Times (a blog of which, incidentally, was duped by the fake release) refused to run a hard-hitting advertisement, created and paid for by Amnesty International, that called for action against Shell for its Niger Delta legacy. Like the fake release, the ad was timed to coincide with Shell’s May 18 AGM.

“For now, Shell’s legal threats are bearing ripe fruit,” said Esmée de la Parra of the Nigerian Justice League. “But they can’t keep blustering their way to destruction forever. Eventually, people will have had enough. For the sake of the planet, let’s hope ‘eventually’ is very soon.”

My piece follows unedited.


As far I know I’m not on any Shell mailing list but Shell must have been doing their homework and Googled me because low and behold, on 17 May I received a press release from the biggest energy company on the planet. Amongst other things, the press release informs me:

“The Hague – In advance of the 18 May Shell Annual General Meeting (AGM), Royal Dutch Shell and its joint-venture Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) are announcing sweeping plans to clean up all areas of the Niger Delta where they operate, compensate local communities for past injuries, and institute a local stakeholders program that will contribute to lifting the region out of poverty.


“The Comprehensive Shell Remediation Plan for the Niger Delta (CSR-ND) has been steadily developing behind closed doors since Shell CEO Peter Voser took the helm last year, but was fast-tracked in response to public pressure to include an immediate cessation of deep-water drilling in the Niger Delta.” — Shell Media Relations Press Release, 17 May, 2010

Fast-tracked? Shell-BP have been exploiting Nigeria’s oil fields since at least 1950s, when the then British government fixed Nigeria’s ‘independence’ elections in order that British investments not be threatened.

“This we do by rigging the parliament through official majorities, a restricted franchise and so forth” — From the minutes of the British Colonial Office, 14 December, 1959. ‘Hidden histories confirmed: So much for the ‘Mother of Parliaments’, By William Bowles[1]

And just as with the UK government’s complicity in Shell’s operations in Nigeria, it’s clear that Shell’s operations in the Gulf have been ably assisted by the US government.

Barack Obama was the top recipient of BP contributions in the 2008 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The Mineral Management Service’s “categorical exclusion” of BP’s Deepwater Horizon lease from environmental impact analysis, under the watch of Ken Salazar’s Interior Department, was first reported by the Washington Post yesterday.[2]

As the article points out, there is direct collusion between the US government and Shell-BP’s operations in the Gulf, collusion that saw the government simply turning a blind eye to Shell’s illegal operations.

““Shell is proud to be the first international petrochemical company to embark on a rehabilitation and compensation program of any significant scale,” said Shell spokesperson Bernadette Hopma. “The Gulf of Mexico gush has made CSR-ND especially timely.” (Shell press release)

You bet! Shell-BP share price plummeted by around 30% following what has been described as the worst environmental disaster ever. And as the scale of the disaster is revealed, it transpires that Shell-BP have been operating illegally in the Gulf and as with the 1988 Piper Alpha North Sea oil rig disaster (operated by Armand Hammer’s Occidental Oil Company) that took the lives of 167 workers, safety was sacrificed for profit.

““Despite our company’s measured ongoing efforts to operate within a potential international rule-book as we deliver shareholder value, we have not always done very well. Every year since 1969, oil operations in the Niger Delta have spilled as much oil as the 1989 Exxon Valdez. Neither the Delta itself, nor the prospective legal environment, can tolerate that sort of stress. To avoid serious consequences for Shell’s viability, we must react proactively to past, present and potential future threats to people, the environment, and the future of the global community.”” [Shell press release. My emph.]

A mea culpa or just damage control?But note that Shell talks firstly of a ‘potential international rule book’ as they continue to ‘deliver shareholder value’, for the bottom line is as ever profit.

But obviously the destruction caused by the Deepwater Horizon platform demise is so immense and its impact on Shell-BP (the cost of the ‘clean-up’ at least $500 million and rising) that something had to be done hence this unprecedented ‘offer’ to clean up its act. ‘Global community’? A claim that rings hollow in the light Shell’s history, from Iran to the Gulf.


1. See also Hidden Histories by William Bowles, 24 June, 2006

2. ‘The Oil Spill: BP, Obama, and Salazar’

And, ‘How Big Oil Bought the Interior Department’, By Billy Wharton, Climate & Capitalism, 17 May, 2010

3. See for example:

Video: Nigeria – Sweet Crude Directed by Sandy Cioffi

People versus Big Oil: Rights of Nigerian Indigenous People Recognized

Video: Shell on Trial: Landmark Trial Set to Begin Over Shell’s Role in 1995 Execution of Nigerian Human Rights Activist Ken Saro-Wiwa

And for a history of Shell (formerly British Petroleum and before that the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, there is no better source than ‘A Century of War – Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order’ by William Engdahl, see my review).

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