Recent news of Shell’s legal action against 13 different environmental organisations landed them in the hot seat of media scrutinisation. The lawsuit was a desperate attempt for the oil organisation to secure drilling plans in the seabed off Alaska’s North Slope next summer. Since 2007, every offshore drilling proposal in the Arctic ocean has been blocked. Despite the bully like tactics to gag their rivals, the public seem less than keen to allow Shell to go ahead with their plans.
The petition above was created by Greenpeace to generate support to protect the Arctic. Currently there is over 260,000 signatures, and with the likes of social networking sites such as Twitter, awareness of the issue is growing. A poll on the site asking whether or not companies like Shell should be allowed to drill for oil in the Arctic showed that 89.8% of respondents were against it (with 4.1% saying yes and 6.1% undecided)
In order to generate more support, websites such as http://www.stopshell.com were created. On 1st February they launched the below video on Youtube, where Robert Redford outlines the threats of such a proposal and calls for public support.
Stop Shell from Drilling Off the Coast of the Arctic Refuge
The video has been viewed over 9,000 times. However, despite the best efforts of environmental activists and support groups to counteract the actions of Shell it is ultimately up to the mainstream media to shed light on the debate.
Shell’s Nightmare in Nigeria
Focus on Shell’s previous wrongdoings started to gain attention from the press. Shell are currently in a lawsuit, concerning two oil spills that occurred in 2008. The lawsuit was launched by 11,000 Nigerians from 35 different villages, some of whom experienced their family members being brutally tortured and killed by the Nigeria government for blowing the whistle on the company’s oil drilling.
The most famous of those executed was Ogoni activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995. Ken was a writer and political activist who’s actions brought a halt to Shell’s oil pumping from Ogoniland in 1993. He was detained in June of the same year but released without charge, before being arrested again in 1994 and charged for incitement of the murder of four Ogoni chiefs. He strongly denied any involvement in the murders. The same charge was issued to eight other members of the human rights group, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), whose peaceful protests brought national attention to their situation. Ken Saro-Wiwa was involved in the group from early on.
Above: Ken Saro-Wiwa leads the MOSOP in a protest to generate outside support for the Ogoni people
Witnesses in the case admitted to being bribed by the Nigerian government with the promises of money and jobs with Shell if they falsely testified against the activists, in the presence of Shell’s lawyer. As well as this, nearly all of the defendants lawyers resigned, leaving them to represent themselves.
Despite the trial being criticised by several human rights organisations, a verdict of guilty was reached. On 10 November, 1995 Saro-Wiwa and the eight other activists were killed by hanging. Saro-Wiwa was the last man killed and was forced to watch his colleagues hung before him.
The mention of oil discovery brings memories of Ken Saro Wiwa who was hanged in 1995 for speaking out against the… fb.me/1bnkEPcng
Following these events, several human right lawyers brought cases against Royal Dutch Shell, attempting to hold them accountable for the gross human right violations they had conducted in Nigeria. These included accusations of inhumane treatment, torture, summary execution, arbitrary arrest and detention and crimes against humanity.
The cases were brought to the US court under the Alien Tort Statute of 1789 and the Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows non-citizens to claim damages within the US for extra judicial killing and torture.
However, before the trial date took place in June 2009, Shell made an out of court settlement of $15.5 million to the families of victims. The company claims that money was given to the family of Saro Wiwa and the eight other activists killed, even though they denied being liable for the deaths.
Shell filed a case this February to ask the US Supreme Court to rule that the organisation can no longer be sued by Nigerian citizens who are seeking damages for torture and murder, caused by the national government in the early 1990’s.
Shell’s Spills Land them Back in Court
Shell’s actions in the Niger Delta, one of Nigeria’s poorest regions, sent them straight back to the court room.
35 Nigerian villages took legal action against the organisation in the UK high court on 6 April 2011, claiming that two crude oil spillages in 2008, and the slow response by the company, resulted in their environment and livelihoods being destroyed.
The true devastation of the spill is expressed in the below Amnesty International video, which was uploaded to Youtube on 9th November.
The true tragedy: delays and failures in tackling oil spills in the Niger Delta
The case against them claims that Shell allowed a whopping 88.9 million litres of oil to spill into the surrounding waters and marshland of the 35 different villages around the town of Bodo. This figure was estimated by experts after scrutinising video footage of the leak. Shell disputes this, claiming that only 635,000 litres of oil were leaked.
Shell continued pumping oil in the region weeks after they were alerted to the spill, destroying the villagers source of food. Shell offered an insufficient amount of aid, with reports from Bodo claiming that in two years Shell has only provided 50 bags of rice, 50 bags of beans, a few cartons of tomatoes, groundnut oil and sugar, as well as a sum of £3,500. Victims of the substantial oil spillage found this to be an insult.
Martyn Day, from London based law firm Leigh Day, was chosen to represent the 69,000 strong fishing community in the UK court. He stated that millions of dollars of compensation would be sought for the victims. The compensation claims include; at least $100 million to clean the area, damages to the land and losses suffered by individuals. Mr Day also felt that the settlement could encourage other Niger Delta communities to seek justice in British Courts. He said,
“The Bodo people are a fishing community surrounded by water. What was the source of their livelihood now cannot sustain even the smallest of fish. The spills have caused severe poverty amongst the community.
“This is one of the most devastating oil spills the world has ever seen and yet it had gone almost unnoticed until we received instructions to bring about a claim against Shell in this country [UK]”
Above: Martyn Day, the UK lawyer representing 35 villages in Niger Delta, Nigeria in the case against Shell.
In August of 2011, after a four month class action suit, Shell accepted liability for the full extent of the two spillages, putting the cause down to equipment failure. They accepted they were liable to pay compensation and were heavily implicated by the UN for their environmental damage in the Delta region. Shell has caused more than 7,000 oil spills in the farmland and marshes of Niger Delta. There is estimated to be three oil spills a day in the area due to Shell and other oil companies. However, Shell continue to put blame on locals for damaging the network of pipelines.
The UN have estimated that it will take 30 years to clean the damages, costing Shell more than $100 million. Other impoverished Delta communities started to seek damages, with some cases already proving successful.
Despite the best efforts of environmental activist groups, in March Shell received approval from the federal offshore drilling regulators to commence with their exploratory drilling plans in the Beaufort Sea, Arctic Ocean from the start of July. The drilling must conclude by the end of October, before winter conditions set in.
Shell were also granted permission to begin drilling in February in the Chukchi Sea nearby, during the short open water season. They are awaiting upon environmental agencies for the permit. There is an estimated 26.6 billion barrels of oil recoverable from the Arctic Ocean’s outer continental shelves. Shell hopes to drill two wells in the Beaufort and up to three in the Chukchi.
The organisation overcame the last legal barrier with their oil response plan, which were thoroughly reviewed by the US Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. In light of the 2010 BP oil spill, the US Department of the Interior (Dol) demanded their strictest offshore measures. They required that Shell’s oil spill response plan be prepared for a blowout up to three times larger than the Deepwater Horizon leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
Shell’s response for such a spill would include a cap, similar to the one that sealed the BP well being deployed first. They also have extensive backup measures, with more than a dozen vessels accompanying the drilling. A tanker to hold captured crude oil will also be available.
Academics and activists alike are concerned that these plans will not be enough to contain a spill should one occur. Attorney for the Centre for Biological Diversity, Brendan Cummings said,
“The Obama administration once again decides to let Shell play Russian roulette with the Arctic ecosystem.”Many have expressed disappointment with the US government’s verdict. Director of the Alaska Wilderness League, Cindy Shogan stated,
“We can only hope that President Obama shows the leadership he promised and refuses to bow to the demands of Big Oil by not granting Shell the final permits it needs to begin drilling in July.”
Many members of the public feel the same, with calls for President Obama to bring a halt to Shell’s Arctic drilling plans spreading via social networking sites.
#Shell is heading to the Arctic. Tell Obama to call off the drills. ow.ly/9STaL via @Oceana
Unfortunately, despite public support to stop the Arctic drilling there is little that environmental groups can do. Shell already took out legal action against 13 different organisations. It seems these actions may have proved successful. In March, US federal Judge, Sharon Gleason imposed a preliminary injunction against representatives of Greenpeace USA, at the request of Shell. They have been ordered to stay a kilometre away from all drilling vessels off the Northern shores of Alaska. The restrictions could be extended to up to 200 miles from the shore of US territorial waters.
These groups have expressed concern that oil companies would be unable to clean spills in waters that are heavily occupied by ice. High speed winds in the area could also reduce the amount of response time available to clean any oil from the water. Although Shell’s oil spill response plans have been approved, they continue to be heavily scrutinised.