Royal Dutch Shell shock

No longer a topic that people can take for granted, oil issues have leaked into all facets of society. The result has been increased environmental activism and more media coverage — both positive and negative.

After Prime Minister Harper recently announced that Peter Kent was Canada’s new environment minister, people really weren’t sure what to expect. But days later, the tone of Kent’s appointment became disappointingly clear. Showing prideful support of Canada’s oil sands, he referred to the water intensive operation as an “ethical” source of energy and is actively seeking to discredit environmentalists he feels have tarnished Canada’s oil sands reputation.

Looking a little further north, Artic oil is the next hot topic that, from the looks of things, we are bound to hear a lot of government promotion of. With the melting of polar ice, previously inaccessible oil wells are becoming much more viable to oil companies, with Royal Dutch Shell leading the pack. Shell has set out on a public advertising crusade to convince the public of the safety precautions they are prepared to take in the Arctic in the event that there is an oil spill, as well as how their presence in the North will contribute to surrounding First Nation communities.

Given Shell’s dismal human rights record in other parts of the world, we should be wary of their claims and their presence in the North. A leaked Wikileaks cable recently confirmed Shell’s infiltration of the oil rich militant Nigerian government. Documents show that people loyal to the oil company were posted throughout the government, to the extent that Shell had influence over all key decisions that were made.

This evidence is significant, in that Shell was involved in Nigeria’s government in 1995, when indigenous activists, including writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, who were vocal critics of Shell and the Nigerian government were hung by the country’s military government. In what has been called “one of the largest payouts by a multinational corporation charged with human rights violations,” Shell settled a lawsuit concerning these deaths without admitting liability or releasing details about the case in 2009.

What has also become public is Shell’s tactics to influence media. This involved targeting specific media organizations and choosing to cooperate with some and to marginalize others. With the revelations of the company’s involvement in the Nigerian government and alleged human rights violations, it appears as though we are dealing with an influential company that has very questionable ethical standards.

So back to the North, where friendly Shell ads on TV and in print are toting the company’s caring sense of environmental responsibility, it is wise to be wary of such a company that has demonstrated that it will go to any lengths to get the oil it wants. Let’s not forget that Arctic drilling has been slowed in the wake of the BP oil spill and the public is starting to question whether it is possible to drill for oil safely, and experts’ apprehensions about the further disturbance of fragile polar bear habitats have not been yet been adequately addressed.

Recently, teaming up with a Chinese oil company, Shell has also announced plans to jointly explore oil sands business options in Canada.

Shell really has mastered public relation techniques and government infiltration methods, proving to be insatiable in their quest for oil. Do we really want to let them further into the North where the environment is delicate and there is little supervision?

Noreen Mae Ritsema is the Features Editor at the Manitoban.