From the Arctic to Nigeria:

Shell Oil—Destroying People and the Environment

May 18, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader

Soon after the election of Obama, Shell formed connections with the new administration. Shell took up Obama’s formulation that energy “needs” must be “balanced” with the needs of the environment. Shell put out PR messages that climate change is real and a “concern” and that society needs to respond -- trying to “re-brand” themselves as the “eco-friendly” oil company. They’ve used this branding to gain first shot in competition with other companies for plundering the Arctic for oil, and to try to pull a cover over the eyes of millions about the reality of Shell as a leading cause of the climate crisis and a leading destroyer of the environment.

In the Arctic, Shell sends representatives to negotiate with the Inupiat indigenous people who live off the land and seas. Shell’s reps sit down to chew whale meat together, voice their concern and commitment to drill safely, and promise all kinds of jobs and money for services to people who are in deep need of ways to survive.

Shell is just lying, trying to fool people into believing they, and this system they are a part of, are actually taking account of the people and the environment. Exposing this big lie is an actual scientific study that has been done that traced the top companies most responsible for producing greenhouse emissions throughout history. Guess what? Shell is number 6 on the list. They rank only just behind Exxon, Chevron, BP and a few others as leading individual producers of these gases that are strangling the planet. Shell alone is responsible for producing over 2% of the world’s greenhouse gases historically, measured starting with the initial industrial revolution of 1751- until 2010. (See "Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854–2010," Climatic Change, November 22, 2013.)

A woman walks past a burning oil pipeline in Kegbara Dere, Nigeria, in 2007. The fire burned for 45 days and 45 nights, blanketing the village with ash and torching the young cassava plants.
A woman walks past a burning oil pipeline in Kegbara Dere, Nigeria, in 2007. The fire burned for 45 days and 45 nights, blanketing the village with ash and torching the young cassava plants. AP photo

According to the World Health Organization, climate change already kills 150,000 people every year, from things ranging from extreme weather, to damage to food production, to increased disease. And this is expected to get much worse, even catastrophically worse, if the whole trajectory of the build-up of greenhouse gases and the warming of the planet continues as it is. This is a nothing but a catastrophe in the making and the poorest people on the planet will suffer and die from it in a much more dramatic and disproportionate way.

Now none of these companies act on their own, they are part of a whole network of imperialist power relations. But for argument's sake, you could take Shell’s 2% contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, and calculate roughly that Shell is responsible for 2% of the 150,000 people who die annually from climate change. Or in other words Shell is responsible for killing 3,000 people every year.

The Murder of Activist Ken Saro-Wiwa in Nigeria

And Shell’s murderous history and environmental destruction goes much further and deeper. Over many decades in the Niger Delta, Shell has been responsible for massive oil spills and other environmental disasters and has been directly tied up with murderous repression by the Nigerian military of indigenous peoples who have been standing up to try to defend their land, waterways and lives.

A fact sheet from the Center for Constitutional Rights documents Shell’s long history of destruction in the Niger Delta. It says since 1958 Shell has been “working closely with the Nigerian government to quell popular opposition to its presence in the region. From 1990-95, Nigerian soldiers, at Shell’s request and with Shell’s assistance and financing, used deadly force and conducted massive, brutal raids against the Ogoni people living in the Niger Delta to repress a growing movement in protest of Shell.” This included colluding with the Nigerian government in the arrests, prosecution and convictions of nine Ogoni leaders, including the prominent human rights leader Ken Saro-Wiwa, on phony murder charges. All nine were executed by the Nigerian government.

Special Issue of Revolution on the Environmental Emergency

This Revolution special issue focuses on the environmental emergency that now faces humanity and Earth’s ecosystems. In this issue we show:

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  • the source of its causes in the capitalist system, and the impossibility of that system solving this crisis...
  • a way out and way forward for humanity—a revolutionary society in which we could actually live as custodians of nature, rather than as its plunderers.

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 A team of scientists quoted in this report say the Niger Delta is “one of the 10 most important wetlands and marine ecosystems in the world. Millions of people depend on the natural resources of the Delta to live. And Shell has been a prime force that have turned large regions of the Delta into “one of the world’s most severely petroleum-impacted ecosystems.”

In the Niger Delta, over 50 years an estimated 1.5 million tons of oil has been spilled. The report says this amounts to the “equivalent to about one ‘Exxon Valdez’ spill in the Niger Delta each year." The Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska caused massive ecosystem destruction that has had on-going impact on marine life for decades and is still being felt. Shell and other oil companies commonly burn billions of tons of gas in “flaring” each year in Nigeria. This gas is a byproduct of the oil drilling but is considered not profitable enough to try to harvest. Gas flares cause huge toxic plumes and the contamination of waterways and people’s lands with chemicals including carcinogens. This flaring also has contributed more greenhouse emissions that “all other sources in sub-Saharan Africa combined”.

The costs to people's lives, people’s health and destruction of the rich ecosystems and species in this whole region, is incalculable, and haslargely not even been systematically studied. This is a result of the whole way that imperialism dominates oppressed nations and writes off the lives of the vast majority of humanity as of no consequence. This is the real Shell, and the real face of capitalism-imperialism.



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