Yesterday in Amsterdam, I was served with an urgent fax from Shell, the world’s wealthiest oil company, whom in the past weeks Greenpeace offices have been vigorously and prominently campaigning against in the Save The Arctic drive. The notice was a stern message from Shell lawyers, who are very worried that Greenpeace actions around the world this week “have posed a real risk to Shell retailers... and the general public.” The letter concludes with a warning about commencing “proceedings” against us, at 'any' time in the future.
I don't know about you, but to me there is an incredible irony in being accused of posing risk to the public that seems to have escaped Shell and its lawyers. After all, Shell is a company that itself, in the last week, completely lost control of a massive drillship in Alaska, which it let drift towards shore before apparently grounding on the beach. In Washington State too, engineers have been clamouring to finish Shell’s oil spill response barge, a rusty old thing that has been beset by all manner of serious technical problems, just so the company can forge ahead with its plans to drill the Arctic. This slipshod approach can hardly be held up as the work of a bastion of public safety.
After the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, 'spill response' has become something of a buzz term, as well it needs to be. Shell is a company that is responsible for the largest spill in the UK’s recent history in the North Sea, and is currently facing a $5 billion fine for leaking 40,000 barrels of crude into Nigerian waters last December. Now let's talk about public and environmental safety.
The Noble Discoverer, a ship never so undeserving of the designation - there is nothing 'noble' about its activities and that of its company and crew - dates back to 1966 and has slipped anchor before, in New Zealand last year. Talk about being fit for purpose.
And all that’s before Shell even starts drilling in the Arctic, one of the most fragile environments on the planet. The Arctic region is home to indigenous peoples who rely on a healthy ocean to survive, as do certain species of arctic fox, narwhal and the polar bear. This region has remained largely untouched by industrial development, but now one of the world’s most reckless companies wants to drill as many wells as it can before sea ice — and months-long darkness — close off the region for the winter. Their laughable spill response plan includes mention of oil-sniffing dogs, and hand-drawn pictures that would make a seven-year-old blush. Shell is skating on very thin ice indeed.
Meanwhile, across the world Greenpeace activists have been peacefully protesting Shell’s Arctic plans in petrol stations, offices and online. From London to Houston, Budapest to The Hague, hundreds of passionate people have sought to "#TellShell" (our Twitter hash tag) to stay out of this pristine environment in an entirely safe, considered way. Late last night, the campaign tipped 1 million sign ups in a global petition to Save The Arctic at www.savethearctic.org. The result came much quicker than expected, a sign that increasing numbers of people are mobilising against planetary destruction.
So what could really be the motivation behind the flurry of Shell's lawyers? Perhaps Greenpeace is too uncomfortably exposing the truth of Shell's competency to drill the Arctic. Perhaps 1 million names of support and the global media coverage of activism is too much light to bear. Or maybe, just maybe, these are the desperate actions of a company which is a slowly sinking ship, if you will, one whose current business strategy is limited, as more and more people mutiny, realising that we can no longer carry on with business as usual when it comes to plundering the planet.
UPDATE: Here is the original fax received from Shell and the response from our legal counsel.