Shell Out Sounds -> Voices for a Shell-free Southbank



What’s wrong with Shell?

Shell is a household name all over the world. Its orange and yellow logo is an instantly recognisable brand. When people see it, they think oil. Many people think about the petrol they put in their car, but for many others this logo is synonymous with a devastated environment, human right abuse and a ruined future.

Tar sands: risking ruin

Tar sands is one of the most carbon-intensive and environmentally destructive sources of oil in the world. Current production is located mainly in Alberta, Canada, where tar sands deposits cover an area of 140,000 km² – an area nearly as big as England and Wales combined.




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Shell is one of the largest players in the tar sands, producing approximately 276,000 barrels per day or roughly 20% of total exports from Alberta. Shell has put forth applications to expand its capacity through new mines and in situ projects, to a projected 770,000 barrel per day capacity. However, strong community resistance to Shell has damaged its reputation with both shareholders and the public. Indeed, Shell has been named in five lawsuits related to tar sands developments and has faced shareholder resolutions demanding greater clarity over the risk of tar sands investments. In particular, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s legal case against Shell could have huge implications for the oil giant’s future in the tar sands.

Climate change: Six degrees of devastation

Despite its alleged commitment to do its part to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius, Shell stopped investing in renewable forms of energy once the price of oil started to rise again in the early 2000s. The company’s planned expansion of its tar sands operations is based on growth projections which assume that fossil fuels will still provide two-thirds of global energy in 2050, which would lock the world into a rise in global temperature of six degrees Celsius. In other words, a world in which climate change will inevitably spin out of control.

Nigeria: Decades of destruction

Shell has operated in Nigeria for over 50 years and oil spills have become an almost daily occurrence in the oil region of the Niger Delta. A 2011 UN report confirmed the horrifying extent of pollution in the Ogoni region and estimated it could take 25 to 30 years to clean up. The UN condemned Shell for falling below its own operating standards and under-reporting pollution.

A UK lawsuit brought by 11,000 Nigerians from Bodo town, where a Shell pipeline caused two major spills in 2008-9, could create substantial liabilities. Shell faces thousands of other claims related to oil spills in Nigeria and this trend is likely to continue. Recently, in a ground-breaking verdict, Shell was found guilty in a court in The Hague for some of the damage it inflicted in Nigeria.

The Arctic: Oil on icy watersarctic_drilling

Shell has been the most aggressive company seeking to exploit the pristine Arctic Ocean for offshore oil. Shell has been planning for years to drill outer-continental shelf wells in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off Alaska. Dozens of support vessels and aircraft would patrol both seas, emitting pollutants and risking oil spills.

The Beaufort and Chukchi Seas are vital to the Inupiat subsistence lifestyle, and provide critical habitat for polar bears, walruses, seals, migratory birds and the endangered bowhead whale. All this is at risk from pollution, noise disturbance and spills. If an oil spill were to happen in the Arctic’s extreme, remote conditions, there is no proven method to clean it up.

The string of accidents which initially forced Shell to end its Arctic exploration in 2012 without much progress continued over the 2012-2013 winter. Following a global campaign to revoke the drilling licences Shell has received from the US government, at the end February 2013 Shell declared that it is cancelling its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic during 2013. This is not the end of the campaign to keep Shell out of the Arctic, as it has not cancelled its plans altogether, but it does give local communities and campaigners a year longer to convince governments to put into place legal protection for this pristine environment and make sure that Shell is kept out of the Arctic for good.

Rossport: A bad reputation

For many years local residents in Rossport, Ireland have resisted a project, led by Shell, to build a pipeline carrying raw gas through their village to a new refinery built on a shifting bog. This high-pressure pipeline, never before built in a populated area, is poisoning the land and endangering the residents who live just metres away.

Residents have been publicly resisting operations since 2004, attracting international criticism of Shell and causing severe damage to the company’s reputation.


FrackedShell is also actively pursuing plans to start extracting oil and gas using the dangerous process called hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) in different locations around the world. In water-scarce Egypt, plans to drill three fracking wells which will contaminate the local water sources have come across strong opposition. In South Africa, Shell was found guilty of false advertising in its public relations campaign around fracking. However the South African government’s moratorium on fracking was nevertheless lifted in September 2012. And in China, Shell is planning to invest at least $1 billion a year to exploit China’s vast shale gas resources.

What’s wrong with oil sponsorship?

Why does Shell support the arts?

The oil industry is an intrusive and volatile one, where share prices can vary wildly based on future prospects and risks. Shell’s business relies on political co-operation at home and abroad, through financial backing from the state, close connections to politicians and the ability to influence legislation. Shell benefits from the ability to work with governments to quash dissent – which violates the democratic right to protest. Social and political shifts can profoundly threaten production, and immediately undermine the value of an oil company.

timpani_logosEternally worried about losing such support, oil companies forge connections among not only the political elite, but in academic, cultural, sporting and artistic circles, to further build their reputation as responsible and well-meaning companies. A supportive attitude among civil society’s movers and shakers is built through direct engagement and dialogue, through advertising, and through financial support. Shell funds cultural icons across London, not only fostering deep connections with arts and music institutions but seeking associations with science – such as its sponsorship of the climate science exhibition in the Science Museum, the Geological Society’s ‘Shell London Lectures’, and university research posts.

Shell’s sponsorship of the Southbank Centre, and specifically of the Shell Classic International concerts, is a textbook case of what appears to be ‘philanthropy’ but is simply an investment, like any other, expected to deliver concrete returns to the company and shareholders (as was the case with BP’s sponsorship of the London 2012 Olympics).

Why shouldn’t Shell support the arts?

Shell might need the Southbank Centre but the Southbank Centre doesn’t need Shell. The amount of money gained by corporate sponsorship is a fraction (5% in 2011) of the centre’s overall income and is overwhelmingly outweighed by the irreparable harm done by propping up Shell’s reputation. Cultural institutions and sporting events have shunned tobacco sponsorship – and have survived and thrived without it. If oil companies, and other large corporations, contributed their fair share of taxes, and stopped participating in tax avoidance schemes, the government would have more than enough to adequately fund the arts.

Arts and culture are integral in our society and should be enjoyed by everyone. They inspire, critique, and illuminate. They should be free to deliver messages of hope, clarity, justice, and alternative futures. Corporate sponsorship, especially by oil companies whose livelihood depends on not moving forward from the outdated oil age, stifles and censors the arts. The arts need to be supported and nurtured for their own sake, not used as pawns by oil companies to boost their operations in some of the world’s most destructive industries.

We would like to see the Southbank Centre, (and other cultural institutions that take money from Shell, BP et al), reject the myth of austerity and stand with composers, musicians, artists and others who are harnessing their creativity in the struggle for life, love and justice.

As we see it, there is more than enough wealth to go round, both in the UK and internationally, to allow all people to live full, healthy lives, where there is ample provision for everything we need for our own well-being – including art and culture – and the well-being of the planet itself. It looks like there needs to be an epic redistribution of power to make that happen; we hope our performances can be part of supporting the social movements that are able to bring that to pass.

Find out more about Shell’s sponsorship of the Southbank Centre.

Category: Info