The Shell Classic International season began with Orchestra Mozart at the beginning of October, and SOS swung into action to bring a little more nuance to the corporation’s PR campaign.
Concert-goers taking their interval drinks in Festival Hall Bar were greeted by an upbeat chorus, snapping fingers as they sung close harmonies about the toxic legacies of Shell’s misadventures in the Arctic, the Niger Delta and Alberta.
Flashmob choir harmonise against Shell at Southbank Centre
1st March 2013
Interval interrupted at Shell Classic International concert, as ‘Shell Out Sounds’ sing their opposition to oil sponsorship.
On the evening of Friday 1st March 2013, a group of singers and musicians called ‘Shell Out Sounds’ (SOS) made an unexpected musical intervention at the Southbank Centre, during the interval of a Shell-sponsored performance by members of the Berliner Philharmoniker and guests. The 16-strong ‘flashmob choir’ sang a sombre version of ‘Down to the River to Pray’, the lyrics rewritten to depict the sadness and woe Shell inflicts on the world. The group handed out flyers to audience members, many of whom stopped to listen and applauded at the end of the song. The Southbank Centre security guards did not attempt to stop the surprise performance.
This was the first public performance by Shell Out Sounds. The new group brings together musicians and singers who are concerned about Shell sponsorship of the Southbank Centre. This is due to the oil giant’s significant contribution to climate change, its highly environmentally-destructive exploitation of the Canadian tar sands, its fracking operations around the world, its ongoing polluting activities in Nigeria and its controversial attempts to drill in the Arctic. The pop-up choir were all dressed in black with purple sashes, and sang from memory in three-part harmony. Each verse described the suffering of a community affected by Shell’s operations in Canada, Nigeria and Alaska, and concluded with the refrain“Oh, Shell, not your name; No more oil, no more pain; Oh, Shell not your name; Art not in your name!”. Continue reading →
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.
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 waters
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.
Shell 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.