Alaska Beat

Shell's international record slammed by opponents of Arctic oil drilling

A new report from the Alaska Wilderness League highlights Royal Dutch Shell's international track record on oil spills, operational safety and even human rights violations. The environmental group believes it's damning evidence that proves Shell can't be relied on to safely punch holes in the fragile and dangerous waters off Alaska's northern coast.

The report uncloaks a "disturbing history around the world that ultimately shows that Shell cannot and must not be trusted with our one and only Arctic Ocean," according to a press release announcing the report.

There's more:

"Shell has one of the worst safety records of any company operating in either the United States or the United Kingdom. A review of 2007 data found that Shell had the highest mortality rate of any large western oil company in the U.S. The company's North Sea operations have one of the worst safety records of any oil company operating in the UK, violating safety rules 25 times from 2005 to 2011 and spending at least £1 million ($1.5 million) in fines and legal costs.

"Shell has a long track record of human rights violations. In Ogoniland, Nigeria, the company's close and complicated relationship with the Nigerian police and military led to a wide range of human rights violations. In 2009, Shell agreed to a $15.5 million settlement that covered claims that the company was involved in a campaign against local community activists that led to 2,000 dead and 30,000 homeless, admitting no wrongdoing in the matter."

After years of delays and billions of dollars of investment, Shell Oil Co., a subsidiary of the Dutch multinational, is on the verge of drilling up to five wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas this summer. Over the last year, Shell has cleared most big remaining regulatory hurdles, with the Obama administration approving several permits.

Still not awarded, however, are key drill permits that consider the specific drilling plans and environmental details for each individual well.


Shell has already safely drilled in the Arctic Ocean. In the 1980s, exploratory wells were punched in the same areas its eyeing today. The company found oil; there were no reports of leaks. Shell left when world oil prices crashed and made commercial production uneconomic.

Shell has also been praised by federal regulators for going the extra mile in its latest effort, including having a capping stack if multiple shut-off systems fail, a containment system to capture oil if that leaks, and access to a drilling rig that can drill a relief well if needed.

Curtis Smith, spokesman for Shell Oil Co., said the company has also taken other big steps, including installing the best available air-control emissions on its offshore fleet, voluntarily agreeing to capture mud and cuttings in the Beaufort Sea, and investing more in Arctic science over the last six years than the entire federal government.

The Alaska Wilderness League isn't satisfied. The group believes its new report should give federal regulators reason to question Shell's reliability and accuses Shell of Exxon Valdez-magnitude disasters in Africa.

The report also claims that:

Shell has a long history of egregious environmental violations … In 2008 and 2009, the company's trans-Niger pipeline in Ogoniland, Nigeria, had two breaks that caused approximately 10 million gallons of oil to be spilled – an environmental disaster equivalent to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. In 2011, Shell's drilling operation was responsible for the worst underwater oil spill in the UK in a decade, spilling as much as 4,380 barrels of oil into the North Sea over 10 days. Shell failed to report the spill to regulators until two days after it began.

Read the entire report (PDF).

Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)

Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or