Royal Dutch Shell environmental issues
Royal Dutch Shell is engaged in a variety of business activities across the world which of necessity involves the extraction, production, handling, processing, storage and transportation of hazardous products, including hydrocarbons and chemicals. On 13 May 2008, Shell released a report  setting out ambitious plans to meet the global energy challenge that can be summed up as more energy, less CO2. The report  describes Shells plans to invest in second generation biofuels and carbon capture and storage. It also discusses utilisation of natural gas and wind power combined with the necessity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and operational oil spills. The vast scale of operation means that even with the highest safety and maintenance standards in current and future activity, accidents and events arising from human error or misjudgement and or plant or equipment failure, are likely to occur. The record of past environmental incidents and events detailed in this article should be considered in that context.
There are two other main subsidiary articles about Royal Dutch Shell:
Main article: Royal Dutch Shell safety concerns
Main article: Controversies surrounding Royal Dutch Shell
The key information about Shell is in the article:
Main article: Royal Dutch Shell
This article focuses on Shell’s environmental record.
UK Advertising Authority rules Shell advert misleading
On 7 November 2007 The Guardian published an article under the headline  The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that a Shell advertisement featuring flower heads emerging from refinery chimneys implying the oil giant used its waste carbon dioxide to grow flowers, breached ASA rules. According to The Guardian article, The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld a complaint that the press advert, which featured the drawing misleadingly implied all CO2 emissions helped produce flowers and decided it breached industry code clauses on truthfulness and environmental claims. The article went on to say that the advert is no longer appearing and that Shell had informed the ASA it would not be used again. Shell stated in its response to the investigation, that it supplied 170,000 tonnes of CO2 to local greenhouse growers in 2005 and expected to supply a further 320,000 tonnes, explaining that this stopped the equivalent of the annual CO2 emissions from about 102,894 vehicles being released. The ASA ruling was also reported in The Independent. The Guardian covered the story again in a green themed article  published on 21 January 2008.
Dutch Advertising Authority rules Shell advert misleading
On 5 July 2007, Reuters reported  that the Dutch Advertising Standards Authority had ruled that a complaint made by Friends of the Earth Netherlands about a Royal Dutch Shell green themed advertising campaign was well founded and that the advertising was misleading. According to the article: The environmental group had complained about an ad designed to show how waste carbon dioxide grew flowers and depicting a refinery emitting flowers from its chimneys instead of smoke. Shell maintained that it was creatively using its waste carbon dioxide to help grow flowers. The Financial Times also covered the story reporting  that Friends of the Earth had concluded that only a tiny proportion of Shells carbon dioxide emissions were piped into greenhouses. The FT stated that The environmental group took a similar argument to the Belgian advertising authority, which rejected it. The FT went on to conclude that Win or lose, the cases have brought attention to a clever term that the environmentalists hope will challenge claims dreamt up by big advertising agencies: greenwashing.
Release of chemical pollutants at Shell Texas Deer Park complex
On 16 May 2007, Bloomberg News reported  that Royal Dutch Shell Plc had shut two ethylene plants at a Texas production complex after it lost steam power and released tons of chemicals into the air around Houston. The report went on to say that Shells Deer Park, Texas, complex lost steam from an external supplier on 2 May 2007 and that consequential shut-downs resulted in the airborne release of dozens of contaminants, including 2,420 pounds of ethylene, 1,782 pounds of propylene, 1,622 pounds of sulfur dioxide and 4,700 pounds of volatile organic compounds in the Houston area.
Emission violations at Shell Martinez refinery in California
On 9 May 2007, the Houston Chronicle newspaper reported  that Shell Oil Products, a subsidiary of Shell Oil Company, had been fined $2.9 million for equipment failure that sent 925 tons of excess carbon monoxide into the air. According to the article, the pollution-causing emissions escaped the refinery in Martinez, California over the course of a week. Karen M. Schkolnick, a spokeswoman for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, was quoted as saying that The fine reflects the size of the incident and the fact that human errors compounded the situation and that “It was a series of either bad judgements or mechanical failures and it led to this acute situation”. Steve Lesher, a spokesman for the Martinez refinery, was quoted as conceding that Shell had not contested the Air District’s claims, but is proud of its pollution control record. Lesher went on to say “We have rigorous maintenance standards, and you hope something like this never happens and you work to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
Environmental infringements by Shell in Louisiana
On 14 March 2007, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) announced  that Shell Chemical Company has settled six years of environmental infringements with a $6.5 million agreement covering charges that it violated air and other emissions standards between 1999 and 2003. The settlement includes a $1 million fine which will go into the state’s hazardous waste clean-up fund and $5.5 million which will be invested in beneficial environmental projects to reduce flare reduction systems at four Shell Chemical plants. Under the terms of the settlement  Shell does not admit any wrongdoing and in mitigation pointed out that many of the violations were self-reported. DEQ Assistant Secretary Harold Leggett was quoted as saying: This is an important settlement, not just because both parties have addressed past violations, but because we have also agreed to address the needs of the future.” The improvements, to be located at the company’s Norco plant, are scheduled to be completed by 2014. The agreement also calls for Shell Chemical Company to improve its leak detection and repair program at its plants in Norco, Taft and Geismar and a petroleum refining plant in St. Rose.
Groundwater contamination by Shell in USA
Shell Oil Company, along with many other defendants, has been sued in the USA by public water suppliers and governmental agencies, alleging responsibility for groundwater contamination caused by releases of gasoline containing oxygenate additives. Most of the lawsuits seek recovery of alleged damages and clean-up costs. Some claim punitive damages.
In October 2006, Shell Oil Company and a subsidiary company, Equilon Enterprises, agreed to pay $6.5 million in a lawsuit settlement with Riverside County California. The agreement included $3.6 million in civil penalties and ordered Shell and Equilon to stop any future violations of California state health and safety laws. The lawsuit alleged 56 state law infringements regarding maintenance of underground storage tanks and handling of hazardous materials and waste. Stephanie Weissman, Riverside County senior deputy district attorney with the office’s Environmental Crimes Unit alleged leaks from underground gasoline storage tanks can contaminate groundwater and have long-term negative impact on the environment. According to a report  published by the Press-Enterprise newspaper , The court action stemmed from a discovery in 2003 by the Riverside County Department of Environmental Health Hazardous Materials Division that Equilon had failed to report or fix leaking underground storage tanks at three Coachella Valley gas stations. The article went on to say that Violations were later found at two other sites in western Riverside County. Shell and Equilon, which owns and operates the gas stations, denied any wrongdoing. Equilon president, David Sexton, claimed in a statement that Shell had spent $55 million in the previous nine years to improve underground storage tanks and equipment at its gas stations in California. As part of the settlement, over $1 million is being spent by Equilon for the installation of sensors and locking mechanisms at its stations.
According to information on pages 146 and 147 of Shells Annual Report and Form 20-F for year ending December 31, 2006, there were approximately 69 pending lawsuits as of the December 31, 2006 date, asserting claims against SOC and other defendants including other major energy and refining companies. The report states that In 19 of the lawsuits, plaintiffs allege aggregate compensatory damages of approximately $1.25 billion and aggregate punitive damages of approximately $3.35 billion. Shell considers the amounts claimed by plaintiffs in the pleadings to be highly speculative. For this reason no financial provision has been made for the relevant cases. Shell also says that there are significant unresolved legal questions. The report states that monetary damages have not yet been claimed in the other 50 lawsuits.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled  on 16 March 2007 that Shell Oil Company and two railroad corporations must pay the costs of cleaning up a toxic waste site near Arvin the Central Valley, in California. The Court confirmed an earlier ruling regarding both the railroad corporations and Shells liability, deciding that The railroads and Shell are jointly and severally liable for the harm at the Arvin site. A local newspaper, the Central Valley Business Times, reported  twenty years of leakage and spread of Shell-produced agricultural chemicals: the soil fumigants D-D and Nemagon. D-D and Nemagon members of a class of chemicals called nematocides hazardous materials in violation of several hazardous waste laws. According to the newspaper report, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency investigated separately and found evidence of soil and groundwater contamination at an Arvin facility.
On 29 June 2007 The Bakersfield Californian newspaper reported  that Shell Oil which had shut down on a temporary basis a soil cleanup operation at the Rosedale Highway refinery two years ago and had not restarted it despite repeated requests from state authorities. The article stated: The shutdown had stalled efforts to clean up extensive groundwater contamination beneath the refinery, state officials said, allowing pollutants like MTBE, gasoline, diesel and benzene to seep further into the water table. The oil refinery has been the site of many releases of oil and other petroleum products into the ground going back over two decades. In 1987 a pipeline leak resulted in an estimated 2 million gallons of partially refined fuel seeking into the ground. The leaks have continued with the most recent occurring in June 2007. On 27 August 2007, The Bakersfield Californian reported  that California State Senator, Dean Florez, had “asked the states attorney general to take legal action against Shell for the companys inaction”.
On 27 November 2007, The Bakersfield Californian published a further article  this time reporting Shell Oil had restarted the clean up of pollution underneath the Rosedale Highway refinery that environmental regulators stated was shut down over two years previously without their consent. The article said: “The outer edge of the contamination comes close to the Kern River and a city well, both sources of drinking water for Bakersfield residents.” The article went on to state that in 1987 an underground pipeline had leaked “an estimated 4 million to 5 million gallons of partially refined fuel into the ground.” This was a substantially larger volume than had previously been reported. A Shell spokeswoman was quoted as saying “the cleanup system will continue to remove pollution from the ground at the refinery for an additional 12 to 15 years.”
Unauthorised venting and flaring of gas by Shell in USA
On 5 August 2003, the United States Department of Justice announced  that Shell Oil Company had agreed to pay $49 million USD to settle claims under the False Claims Act and various administrative provisions relating to its unauthorized venting and flaring of gas… at its Auger platform, located some 150 miles (240 km) off the coast of Louisiana and at other Shell facilities in the Gulf of Mexico. The settlement also resolved claims that Shell had failed to properly report, or pay royalties on the vented and flared gas. This was the third case settled by Shell Oil Company in the period 1999 to 2003 alleging that it had underpaid royalties owed to the United States. In 2000, Shell agreed to pay $56 million to settle claims that it undervalued gas produced from federal leases. Shell paid $110 million in 2001 to settle  US Department of Justice claims that it undervalued crude oil extracted from federal lands.
Shell Pipeline rupture in Washington
The United States Department of Justice, acting for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), filed a civil settlement  on January 17, 2003, in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington in relation to an action against United States v. Shell Pipeline Co. LP fka Equilon Pipeline Co. LLC and Olympic Pipe Line Co. The civil settlement resolved Clean Water Act claims for environmental violations which led to a fatal pipeline rupture in Bellingham, Washington in 1999. The original complaint filed in May 2002 alleged that the pipeline rupture was caused by “gross negligence in the operation and maintenance of the pipeline.” The consequences of the rupture were tragic. Over 230,000 gallons of gasoline were discharged. The gasoline ignited in a fireball which created a plume of smoke some six miles (10 km) high. As a result of the explosion, two ten-year-old boys and a teenager were killed and at least nine other people were injured. According to the EPA, the gasoline spill and resulting fire “killed more than 100,000 fish and other aquatic organisms in the impacted area”. Other species of wildlife were also killed.
The settlement required Shell to pay a federal civil penalty of $5 million and institute a spill prevention program on four other Shell operated pipelines. Shell was also required to enter into an agreement with the State of Washington to include payment of $5 million to the State as a contingency fund in case or other State-approved expenditures. Federal and state civil penalties were in addition to criminal fines of $15 million levied against Shell in a separate criminal case.
Environmental law infringements in Brazil
In 1951, Shell Chemicals of Brazil built a storage tank and terminal in its chemical plant in Paulinia, 120 kilometres north-west of São Paulo, beginning operations that last to the present. A related pesticide plant was also founded, but moved out during a regional de-industrialisation in the 1970s. While both plants’ operations were in general accordance with local and international standards for disposals of waste, these standards were later found to be lacking. Furthermore, among the pesticides produced were “drins” — endrin, dieldrin and aldrin, pesticides later discontinued due to their toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative nature. In the early 1990s, Greenpeace and the Union of Workers in the Mining and Petroleum sector (Sinpetrol) first raised charges that the area’s soil, air and water were contaminated with heavy metals (most notably, lead) and drins.Template:Spelling
In February 2001, Shell admitted responsibility according to a Greenpeace report,  for the contamination by the organochlorine pesticides. The report indicates that drins were found in the groundwater and soil under the farms located between the plant and the Atibaia River, a tributary of the Piracicaba River, providing water to cities in the region. Shell still denies responsibility for the lead contamination, claiming that the contamination is organic lead, while theirs was rendered inorganic before disposal. According to the report, while Shell accepted responsibility for the pollution, it claimed that it has not been established whether the pollution threatens the health of the local population. Shell conducted blood tests among local residents and concluded that the levels of toxins present in their blood were not harmful. In June 2002, São Paulo state‘s environmental watchdog Cetesb, fined  Shell for toxic pesticide pollution. According to a March 2003 article  in Ode, an international magazine, a Shell official stated: If there is proof that our products have caused harm then we will immediately take responsibility for it. That is our global policy. According to the same article, many people were allegedly sick with ailments including cancerous growths, intestinal disorders, lung diseases and children with neurological defects.
According to Jose Antonio Puppim de Oliveira, a professor at the Brazilian School of Public and Business Administration, Shell’s stance toward the case has been: “The company wants to treat the case purely from the scientific point of view by using the best methods and techniques of risk assessment and risk management. They see no point in spending huge amounts of resources to clean up the area completely because the risk is overcome if no one drinks the subterranean water. Moreover, Shell claims other companies may also be responsible and the problem quite possibly may continue into the future. The cleanup will not improve the quality of life of Vila Carioca or São Paulo‘s inhabitants since underground contamination and other environmental problems such as air and water pollution are common in the city. Shell argues that it prefers to use its resources to contribute to the society in a more sensible way with other social and environmental initiatives.”
In January 2005, Shell was reportedly ordered by a judge  to stop dumping chemical wastes and to decontaminate drinking water sources. The company was additionally fined four times by the state environmental agency between 1993 and 2003. The report by Friends of the Earth claims health problems for employees and those living nearby, who were allegedly found to have high concentrations of heavy metals and pesticides in their blood. Neither Shell nor the state environmental agency (CETESB) recognised the test as valid, claiming that the methodology was flawed.
Refinery contamination in Texas
In 1901, Port Arthur, Texas was fortunate in being the nearest port to the first oil gusher in the state of Texas. Motiva Enterprises LLC, a US company jointly owned by Shell and the government of Saudi Arabia, own and operate an oil refinery in Port Arthur which was originally founded by the oil company Texaco in 1903. The refinery has been the subject of an environmental campaign led by Hilton Kelley, who together with 1,200 fellow residents of Port Arthur, has launched a class action lawsuit against Shell alleging breach of environmental human rights. In a report in The Guardian newspaper published in the UK on 24 June 2004, Kelley claimed the Shell refinery was emitting 200-300 times the allowed emissions of chemicals – many of them carcinogenic. He was also quoted as alleging that “children suffered from asthma and cancerous tumours while women, including members of his family, had had their uterus and ovaries removed”. According to a BBC TV News programme in the UK, Newsnight, broadcast on 28 October 2004, a study in the year 2000 found that residents have high levels of have levels of respiratory disease and immune-system problems way above those of a similar control group sited 60 miles (97 km) away. Newsnight also reported that when a federal air quality van toured the area in January 2003, it found hot spots of cancer-causing and toxic chemicals. However, the origin of the pollution is unclear because four other oil facilities operate in the town.
Oil Refinery in Durban
The Sapref, oil refinery in Durban, the largest in South Africa (172,000 barrels per day) , is jointly owned by Shell and BP, and has been accused by protesters of having a “dismal pollution record which has claimed the lives of many residents” . Sapref themselves admitted in writing to residents, that the plant did not have a “perfect environmental and social performance record”. The main accusation is that Shell/BP apply double standards, allowing the South African plant to be far lest circumspect on environmental controls than in its refineries elsewhere in the world. . Critics of Shell pointed to the companys Statement of General Business Principles  which stated: We aim to be good neighbors by continuously improving the ways in which we contribute directly or indirectly to the general well-being of the communities in which we work.. Protest groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth said that Shell fell far short of this ambition at its joint venture refinery in Durban.
US Clean Air Act violations
On March 21, 2001, the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice announced a settlement committing nine refineries owned by Motiva, Equilon Enterprises, and the Deer Park Refining Limited Partnership to a program to ensure compliance with important provisions of the United States Clean Air Act. The companies agreed to invest $400 million over eight years to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter. Motiva Enterprises LLC, is a joint venture between Shell and Saudi Refining Inc. Equilon Enterprises is a subsidiary of Shell Oil Co. Shell Oil Products is a partner in Park Refining Limited partnership.
Emission violations at Shell Wood River Refinery in Illinois
On 9 September 1998, the U.S. Justice Department announced a settlement with Shell Oil Company relating to hundreds of environmental violations at Shell Oil Company’s Wood River oil refinery located on over 2,000 acres (8.1 km²) on the banks of the Mississippi River in Roxana, Illinois, near St. Louis. Shell and its affiliates agreed to a judicial decree requiring Shell to achieve and certify compliance with all environmental laws at the Wood River refinery, and to carry out environmental projects valued at over $10 million including added protections of Mississippi River water quality, and pay $1.5 million in civil penalties — of which the sum of $500,000 would be paid to the U.S. co-plaintiff, the State of Illinois. According to the Justice Department release, Environmental problems at Wood River included: illegal levels of sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide air emissions, violations of emission standards for benzene (a hazardous air pollutant), violations of solid waste labelling, reporting, and manifesting requirements, untimely reporting of emissions of extremely hazardous substances such as ammonia and chlorine, and violations of Illinois water regulations. Under the decree, Shell was required to purchase $500,000 worth of land adjacent to the Mississippi River and then transfer ownership to the State of Illinois on the basis that the land must be appropriate for “wetlands preservation, water quality protection, and wildlife conservation purposes”. Steve Herman, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance was quoted as saying: “In settling this case, the federal government has followed the basic principle that polluters will be required to pay for and correct the damage they cause, as well as prevent future damage.” W. Charles Grace, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois commented: “These severe penalties will not only force Shell Oil into environmental compliance, but will also reinforce the message that we will not tolerate environmental degradation of our country’s greatest natural resources.”
- See also: Brent Spar
Shell was also challenged by Greenpeace for plans for subsea disposal of the Brent Spar, an old oil transport and hub station located in the North Sea, into the North Atlantic. Shell eventually agreed to disassemble it onshore in Norway, although it has always maintained that its original plan to sink the platform was safer and better for the environment.
On disposal, it transpired that the Greenpeace estimates for toxic content were inaccurate.
Shell settles Martinez Refinery dumping suit for $3 Million
On 8 February 1995, an article in the The New York Times headlined Shell Settles Dumping Suit for $3 Million revealed that Shell Oil Company had agreed to settle a lawsuit alleging that it had been dumping illegal amounts of selenium into San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. As part of the settlement, Shell agreed to reduce the selenium released in wastewater at its Martinez refinery. The article said that selenium is a nutrient in small amounts but is toxic in larger doses. While admitting Shell had exceeded permitted limits, company officials claimed that the selenium discharges in the strait were not enough to harm the environment.
Shell fined $19.75 million for oil spill from Martinez Refinery
On 1 December 1989, The New York Times reported that Shell Oil Company had agreed to pay $19.75 million for spilling more than 400,000 gallons of crude oil into San Francisco Bay. Shell said that it had spent an additional $14 million in cleaning up the spill, when oil flowed from a pipe at its Martinez refinery in April 1988. Oil leaked out from a 12.5-million-gallon storage tank at the manufacturing complex 40 miles northeast of San Francisco. The Government said that several Federal regulations were broken. According to the article at least 250 birds and 50 other animals were found dead and a valuable wildlife habitat was ruined and tidal marshlands would take 10 years to recover.
Explosion at Shell Louisiana refinery
On 5 May 1988, a major explosion occurred at a Shell oil refinery in Norco, Louisiana. The New York Times reported six deaths, one person missing and 42 people injured. The blast shattered windows up to 30 miles (48 km) away and “damage was sustained on both sides of the mile-wide Mississippi river“. According to the same report, Norco residents were “fed up over recurring emergencies that had forced them to evacuate their homes eight times in 12 years”. An article published by AlterNet in February 2005 concerning the explosion and its consequences said that it spewed 159 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the air, requiring the evacuation of 4,500 people and that Shell subsequently paid out $172 million in damages to some 17,000 claimants. An article published by The Times-Picayune newspaper on 19 February 2007 reported that a lawyer involved in bringing a federal class action lawsuit against Shell in relation to the explosion was at risk of disbarment for paying a Shell employee $5,000 in 1991 for inside information about what the lawyer alleged to be misconduct by Shell in preparing its witnesses for depositions. The lawyer further justified the payment by claiming genuine belief that paying the Shell insider for information would compensate for Shell’s refusal to cooperate.”
Pollution at Rocky Mountain Arsenal, Denver, Colorado
In a working paper published by the University of Colorado, Boulder, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal – the RMA – located some six miles (10 km) northeast of downtown Denver, Colorado was described as 27 square miles of toxic horror with the reputation of being “the most polluted piece of ground in America.” Originally used by the United States Army from 1942 as a chemical weapons plant, the RMA was until 1982 utilised by Shell Chemical Company to produce pesticides and herbicides. The list of chemicals and contaminants polluting the RMA is described in the paper as mind-boggling.
From 1983 onwards, a number of lawsuits arose from contamination at the RMA. The State of Colorado sued Shell and the U.S. Army for natural resource damages under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, known as CERCLA. At the same time that the State of Colorado was pursuing its damages claim against the Army and Shell for $50 million per toxic discharge, the Army filed a lawsuit against Shell in respect of the contaminant liability. Shell issued proceedings against the Army, claiming $1.8 billion. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a related lawsuit against Shell, claiming almost $1.9 billion.
In 1988, Shell and the Army settled by filing a consent decree. Each agreed to pay 50 percent of the first $500 million in clean-up costs. A formula was also agreed to cover substantial additional cleanup costs. Shell lodged a claim with its insurers for reimbursement.
On 13 November 1988, The New York Times reported that Shell Oil Company and a Denver law firm Holme Roberts & Owen had been charged in a lawsuit brought by Travelers Insurance Company seeking $66 million in damages, with conspiring to conceal years of pollution at the RMA. The RMA was said to be contaminated by the residues of nerve gas and other chemical weapons the Army made from the early 1940s until the late 1960s and by waste from the production of pesticides and herbicides by Shell on land leased at the arsenal from 1952 to 1982. The article said that chemicals have seeped into fresh water and underground water supplies in the area. The article explained that the settlement required Shell to contribute at least $500 million towards the clean-up. Shell had found it necessary to seek reimbursement through the courts from 250 insurance carriers, including Travelers, one of the primary insurance companies covering the relevant risk. In its counterclaim, Travelers had alleged that Shell knowingly and intentionally released pollutants into the environment since commencement of its operations.’ Their lawsuit also charged that Holme Roberts conspired with Shell to mislead Travelers about the extent of the pollution. The Travelers lawsuit sought the return of $16 million already paid to Shell, plus $50 million in punitive damages.
On 21 December 1988, The New York Times published an article  announcing that a jury had found in favour of Travelers and the other insurers against Shell on the basis that Shell was not covered by any of its 800 insurance policies because it knew it was polluting the ground water at the RMA and that the jury was persuaded that Shell was an intentional polluter. The article revealed that the total clean up cost, to be split by Shell and the Army, was estimated to be as much as $2 billion. The Supreme Court reviewed the State of Colorado RMA case early in 1994 and ruled in its favour.
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