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Shell risked offshore workers lives to dodge Alaskan tax bill

Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 07.03.50Despite all promises to the contrary, Shell is still putting monetary considerations before safety. Just read some of the recent articles about Shell’s reckless conduct in offshore Alaska. It put the lives of offshore workers and the environment at risk to avoid a potential multimillion dollar tax bill. Personally, I do not believe enough attention has been drawn to the ethical issue of Shell deliberately putting peoples lives at risk in a calculated gamble.

Royal Dutch Shell Safety Last, not First

By John Donovan

Despite all promises to the contrary, Shell is still putting monetary considerations before safety.

Just read some of the recent articles about Shell’s reckless conduct in offshore Alaska.

It put the lives of offshore workers and the environment at risk to avoid a potential multimillion dollar tax bill.

This extract from a US News & World Report article published yesterday is typical of the many comments published elsewhere:

Notably, in September 2012, a Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig ran aground in Alaska as workers attempted to tow it beyond the state’s waters. A Coast Guard report released Friday found that the Anglo-Dutch oil company decided to move the rig – and insisted on doing so through dangerous stormy weather – to avoid paying new Alaskan taxes. The report also detailed myriad safety issues.

Personally, I do not believe enough attention has been drawn to the ethical issue of Shell deliberately putting peoples lives at risk in a calculated gamble.

For years, Shell senior management has maintained that safety is the number one priority at Shell.

Let me provide a prime example.

In July 2006 we published a leaked email from the then Royal Dutch Shell CEO, Jeroen van der Veer in which he refers to the “tragic deaths on the Brent Bravo in September 2003.”

The subject of his email was: “Safety is Job No.1.”  (The red highlighting is mine.)

Some extracts…

The first key topic is safety. Why safety, you may ask. Are we not focusing on Delivery and Growth, Operational Excellence and a First Quartile Mentality? True, but frankly – without a further improved safety performance, little else matters.

There are good reasons for focusing on safety that go beyond the recent week everyone in Downstream devoted to the topic. Safety is a right and an obligation. Safety embodies our values – honesty, integrity and respect for people. And achieving better safety performance is Enterprise First in action. Without a strong safety culture, all other aspects of our culture will erode. To me, safety is one main driver and indicator of higher performance.

Let’s be perfectly clear. Our safety performance has reached a plateau – and remains below best-in-class in our industry. Our statistics show it. We know it. What does this mean? Are we not trying hard enough, focusing hard enough, or haven’t we accepted that we have a problem? I think it is a mixture. All these aspects are probably part and parcel of the safety problem. The solution rests on willpower, behaviour and taking action.

In Shell, safety awareness rightly should be “first” nature, since we have been involved in hazardous, complex and challenging activities for more than a hundred years. Many of our people are technical experts, and know how to control the hazards of operating a platform, a refinery, a chemical plant, or a fuel depot and fuel transport. And yet, despite the experience and expertise, things can go wrong. And when things go wrong people can be hurt, or, even worse, lose their lives, which is very distressing for everyone.

And the world around us sees us as not safe enough.

In the past weeks, there have been media reports focusing on our safety performance in the North Sea, especially the Brent field. Part of the background is a debate around whether we, as a company, acted in sufficient depth and breadth on recommendations made in our own 1999 review of platform safety management. We genuinely believe we did. Nonetheless, there were two tragic deaths on the Brent Bravo in September 2003.

EMAIL EXTRACTS END

Despite all of these comments, Shell was still adding to its atrocious safety track record, as was highlighted in a Guardian article published in March 2007 under the headline: “Van der Veer – a safe pair of hands.”

Extracts

The one big area where he has fallen down is safety. This month Shell admitted that 37 employees and contractors had died on company business last year. As the Guardian revealed a few weeks ago, Shell has continued to receive warnings from the Health and Safety Executive that it is acting illegally with regard to safety in the North Sea. Mr van der Veer needs to bring a halt to this…

Several months later another article published by the Guardian about Van der Veer contained the following reference to the Brent Bravo scandal and Bill Campbell:

He also makes clear he was hurt by the coverage of another fiasco – when a Shell consultant, Bill Campbell, blew the whistle on safety breaches in the North Sea.

Still nothing changed.

In 2008, Upstreamonline published an article revealing that lifeboats serving Shell Brent field North Sea platforms were unseaworthy. Two had to be removed from service.

In 2013, fuelfix published an article under the headline: Former Shell CEO: Safety must come first. And second. And third.

In his foreword to the just released Sustainability Report, Shell’s current Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden said: “Running a safe and efficient business is at the core of good operational performance.” Shell assured shareholders that its safety and management operations are stronger that ever.

However, it is not words, but deeds that count and in relation to safety issues, Shell’s promises had proven hollow.

Bill Campbell,  the retired Group HSE Auditor of Shell International, is a regular much valued contributor to this website. He led the team which carried out a safety audit on Brent Bravo in 1999 that discovered what was known as a “Touch F*** All” policy in relation to safety issues. Safety records were routinely falsified to cover up what was going on. Bill presented the audit findings to Shell senior management and was promised the problems would be fixed. This did not happen and the explosion took place four years later. Shell subsequently admitted breaching three health and safety regulations and had to pay a record breaking £900,000 fine ($1.4 million USD approx). Bill Campbell had a face-to-face meeting with Van der Veer and reached the conclusion that the then Shell CEO was engaged, along with his colleagues, in a cover-up of the truth and is untrustworthy.

Bill and I mounted a joint campaign to draw attention to Shell offshore safety issues. Shell responded by secretly setting up a crisis team with hostile intent to go on the offense against us. Shell also commenced a global corporate espionage operation directed at this website, Shell employees and me.

What a shame that it did not instead devote the time and resources to tackle safety issues.

Here we are in 2014 and still nothing has changed. Shell still puts monetary consideration (tax dodging) before the safety of its employees, contractors and others innocently drawn into its accident prone self-insured activities.

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