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The Wall Street Journal: Shell’s Safety Problem

March 15, 2007, 5:56 pm
Posted by WSJ.com Staff

BP has been criticized for its safety standards since the deadly Texas City refinery explosion in 2005. But Royal Dutch Shell was a far more dangerous company to work for in the past two years.

Thirty-seven Shell employees and contractors died last year, the company reported in its annual filing with the SEC yesterday, compared with just seven BP employees. In 2005, 36 Shell employees died, compared with 27 BP employees. BP had about 97,000 employees at the end of 2006, compared with 108,000 for Shell.

“Our safety performance in 2006 was mixed,” CEO Jeroen van der Veer said in the filing. “We have responded by reinforcing our safety focus through a dedicated global safety function that will improve compliance with standards and procedures worldwide.” The company says it has created a new position, a global vice-president for health, safety and environment.

According to the filing, nine of Shell’s deaths last year were due to kidnappings and assaults in Nigeria. Eight other Shell workers died of other causes in Nigeria, the company’s most dangerous locale.

As Energy Roundup noted yesterday, van der Veer got a raise last year, unlike Lord Browne. As the Financial Times has noted (subscription required), one reason for Lord Browne’s pay cut was BP’s safety record.

– Mark Gongloff

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How about ExxonMobil? I don’t know, but I’ll bet they’re far better.
Comment by Maury Lorenz – March 15, 2007 at 6:20 pm

I find this article without merit. It reports oil industry accidents, then tries to compare BP with Shell, which is comparing apples and oranges. What expertise does Gongloff have in the safety/risk/operations area? I wonder if Gongloff has ever been to Nigeria? Nigeria is a very difficult country to operate in. If you remove Nigeria from the list of countries Shell operates in (over 40), that leaves 19 deaths. Having worked for Shell 35 years I can tell you Shell takes all deaths very seriously, even kidnappings. Mr. Gongloff appears not to like oil companies as he is trying to create a judgment of Shell’s CEO which is ludicrous. If not, what was his motive here? I am unimpressed with this person and think he is simply a trouble maker trying to create news rather than reporting it. It would be interesting to evaluate his work, safety record, and expertise. My guess is he is a secular progressive.
Comment by Bill Freeman – March 15, 2007 at 10:08 pm

Much like our war efforts (Iraq, now), we think we can extract a dangerous substance in remote, dangerous areas without anyone being at risk. The zero-risk mentality is at the bottom of this–I think when people own up to the fact that oil extraction (as well as fighting wars)is an intrinsically risky activity, that’s when the safety records will actually improve. I agree with Bill Freeman, the comparison of BP to Shell is meaningless and out of context.
Comment by G. Elliott – March 16, 2007 at 12:49 am

Bill Freeman says in his comment that Mark Gongloff is not a safety expert.

I would like to draw his attention to an article authored by me about Bill Campbell, the former Group Auditor of Shell International who is an expert in safety matters. The article can be found at http://www.mondaq.com/article.asp?articleid=46640

In particular, please read the three documents authored by Mr Campbell who is in a position to judge Shell and its CEO, Jeroen van der Veer. What he has to say about Shell and its safety culture is astonishing and should be a matter of great concern to Shell employees.
Comment by John Donovan – March 16, 2007 at 3:32 am

royaldutchshellplc.com and its sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellenergy.website, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net and shell2004.com are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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