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Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer ‘hurt’ by criticism

Last Friday, 31 August 2007, The Guardian newspaper published an article focussed on Jeroen van der Veer, the Chief Executive of Royal Dutch Shell Plc.,,2159465,00.html

The portrait painted by Guardian journalist Terry Macalister was of an endearingly frugal and religious man who earned a paltry £2.9 million ($5.8 million) in 2006 (described as a “relatively modest salary”) and is somewhat less than an example of sartorial elegance, wearing a “barely ironed shirt with frayed cuffs and a well-worn tie” for the interview. 

Paddy Briggs, a former Shell Executive, has already pointed out in subsequent published comments that according to the Shell Annual Report covering 2006 Van der Veer was in fact paid £5.2 million ($10.4 million).

The sympathetic portrayal by Terry Macalister of the boss of Royal Dutch Shell is completely at odds with Shell’s appalling track record as the world’s worst polluter and the most ruthless and unethical multinational. The oil giant welds huge power and enjoys wide-ranging influence, even in the media.

The unpalatable facts about Shell, ranging from participation in price fixing cartels, creating pollution on an unimaginable scale, engaging in commercial espionage and indulging in blatant green washing, are set out in a Wikipedia article:

Despite the contrived cuddly PR image in the Guardian article, Van der Veer is basically an old fashioned ruthless oil baron who has sold his soul for black gold. He is prepared to drill for oil and gas in pristine wilderness irrespective of dire repercussions to the environment, indigenous peoples and wildlife. He is also prepared to do business with a fanatical Iranian government supplying munitions which are killing U.S. and British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the reserves debacle Van der Veer clearly regards himself as more sinned against than sinner.  He pointed out to Macalister that he could remember the stormy press conference when the announcement of the mistake was made and the overly negative questioning he believes he received. “I can even remember where you sat,” he says, rather pointedly. Van der Veer seems to forget his part in jointly signing off with Phil Watts the relevant accounts and that he, along with hundreds of Shell staff were aware internally that this deception had being going on for over three years.

Van der Veer 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. Here he again portrays the behaviour of a man deluded who has got so used to telling lies that the truth is lost.  Ironically as a Master in the black art of spin he blames it all on BBC Scotland.  “What really gets me irritated is if people on television broadcast programmes that are deliberately spun in a negative way as though our employees are some kind of villains.”

Bill Campbell, a former Group Auditor of Shell International, publically challenged the integrity of Van der Veer after a meeting with him arising from the Brent Bravo scandal.  On 11 September 2003, two Brent Bravo platform workers, Sean McCue, 22, of Kennoway in Fife, and Keith Moncrieff, 45, of Invergowrie, Tayside, died after a sudden escape of gas in a platform leg where they were working. Shell admitted responsibility and was fined a record breaking $1.8 million under Health & Safety regulations for what a Scottish Fatal Accident Inquiry determined was a preventable accident.

Campbell led a safety audit on the platform four years before the fatal accident. It revealed a “Touch Fuck All” policy towards safety issues – a policy endorsed by Shell platform management. Even worse, safety records were falsified and repairs bodged. Campbell reported this to Shell senior management including Malcolm Brinded, the then Managing Director of Shell Exploration & Production. When Campbell voiced his concern that appropriate remedial action was not being taken, he was moved to another project. The fatal accident followed.

The plain fact is that Shell management – specifically Malcolm Brinded – cold-bloodedly gave a higher priority to production than the lives of Shell employees.

Despite all of the spin by Van der Veer the reality is that Shell UK has by far the worst safety record in the North Sea in terms of unacceptable risks due to failure to comply with its legal obligations. In summary since the fatal accident in 2003 Shell UK have been served on average an enforcement notice every 40 days or so, a total standing now in excess of 40 which is an increase in the rate of issuance of notices since the fatalities of 300% above the pre fatality level.  Almost 90% of these notices were to reduce the risks of multiple fatality major accident events.  The master of spin described this in June 2006 (Upstream et al) and in March this year (Guardian and Scotsman) as an indication of significant progress in safety offshore stating that Shell were a Company where safety and compliance with the law was its number one priority. The link below is to the enforcement notices website of the industry Regulator, the HSE, which reveal the stark truth which Shell management still refuses to acknowledge.

In his mind Van der Veer has already airbrushed out of historical record the fact that only days after the fatal accident in September 2003, his Production Director Greg Hill and his Managing Director Tom Botts, presented data to senior officials of the HSE, demonstrating that from 1999 until the accident there had been a complete collapse in essential controls indicating criminal neglect of the integrity of its offshore installations on a massive scale. 

Van der Veer describes the $1.5 billion required to remedy this situation an ‘improvement’ when the majority of the degradation to the fabric of the offshore installations was caused by the Shell “Touch Fuck All” policy in place since 1999. The $1.5 billion should have been recorded as one of the largest avoidable losses in the Group’s history (this being in line with Group Internal Accounting, Reporting and Audit Procedures for losses caused as a direct result of non-compliance with Company policy).

After the meeting between Campbell and Van der Veer, Campbell accused the Shell CEO of being economical with the truth. He has been even more scathing about Malcolm Brinded, now Executive Director of EP.

Since then Shell management and its top lawyers including Keith Ruddock, General Counsel of Shell EP, have been trying without success, to pacify Campbell, a meticulous man of the very highest integrity. As demanded by Campbell, Brinded has already apologised to some EP staff for his conduct, but Campbell is far from convinced that the conversion to a righteous path by management in respect of Shell employee safety is genuine.

Because of the serious nature of these matters Bill Campbell had a witness present at a crucial meeting with a senior Shell official and as a precaution also has irrefutable recorded evidence of admissions by Shell.

After closely monitoring the Shell offshore safety statistics posted on the HSE website, which indicate that the situation is getting worse, not better, Campbell remains convinced that a calamity is inevitable unless Shell faces up to safety issues.
As a result, he recently linked up with a website described by Ed Crooks of the Financial Times as “an anti-Shell website run by a father and son partnership that has been a long-running thorn in the company’s side.” Campbell and the owners of the website, 90 year old Alfred Donovan and his son John Donovan (the author of this article) have jointly campaigned against what The Wall Street Journal has described as “Shell’s Safety Problem” (the headline of a WSJ article published on 15 March 2007).

Shell humiliated, rattled and thrown on the back foot

The collaboration resulted in a news story published in another UK national newspaper. On 1 September 2007, the Daily Mail published an article on its City & Finance pages stating that “ROYAL Dutch Shell is getting rattled by a ‘gripe site’ that alleges there are safety problems with its North Sea oil platforms.”

The following are extracts from the article: –

An internal Shell email admits the firm has been thrown ‘on the back foot’ because of claims put forward on the website.
John Donovan, who established the site with his father Alfred, has teamed up with former Shell employee Bill Campbell to highlight North Sea maintenance worries.

In recent weeks Campbell has emailed hundreds of MPs alleging Shell hasn’t yet properly tackled health and safety failings. Shell’s email, which was written in March, highlights that it needs to make sure it is ‘on solid ground’ when trying to stop negative publicity.

And it appears to acknowledge there could still be issues at its North Sea installations.

‘Do we fully understand our own position. Are there on-going issues that we need to know about/fix,’ asks the memo.

Shell was lashed for its safety record following two deaths at its Brent Bravo platform in 2003.

A Shell spokesman said:

‘Safety is Shell’s foremost priority at all times. Shell strongly disputes any suggestion that we would compromise safety offshore. No fatalities are acceptable.’

The site has served as a forum for disgruntled current and ex-employees and campaigners.

The spokesman added:

‘Although Shell disagrees fundamentally with the factual basis and interpretation of much of the information on which the Donovans base their various allegations, the company has always refrained from commenting on specific issues raised by the Donovans and will continue to do so.’

The Shell emails admitting the firm’s concern at the claims

“As it stands we’re on the back foot and our aim should be to develop a strategy (or options) that puts us in a more positive and secure position.”

“Do we fully understand our own position. Are there on-going issues that we need to know about/fix. Ensure we are on solid ground. Are we making the most of what we’ve got.”

Extracts from Daily Mail article end.

Two points on the Daily Mail article.

1. The Shell spokesman said:

‘Although Shell disagrees fundamentally with the factual basis and interpretation of much of the information on which the Donovans base their various allegations, the company has always refrained from commenting on specific issues raised by the Donovans and will continue to do so.’

This answer from Shell was untrue. Shell has commented on specific issues in the full knowledge that the information would be published. On 26 June 2007, Mr Keith Ruddock, General Counsel of Shell EP sent us two emails relating to the Sakhalin-2 project. One contained comment for publication. The other was headed “Off the Record – Not for Publication”, and the information it contained was treated accordingly i.e. it was not published.

2. The extraordinary whistleblower letter sent to MP’s by Bill Campbell can be viewed via this link:

A Wikipedia article entitled “Royal Dutch Shell safety concerns” contains links to many articles relating to Shell employee safety issues, including the Wall Street journal article referred to above: “Shell’s safety problem”.

The collaboration between Bill Campbell and the Donovans continues…

Other links

Article published about the website in February 2007 by Prospect magazine: Rise of the gripe site: How two men and a website in Colchester humbled one of the oil industry giants

Article by “Accountability in Action” published in July 2007 by The One World Trust, an independent research organisation connected with the UK Houses of Parliament and the United Nations: – The power of a website.

This website and sisters,,,, and, are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia segment.

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