Saturday, May 17, 2008

Shell, sustainability - and polar bears

A year or so ago, I participated in a survey to decide what should be the symbol for the natural destruction caused by climate change, and polar bears came out decidely at the top of the list. Ever since then we see so many polar bears that we are almost immune to pictures like this one, but the issues don't go away. That the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service finally decided to list the struggling polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act is great news, but the protection specifically says that it can't be used as a reason to do anything about the climate change that is threateneing it.

I have been having some interesting correspondents recently. Today I received a reply from Peter E. Slaiby, General Manager, Alaska, Shell Exploration and Production Company regarding a petition email I sent to him through some source (I've searched and searched and can't figure out which...) about Shell Exploration Plans in the Chukchi Sea.
From: []

Thank you for your email to Malcolm Brinded in which you expressed concern about Shell’s exploration plans in the Chukchi Sea. Mr. Brinded has asked me, as the General Manager Shell Exploration in Alaska, to respond to you.
The first point I’d like to make is that leasing is just a first step in the enegy development process. As we progress our Chukchi program, Shell will meet with the leadership of the Sierra Club and other stakeholders to discuss how we can work together on the important issues raised in your note. These encompass the impact on native cultures and impact on biodiversity, including polar bears. Shell is committed to developing the Chukchi in a manner that addresses these issues to become a win for all, including the local communities. We will provide public updates as we progress these conversations.
The second point I’d like to stress is that Shell is already vigorously pursuing other alternatives for energy, including wind and advanced biofuels. But renewables currently provide less than one percent of all energy consumed, and the switch to renewables cannot practically be accomplished for decades to come. Due to population growth and increased prosperity in countries like China and India, world energy use by the year 2050 may be twice as high or higher than today, even with dramatic increases in efficiency and conservation. Fossil fuels currently make up about 80 percent of the world’s global energy mix, with nuclear and hydropower comprising most of the rest.
With continued strong world economic development and stringent international measures, the global community might reduce the fossil fuel share to 65 percent by 2050. We will need to explore and develop all the fossil fuel sources we can for at least the balance of this century. The U.S. Minerals Management Service estimates that the Chukchi basin holds 15 billion barrels of oil and 77 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. U.S. citizens currently depend on imports for 65 percent of their oil. These new resources can bolster our country’s energy security at a time when the world’s energy supply is severely strained.
Shell has developed unprecedented plans to explore with extraordinary sensitivity to the Arctic environment. Shell is unwavering in it’s commitment to responsible development of the Alaska offshore. If polar bears become listed under the Endangered Species Act in the future, Shell will work with stakeholders to determine what additional mitigation measures are needed. Shell has complied fully with federal regulations designed to protect any listed species and will continue to do so in the future.
I believe that Shell understands and has acknowledged the challenges in Arctic exploration and production, more than any other energy company. I hope you will accept our willingness to work with stakeholders, such as the Sierra Club, to find the best path forward for developing oil and gas from the Chukchi Sea. We believe that with a thoughtful approach and mitigating risks through best practices, we can safely explore and develop these resources - to the benefit of Alaskans’, the United States’ and the world’s energy supply.
Since I found that entirely unresponsible - and out of character with the Shell I had believed in - I responded with this email (slightly edited):

Dear Mr. Slaiby:

I have been a fan of Shell ever since the turn-around on the Brent Star affair (when I was living in Denmark.) I was so impressed, that I included a positive mention of Shell in a little website I made several years ago: (with a link to Shell’s new sustainability report.)

Shell’s interested in Environmental Management meant that it was often mentioned during my courses in Environmental Management at the Aarhus Business School in Denmark, and I have been impressed as Shell has been investing in both solar and wind.

But I was distressed to read the recent Wall Street Journal article Shell Quits Wind Venture about how Shell will be no longer participating in an offshore windfarm in Britain, which is an important part of the British sustainable energy plans.

And your reply about your plans for exploration in the Chukchi Sea the disturbs me as well, since it shows that you really don't understand that Shell is a part of the problem, not the solution!

If Shell really wants to live up to its words on sustainability, and play its part in slowing the global warming that is ruining polar bear habitats, the forests of the west where I live (because bark beetles no longer get killed by winter frosts) etc. etc.) then it has to stick its neck further out than a little glitter of solar and a tiny breeze of wind energy. Shell has to be a leader.

Shell – no one – must ever be allowed to drill more in the arctic areas, providing exactly what is causing the demise of the polar bear habitat, etc. etc. Shell and all the others must stop defiling the boreal forests of Alberta with its not only expensive but damaging oil sands extraction, which apparently uses more energy that it produces.

Instead, Shell must become a leader in producing sustainable biofuels, and finding other ways to power the world. Instead of saying that India and China need more coal-powered energy, which is rapidly making life a pestilence because of air polution, support them in their efforts to develop solar and wind resources. If these are too expensive now, they won’t be as soon as the economies of scale start working.

I guess that sending email petitions does bring our distress to the attention of decision makers, but it takes much more to change their confused logic, if Shell believes that it "has developed unprecedented plans to explore with extraordinary sensitivity to the Arctic environment. Shell is unwavering in it’s commitment to responsible development of the Alaska offshore."

No matter how sensitive their plans are, they are still aiming to contribute to the cause of the demise of the polar bear (and a whole lot of other messes we've got ourselves in.) Professing that they will follow government regulations isn't nearly enough, when that government is headed by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

So please continue to sign all those petitions, and contribute what you can, even though you think you've seen enough cute polar bears.

1 comment:

bonbayel said...

I've been receiving a lot of newsletters recently about Polar Bears (of course!)
Here are the most recent, from the Sierra Club:
Backhandling the Polar Bear - Sierra Club Global Warming newlsletter

Polar Bears Need Help Now More Than Ever - Sierra Club Currents newsletter

"Polar bears are one of nature's ultimate survivors, able to live and thrive in one of the world's harshest environments, but we are concerned the polar bears' habitat may literally be melting."
--Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne voicing concern about the future of the polar bear, despite recognizing the threat has done nothing to help protect the bears.