I traveled from the Mississippi River Delta to the Netherlands, to the Hague, home of the International Criminal Court, to attend Shell’s annual general meeting; to ask the world’s 7th largest company, the world’s 2nd largest oil company why is it that they continue to take advantage of the Gulf of Mexico, in more dangerous depths than ever before, knowing that safety cannot be ensured? The response from CEO Ben van Beurden was, essentially, we do it because your government lets us, though he said it more like, “Our company cannot tell the federal government what to do, all we can do is to respond”.
Less than two weeks before this ritual corporate gathering, just days before the opening of shrimp season in south Louisiana, almost 90,000 gallons leaked into our Gulf of Mexico from a Shell owned subsea pipeline 2000 feet below the surface, approximately 100 miles offshore. The 2 mile long, 13 mile wide oil slick was a reminder of all the deepwater risks and realities. Shell is deeply invested in the Gulf, from production to pipelines to refining capacity. Not only are they operating in deepwater production, they are currently operating in ultra deep production. In addition to celebrating the 8,000 feet deep well connected to the state of the art Perdido platform, Shell is anticipating the production vessel Stones coming online this year as well, drilling in 9500 feet of water, claiming record as the deepest facility in the world. On their website, Shell describes ultra deep production as “a new frontier in oil and gas”. The BP Drilling Disaster occurred in 5000 feet of water. Once all projects currently under construction begin operating Shell will have 8 production sites in the Gulf of Mexico’s deepwaters.
It’s surprising to witness how the world works sometimes. Whenever I go to public meetings or when we crashed the March 23rd BOEM auction at the Superdome, I’m shocked at how the systems work, how the archaic models of engagement perpetuate dysfunctional dialogue and behaviors, how power is assumed and authority over resources is acquired. To see where the decisions get made and who makes those decisions that affect so many lives all around the world. The theatre was a sea of white men with white hair in suits. With those of authority sitting high on a pedestal and the others being looked upon down below.
Our intervention at Shell’s annual general meeting began in front of the Circustheater. As shareholders entered to eat fancy cakes and drink coffee and tea before the meeting began, UK Tar Sands Network collaborators and allies helped to display a living exhibition of some of my images. The 10ft photographs expose the harsh side effects of Shell’s dirty business from a Mississippi River Delta vantage including, an industrial landscape of the Shell Owned New Orleans Refining Company (NORCO), a boy from the Houma Nation balancing in floodwaters near a toxic oil waste facility, a ghost forest grove oak trees killed by rising seas and sinking land. We were also joined by James Marriot from Platform, who has attended the Shell AGM for many years to ensure that the devastation caused by the corporation globally does not go unmentioned in the meeting, which seems so detached from the on the ground impacts of Shell’s operations.
Climate change was repeated again and again throughout the meeting by both the board and attendees addressing the board. Shell talked about renewables, but with a focus on how those renewables were being used to continue fueling oil and gas production. The Niger Delta was mentioned, the loss of 7 lives in the last year, the fracking challenges in the northern part of the Netherlands, but never once in the opening remarks did they mention the Gulf or the recent spills. They did however state that they were committed to reducing carbon emissions, which seems a bit contradictory given that they were the highest bidders at the federal offshore auction of 44 million acres deepwater territories in the Gulf of Mexico, just this past March, shelling out almost 25 million dollars on new leases.
Although oil prices have plummeted and workers are being laid off around the world, Shell continues to invest deeper in the Gulf, because they have put too much money into projects and infrastructure now to pull out or to stop what has already been set into motion. Our government allows multinational corporations like Shell to gamble with our waters, marine life and way of life. It is imperative that President Obama put an end to new leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic.
We are seeing incredible momentum for the movement in New Orleans and with allies to make sure that Shell is not allowed to push forward with leases in the Gulf. Here are some dates coming up to keep on your radar in the next 12 months. June 16, 2016 is the deadline for comments in regards to the 2017-2022 BOEM 5 year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. August 24th, 2016 the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will be auctioning off another 23 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico, followed by another auction in March of 2017 for another 47 million acres that will be on the auction block.