Oil companies face pressure on ethics

Shell has announced that it has pulled out of exploration in Pakistan’s largest national park and is assisting in the clean-up of a spill on abandoned Nigerian operations, while Esso faces protests over its stance on Kyoto.

Shell has announced that it is dropping plans to explore for gas in the protected Kirthar National Park in Pakistan, the nation’s oldest and largest national park and home to numerous threatened species, following the announcement of court action against the company (see related story).

The oil giant has instead announced a “re-alignment of their Pakistan

business portfolio”, swapping its controversial 50% holding in Premier-Shell-Pakistan for a Premier holding in an alternative Pakistan gas development project, far from the Kirthar National Park.

Friends of the Earth International (FOEI) had been concerned that Shell was seeking to avoid respecting a law protecting wildlife in national parks, as under the current military regime in Pakistan, laws can be amended without reference to Parliament and the Governor of Sindh province, a former director of Shell-Pakistan had recently amended the wildlife laws to allow pipeline construction in the park. FOEI says that Shell’s announcement is likely to shift attention from Shell to PremierOil, already facing controversy over its operations in Burma, which is still going ahead with the project, but warns that Shell still has a stake in other controversial projects, including

exploration for oil and gas in the Sunderbans region of Bangladesh (see related story).

“Exploration for gas in Kirthar National Park is illegal,” said Farhan Anwar of the Pakistani NGO Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment. “Pakistani law clearly prohibits any kind of mining or exploration activity in protected areas. We welcome the fact that Shell has now pulled out. But how on earth can Premier Oil defend its intention to stay? We call on British investors in Premier to demand that this company starts taking its social and environmental responsibilities seriously.”

Meanwhile, clean-up experts sent by Shell have begun work to contain a large oil spill in Nigeria, where the company said that 14 wells had become “potential time bombs” after years of neglect. There were no reports available on the size of the spill, but the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni Peoples, which led a campaign to oust Shell from its operations in southern Ogoniland, said it was a major spill.

Shell Nigeria has said that the spill at the Yorla field was proof that the fourteen unsecured wells it abandoned in haste in the region nine years ago are “still potential time bombs”. The company said that when it left Ogoniland in 1993 after a campaign by locals would said that oil exploitation had harmed the environment and not benefited them in any way, only two of the 16 wells were “properly abandoned” and the rest were not subjected to “proper evacuation procedures”.

Shell has now called for the sealing of the wells with cement to prevent gas leaks leading to fires and said that the current leak required specialists because of built-up pressure in the well, which had been tampered with. The company is now working with the Ogoni people to limit contamination and the risk of fire from the leak.

Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and developing world pressure group People and Planet have announced a joint UK campaign to boycott Esso, known as ExxonMobil in the US, over its stance on climate change. The Stop Esso Campaign says that Esso has “been the most active company undermining” the Kyoto Protocol, “refuses to accept the link between their oil and global warming”, and “doesn’t invest any of their massive profits in renewable energy or green fuels”.

The campaign, which counts on the support of several celebrities and politicians and The Body Shop, is urging the public to avoid all Esso petrol stations, pledge support on a website and targeting companies that buy Esso fuel in bulk and asking them to switch suppliers.

“Esso are the world’s number one global warming villains,” said Greenpeace Executive Director Stephen Tindale. “They have paid George Bush to ditch the only international treaty to stop global warming from devastating our lives. We should all take this personally and stop buying from Esso”.

ExxonMobil said that “it is time to move beyond Kyoto and to focus on technology research and development, fundamental gaps on climate science, economically sensible voluntary actions and an international approach that addresses all of the world’s people, not just the fraction covered by Kyoto”.

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