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Controversies surrounding Royal Dutch Shell

Controversies surrounding Royal Dutch Shell

There have been concerns over Royal Dutch Shell over environmental and health and safety related issues as well as in respect of its businesses practices and priorities. In recent times Shell’s management has acknowledged some of these problems and has promised to take steps to repair damage done both to the affected parties and to its own reputation, which has involved tightening internal controls between its different subsidiaries, an ostensible commitment to corporate social responsibility, an extensive global advertising campaign and other initiatives in the late 1990s (see Ken Saro-Wiwa) and early 2000s.

There are two other main subsidiary articles about Royal Dutch Shell:

Main article: Royal Dutch Shell safety concerns
Main article: Royal Dutch Shell environmental issues

The key information about Shell is in the article:

Main article: Royal Dutch Shell

This article focuses on controversies surrounding Royal Dutch Shell


  • 1 Sanctions busting in Rhodesia
  • 2 Corruption in Italy
  • 3 Shell to Sea
  • 4 $153.6 million damages for U.S. patent infringement
  • 5 Jiffy Lube International
  • 6 $2 million fine by UN for violation of embargo against Iraq
  • 7 The Vietnam War
  • 8 Nigeria
  • 9 Darfur region of Sudan
  • 10 Exchange Control speculation in Japan
  • 11 Brent Spar
  • 12 Tainted Shell gasoline in North America
  • 13 Poor fuel supply problem at Manchester Airport
  • 14 Retirement fund deficiencies in Malaysia
  • 15 Oil and gas reserves recategorisation
  • 16 Sakhalin
  • 17 The Shell Foundation
  • 18 Bonus schemes
  • 19 Domain name oversight
  • 20 Tell Shell Forum
  • 21 Participation in price fixing cartels
  • 22 Fictitious trades
  • 23 False reporting, fictitious sales, manipulation of natural gas prices
  • 24 Shell espionage
  • 25 Iran
  • 26 Nicaragua
  • 27 Alaska
  • 28 Safety
  • 29 Iraq
  • 30 Change of early retirement scheme in Ethiopia
  • 31 See also
  • 32 Notes
  • 33 External links


Sanctions busting in Rhodesia

In 1965 the British Crown Colony of Rhodesia unilaterally declared independence from Britain which led to the imposition of sanctions by the United Nations. These sanctions included strict controls on oil and petroleum product sales to the rebel colony. In 1978 the “Bingham report” into sanctions busting[[ revealed that Shell’s local offices in southern Africa, along with those of BP, had been breaking the UN’s oil embargo from the moment it was imposed. This conflicted with a letter to the British government which had been written by Shell’s Chairman Sir Frank McFadzean in June 1976 which said that “… no company in which we [Shell] have an interest is supplying to Rhodesia”. The Bingham report revealed that shipments to Rhodesia had arrived at the old petroleum port of Lourenco Marques (now Maputo), and from there the oil had been shepherded by Shell Mozambique, a British-incorporated firm, into the hands of South African brokers, who sent it north by rail through Mozambique to Rhodesia. Senior executives of Shell were criticised in the report for failing to monitor what local employees were doing [“A Century in Oil”, p 327].


Corruption in Italy

In the early 1970s, Shell decided to dispose of the heavily loss making business of Shell Italiana – its downstream operation in Italy. Assets were sold to the Italian state company Eni in 1973. Subsequent to the sale, Shell’s accountants and outside auditors discovered that in the five years prior to the sale to Eni Italian politicians had received “political contributions” totalling around £2.5 million from Shell Italiana’s local management. These had been recorded in the company’s books as “advertising and publicity” expenses. Shell’s General Manager in Italy, who had operated without authority and who had misrecorded the payments, was dismissed [“A Century in Oil”, page 324].


Shell to Sea

Main article: Shell to Sea

In Ireland, Shell has been criticised, along with Statoil and Marathon Oil, for its plans to pipe unrefined gas from the Corrib Gas Field onshore through a pipeline that would pass close to people’s houses (often within the pipe’s blast radius), en route to a refinery 9 km inland, in northwest County Mayo [1]. The plans were originally made by Enterprise Oil and inherited by Shell when they acquired this company in 2002. In the summer of 2005 five local men were sent to prison for three months on the basis of an injunction obtained by the company – these men became known as the Rossport Five. There is currently a campaign by local residents, Shell To Sea, whose main aims have been to get Shell to change their plans for the pipeline and refinery. In April 2007, in a victory for the Shell to Sea campaign, the Irish High Court ruled that Shell cannot use their original intended pipeline route. Shell recently announced its plan for bringing the gas from the sea to the site of the refinery at Bellinaboy, which again involves getting the Irish government to issue even more Compulsory Acquisition Orders. There is also a solidarity camp where people from outside the locality who support the campaign have come to live and help out. Shell has claimed that the development is welcomed by most of the local population, that all planning regulations are being followed and that it has been responsive to local concerns [2]. Opinion polls tell a different story about local views of the project.


$153.6 million damages for U.S. patent infringement

On 3 October 2005 a U.S. Federal Appeals Court upheld a patent infringement verdict against Shell Oil Company in a case brought by Union Carbide. The federal court also told a lower court to consider increasing the $153.6 million damages already awarded in the case. According to a news report, the “U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit rejected an appeal by Shell and its subsidiary, Shell Chemical Co,. which sought to overturn a jury verdict that it infringed a Union Carbide patent on chemical processes used to make ethylene oxide”. The appeals court reportedly said there was “substantial evidence” to support the jury verdict.


Jiffy Lube International

In December 2004, an Oklahoma state judge approved a class action settlement between Royal Dutch Shell subsidiary Jiffy Lube International and millions of U.S. plaintiffs. The agreement reported in the New York Times, settled nine similar lawsuits from California to New Jersey over environmental surcharges Jiffy Lube imposed on its oil change customers. Under the terms of the settlement, Jiffy Lube provided more than seven million customers with a coupon good for $5 off an oil change. An earlier report in the same newspaper said that Jiffy Lube added surcharges to drivers’ oil-change bills over the past five years on the pretext of being an environmental surcharge, in an attempt to fool customers into thinking it was a tax. Scott R. Shepherd, a Pennsylvania attorney who sued the Jiffy Lube was quoted as saying: “It was just a straight rip-off for $1.25 every time someone came in.”


$2 million fine by UN for violation of embargo against Iraq

On 26 April 2000 The New York Times reported that the United Nations had fined the Royal Dutch Shell Group $2 million for shipping Iraqi oil on April 5 2000 in violation of the then international embargo against Iraq. The tanker, the Akademik Pustovoit, was boarded by American-led naval forces in the Persian Gulf. Royal Dutch/Shell had maintained that the tanker carried only Iranian oil, loaded at the port in Bandar Mahshur. However, a spokesman for The Pentagon, Kenneth H. Bacon, was quoted as confirming that tests on the cargo had determined that 20 percent of the oil was from Iraq. The article reported that with high prices increasing demand, there had been a sharp increase in illicit oil shipments and Iraqi officials were believed to be earning millions from smuggling oil.


The Vietnam War

Between 1972 and 1975, the last three years of the Vietnam War, Shell Vietnam (the local “operating company” of the Shell Group) controlled half of Vietnam’s oil supply. A book by Louis Wesseling, the President of Shell Vietnam during that period, revealed that Shell failed properly to control the oil shipments which flowed through indirect channels to the Vietcong. According to his book “Fuelling the war: revealing an oil company’s role in Vietnam”, [1] Shell knowingly employed as a manager a notorious former senior police official with a “fearsome and well-deserved reputation” who “had already shown his inclination to settle security matters by military action with little compunction about killing, innocents along with suspects”. Wesseling later served as CEO of Shell companies in South America and the Middle East and collaborated on drafting the “Shell Group Business Principles”.



See also: Petroleum in Nigeria

Shell operates a joint venture with the government in Nigeria under the name Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC). In the early 1990s, Ken Saro-Wiwa, president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), led a non-violent campaign against environmental damage associated with the operations of multinational oil companies, including Shell and British Petroleum, in the Ogoni homelands of the Niger delta. In January 1993, MOSOP organised peaceful marches of around 300,000 Ogoni people – more than half of the Ogoni population – through four Ogoni centres, drawing international attention to his people’s plight. That same year, Shell ceased operations in the Ogoni region. Shell’s involvement in Nigeria came to the fore again in October 1990 when a peaceful protest in Umeuchem escalated. Eighty people were killed by the police and 495 homes were destroyed. Shell claims that it merely asked for police protection. In 1995 Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others were executed. Ken Saro-Wiwa had implicated Shell during his “treason” trial by saying “…the ecological war that [Shell] has waged … will be called to question sooner than later and the …crime of the Company’s dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished.” Shell was also found to be providing money and supplies to the Nigerian military.[2] When Saro-Wiwa was executed on trumped-up charges, much of the world-wide condemnation of the act was aimed at Shell, which was implicated by its association with the Nigerian government’s activities.

In February 2002, a judge ruled that a case brought against Royal Dutch Shell by close relatives of Ken Saro-Wiwa could proceed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York under the Alien Tort Claims Act, the Torture Victim Protection Act and RICO Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

Shell has continued to be condemned by bodies such as Christian Aid, who reported that despite Shell claims of “honesty integrity and respect for people” it had “failed to use its considerable interest in Nigeria to bring about change in the Niger delta”.[3] The report also found evidence of failures to clean up oil spills, pollution of rivers and water courses, and non-completion of promised projects for community improvement. In 2001 a study into the community projects was leaked to The Economist. It reported that of 81 claimed projects visited by the reviewers of the scheme, 20 did not exist, 36 were partially successful and only 25 were working.


Darfur region of Sudan

The Board of Trustees of Amherst College located in Amherst, Massachusetts, passed a resolution on 14 January 2006 to divest all investments in multinational companies “identified as having direct business ties to the Sudanese government or companies whose business activities are in direct support of these companies and the activities of the government”. The divestment action was taken based on the government’s atrocities which were deemed to be “wholly inconsistent with the moral and ethical values of Amherst College” and alleged evidence of genocide against the people of the Darfur region allegedly committed by the Sudanese government. Royal Dutch Shell Plc was identified as one of the multinationals banned for investment purposes because of the nature of its business operations in Sudan.


Exchange Control speculation in Japan

Showa Shell Sekiyu KK is a joint venture downstream oil company in Japan in which Shell had a 50% share (now 40%) and which markets under the Shell brand. In 1993 the company sustained losses of 165 billion yen (approx US$1.4billion) from unauthorised forward currency transactions. The company’s treasury department, expecting the U.S. dollar to rise against the yen, bought forward dollars on futures markets at around 145 yen. Unfortunately, the dollar decreased to 120 yen in 1993 causing huge foreign exchange losses for the firm. The scandal prompted Shell to review its internal controls, especially in joint ventures, and according to a report in The International Herald Tribune published on 26 February 1993, resulted in the resignations of four top executives of Showa Shell Sekiyu and the firing of a fifth. John Jennings, then a Shell Group Managing Director, was quoted in the article as saying that the unauthorised currency speculation was “a gross contravention of established rules and practices which was deliberately concealed.”


Brent Spar

See also: Brent Spar

Shell was also challenged by Greenpeace for plans for subsea disposal of the Brent Spar, an old oil transport and hub station located in the North Sea, into the North Atlantic. Shell eventually agreed to disassemble it onshore in Norway, although it has always maintained that its original plan to sink the platform was safer and better for the environment.

On disposal, it transpired that the Greenpeace estimates for toxic content were inaccurate.[4]


Tainted Shell gasoline in North America

In May 2004 a Shell spokeswoman confirmed that over 500 Shell and Texaco service stations in Louisiana and Florida had stopped selling tainted gasoline which caused fuel gauges to malfunction. Shell set up a hot line for drivers concerned they might have purchased the tainted gasoline. There were a number of news reports about the tainted fuel, alleged inadequate response by Shell and of the filing of lawsuits. Shell issued a press statement, extracts from which were quoted in a press release from the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office in June 2004.

In April 2007, a U.S. District Judge sealed the records on how he had divided $6.8 million in legal fees among lawyers representing plaintiffs in the 2004 federal class action lawsuit which arose from the fuel gauge damage. The case was brought on behalf of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida residents whose fuel gauges broke after they purchased Shell Oil Co. gasoline containing too much sulfur over several weeks starting in May 2004. The tainted gasoline had been produced at the Shell-Motiva oil refinery in Norco, Louisiana. An article published by The Times-Picayune newspaper stated: “Soon after the problem emerged, Shell volunteered to fix broken gauges in tens of thousands of vehicles at a cost of $200 to $1,000 each, depending on the car model. By September 2004, Shell had processed about 81,000 claims, meaning the firm by that time could have spent tens of millions on the repairs”. The article said that “attorneys for both sides reached a settlement that called for Shell to expand the repair program and provide $3.7 million to cover general damages”.

In Canada, Shell Canada experienced similar problems also stemming from sulfur contamination of fuel which created malfunction of fuel gauges. An article published by The Toronto Star in June 2004 alleged that “The reaction by Shell in the United States differs from how the company handled customers in the Toronto region last spring and summer”.


Poor fuel supply problem at Manchester Airport

On 4 April 2008, BBC News reported flight cancellations at Manchester Airport, a major airport located in the North of England, after jet fuel from the Shell Stanlow refinery in Ellesmere Port was found to be of “poor standard”. The article stated: “There was a problem with the quality of jet fuel at the oil refinery”.


Retirement fund deficiencies in Malaysia

In September 2004, 399 ex-employees of Shell won a lawsuit at the Miri High Court in Malaysia concerning the administration by the defendant Shell Group companies of Shell employee retirement funds. The Shell companies in question – Sarawak Shell Bhd and Sabah Shell Petroleum Co Ltd – were ordered to pay nearly RM100 million to the plaintiffs, 399 former employees known as Project Team A, who filed their suit on 29 November 2002 alleging an unlawful deduction from their retirement funds. According to a report of the hearing, counsel for the plaintiffs objected to an application by Shell for a stay on the grounds that “a majority of the plaintiffs are well over the age of 60 and in weak and declining health”. A story in the New Straits Times published on 7 October 2004 reported in relation to the former Shell employees, that “Some have died. Others are losing their memory and many are ailing.” According to another news report, the suit was said to be the first “in the legal history of Malaysia involving the largest number of ex-employees suing their former employers and involving such a big claim”. The defendants filed an appeal against the decision.

The Malaysian Court of Appeal decided in October 2005 that it had jurisdiction to hear the appeal and in a judgment dated 30 March 2007, overturned the judgment. According to one report, when announcing the decision in court, one of the three Appeal Court judges stated as grounds for the decision: “we don’t believe a company like Shell would do anything like this to employees”. In paragraph 26 on page 24 of the judgment it was stated in reference to Shell: “…to deduct employer’s EPF contributions from the lump sum would not only expose them to accusations of illegal action and fraud on employees but would result in no employee getting any benefit from the RBF and in the RBF becoming a futile exercise, and it is inconceivable that those companies would embark on such an absurd, pointless and perilous undertaking.”

On 20 November 2007, an [3] article published by the Borneo Post reported “The Federal Court (FC) here has granted leave or permission to 399 former employees of two major petroleum corporations to appeal against their ex-employers in connection with their pension funds. The FC yesterday agreed that there was merit to their application for leave.”


Oil and gas reserves recategorisation

The announcement on 9 January 2004 by the Royal Dutch Shell Group of the downgrading of its hydrocarbon reserves drew fire from shareholders, financial analysts, the media (e.g. news report 20 April 2004) and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) after announcing the recategorisation of its hydrocarbon reserves, admitting that a significant share of reserves previously booked as proven did not fulfill the requirements for proof under the US regulatory provisions. According to the SEC Cease and Desist Orderof 24 August 2004, Shell overstated proved reserves reported in its 2002 Form 20-F by 4.47 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe), or approximately 23%. The order further concludes that Shell also overstated the standardised measure of future cash flows reported in this filing by approximately $6.6 billion. Shell corrected these overstatements in an amended filing on 2 July 2004, which reflected the degree of Shell’s overstatements for the years 1997 to 2002. At the time of announcing the order against Shell, the SEC simultaneously made known its intention to “pin the reserves scandal on individuals” reportedly stating that it intended to take action against people inside and outside the company.

Shell’s Annual Report and Accounts 2003 restated proven reserves reduced by 6.648 mn USD in 2001 and reduced by 6.469 mn USD in 2002. This corresponds to roughly 13% of the previous proven reserves base. In addition, it was identified that in previous years leading management’s bonus payments were linked to the proven reserves base. This practice has since been discontinued. The controversy over the exaggeration of the oil and gas reserves of Shell resulted in the resignation of the then chairman Sir Philip Watts[4], and the departure of the head of the Exploration and Production business Walter van der Vijver and the CFO Judy Boynton.

In March 2004 The Economist reported that US law firm Berger & Montague had claimed that Shell “recklessly violated accounting rules and guidelines, which resulted in an enormous and shocking overstatement of oil and gas reserves” (the law firm was then suing Shell on behalf of shareholders claiming that the overstatement had harmed shareholders as they had “severely overstated” the firm’s market value). The Economist further reported that Berger was only one of several law firms launching cases. The article went on to imply that the reserves recategorisation was the result of active, long term problems, calling it “a scam of Enron proportions.” [5]

As a further consequence of the reserves recategorisation, on 19 April 2004, Bloomberg reported that the Royal Dutch/Shell Group had lost its AAA credit rating with Standard & Poor’s which it had previously maintained for 14 years.

On 24 August 2004, the UK financial regulator, the Financial Services Authority (the FSA) announced that it had imposed a penalty of £17 million pounds (UK) on The “Shell” Transport and Trading Company p.l.c. and The Royal Dutch Petroleum Company NV. The FSA considered that: “Shell announced false or misleading proved reserves and reserves replacement ratios to the market throughout the period 1998 to 2003 inclusive.” The FSA also considered that Shell’s misconduct amounted to “market abuse” on the basis that the market “was likely to have been, given a false or misleading impression as to the price or value of UK listed Shell shares…”(p11: para60) The FSA further considered that Shell’s actions were particularly serious, meriting a substantial penalty. However, the level of penalty reflected the high degree of cooperation which Shell had shown during the FSA investigation. On the same date, the SEC announced a fine of $70 million USD on Shell making a combined fine of approximately $150 million USD by the UK and U.S. financial regulators.

In July 2006 Shell confirmed [6] that the company had set aside $500m to settle outstanding class action litigation in respect of the reserves mis-statement issue.

In January 2006, Shell was also sued by a group of Dutch pension funds allegedly holding about 5% of Shell’s shares[7].

A section of page 147 of Shell’s Annual Report and Form 20-F for year ending December 31, 2006, published in March 2007 deals with the “Recategorisation of hydrocarbon reserves”. It relates to the consolidated shareholder class action pending in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. The lead plaintiffs are the Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System and the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System. The remaining defendants in the action are Royal Dutch Petroleum Company (merged into Shell Petroleum N.V.), The “Shell” Transport and Trading Company, plc, former Shell directors, Sir Philip Watts and Judith Boynton, and Shell auditors, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, KPMG Accountants N.V., and KPMG International. Related class actions filed on 6 January 2006 by Dutch pension funds, and German and Luxembourg institutional shareholders, are consolidated with the existing class action for pre-trial purposes. The preliminary stage of the litigation is completed. An amended complaint has been filed and answered by the defendants. Discovery has commenced. According to the same Shell Annual Report, the Court will hold hearings in June 2007 on various legal issues including plaintiffs’ motion for class certification and on whether federal securities laws apply to the claims of non-U.S. potential class members who purchased Shell’s securities on foreign markets. The court will also decide various summary judgement motions being filed by Shell.



Sakhalin-II is an oil and gas project led by Shell on Sakhalin Island in Russia that involves the piping of oil and gas to an oil terminal and the construction of Russia’s first liquefied natural gas LNG plant. The project was controversial from the start for cost, environmental and community relations reasons. In the summer of 2005 Sakhalin Energy, the project operator, doubled its estimated capital costs to around $20 billion and LNG production was delayed until 2008. Shell expressed surprise at this huge increase. Environmental reasons accounted for part of the budgetary errors.

The originally negotiated contract was a “production sharing agreement” which gave the Russian state revenues only after Shell and the other partner companies had recouped their costs and made a substantial return on their investments. Thus Shell was substantially protected from cost overruns which would lead to lower and later income for Russia (and for Shell). This was the main reason for the Russians to insist on a new deal, involving Gazprom and for the charge of greed being levelled at Shell by many independent observers of the project.[8]

The environmental and social concerns came to a head at the end of November 2005 when the Chief Executive of WWF said that it would have a “negative impact on Sakhalin’s people and environment”. The timing of this attack was difficult for Shell and the other consortium partners as they were seeking financing for the project from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) at that time.

The spiraling project costs and other difficulties have continued to undermine confidence in Shell’s reputation for good project management. On 22 October 2006 an article in The Observer reported that a leaked internal report by the Russian government estimated that the final cost would now reach $28 billion.

In late 2006, Shell and its partners in Sakhalin Energy reached an agreement with Gazprom for the Kremlin controlled company to become the majority shareholder in the venture. This was described as a “Capitulation” by The Economist. [9]. Russian President Putin attended the signing ceremony in Moscow and indicated that environmental issues had been resolved. In a news report on 23 December 2006, The Sunday Telegraph claimed that Shell had been bullied into the deal by the Russian authorities.


The Shell Foundation

On 28 September 2006, an article published in The Guardian newspaper alleged that “An attempt by Shell to portray itself as a model of corporate social responsibility was undermined last night after Whitehall documents showed its charitable arm discussing a key commercial project with a British government minister.” The article entitled “Campaigners attack Shell’s charity arm over Sakhalin talks” related to The Shell Foundation. The Charity Commission subsequently conducted an inquiry and according to an article published in The Guardian on 17 October 2006, concluded that ‘The Shell Foundation “has fallen short of the good governance and decision-making that we expect from large charities”.


Bonus schemes

In 2004 Wall Street regulators investigated [10]whether members of Shell’s management were encouraged by executive bonus schemes to over-state the oil giant’s reserves. It was reported that some 5 per cent of the performance score-card of about 200 executives in Shell’s exploration and production unit was tied to the company’s reserves replacement ratio. Shell’s remuneration policy changed significantly between 1990 and 2005 with senior executives in all functions being substantially rewarded for achieving short-term performance related targets. When Shell’s Sakhalin deal unravelled in 2006 there was comment that many of the senior managers who negotiated the deal in the first place had received bonuses based on the earnings expectations of that deal as they then applied. Although much less favourable terms were forced on Shell in the 2006 renegotiations it is not believed that any return of personal bonuses from these executives were requested.


Domain name oversight

Due to an oversight, Shell failed to register the top level internet domain name for the new company, In May 2005 it launched proceedings to request the transfer of the domain name, along with two other domain names relating to Shell including, from their holder, Alfred Donovan, a long-standing activist against Shell. Shell lost the case.


Tell Shell Forum

In 1999, Shell was the first multinational to set up an online discussion facility for its stakeholders and the public to engage in open debate about its activities – known as the “Tell Shell Forum”. Shell said at the time “We genuinely do welcome all comments, positive and negative… this website is in itself evidence that we are interested in seeking your views and willing to listen and respond.” Shell was criticised for withdrawing the forum in late 2005. A replacement to the forum was promised, but has not appeared. The discussions on the Shell Forum have been archived and are available. [11]


Participation in price fixing cartels

In September 2006, the European Commission fined Shell $137m for their role in a cartel that fixed the price of bitumen. According to a report published in the Houston Chronicle, “the EU Commission said the company was an instigator, took the leadership in the cartel and was a repeat offender”. The report went on to state that “Shell’s fine was increased by 50 percent because of its involvement in previous cartels and another 50 percent for instigating and leading the cartel.” A BBC news report revealed that Shell has previously been fined by the EU Commission for price-fixing in other markets (PVC and propylene). An article in The Daily Mail stated that Shell’s fine was increased by lOpc for “obstructing the probe”. On 29 November 2006, it was reported that the European Commission was imposing “its second-largest cartel fine against Shell, Dow Chemical, ENI, Unipetrol and Trade-Stomil.” The fine was imposed for “fixing prices of synthetic rubber, used mainly in tyre production.” According to an article in The Times newspaper, “Shell’s fine, as well as ENI’s, was increased because it was a repeat offender.” All three of the featured quotations are from The Times article. According to a BBC News report, also published on 29 November 2006, Royal Dutch Shell Plc was fined 160.8 million euros.


Fictitious trades

In January 2006, Royal Dutch Shell Plc agreed to a $300,000 settlement in respect of allegations that “two of its subsidiaries engaged in “fictitious” crude oil futures trades on the New York Mercantile Exchange.” Shell Trading U.S., located in Houston and London-based Shell International Trading and Shipping, agreed to pay $200,000 to settle a Commodity Futures Trading Commission case. Nigel Catterall, then head of the futures desk for Shell Trading U.S. agreed to pay $100,000. Bloomberg reported that Catterall and Shell engaged in prearranged trades for oil futures at least five times between November 2003 and March 2004. The CFTC acknowledged that Shell had cooperated in the investigation. According to the Bloomberg story (one on many news reports on the case), a commission spokesman, Dennis Holden, would not comment on how the trading violations came to light.


False reporting, fictitious sales, manipulation of natural gas prices

On 30 July 2004, The New York Times published an article under the headline: “Shell to Pay $150 Million In Settlement On Reserves”. The last paragraph turned to a different subject, stating “Separately, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission said on Thursday that Shell’s energy trading unit, Coral Energy Resources, had agreed to pay $30 million to settle accusations that it submitted false price data to publishers. The case is part of the commission’s industrywide investigation into suspected manipulation of the energy markets.” The previous day, 29 July 2004, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission released a press statement headlined: “CORAL ENERGY PAYS $30 MILLION TO SETTLE U.S. COMMODITY FUTURES TRADING COMMISSION CHARGES OF ATTEMPTED MANIPULATION AND FALSE REPORTING”. The opening paragraph said: “The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced today the issuance of an administrative order (order) initiating and simultaneously settling charges of false reporting and attempted manipulation of natural gas transactions by Coral Energy Resources, L.P. (Coral).” The findings in the order included “from at least January 2000 through September 2002, Coral reported false, misleading or knowingly inaccurate natural gas trading information, including price and volume information, to certain price reporting firms such as Inside FERC’s Gas Market Report, and Natural Gas Intelligence” and that “Coral attempted to manipulate natural gas prices by delivering trade information to the price reporting firms with the intent to affect the market price of natural gas. The order finds that Coral reported information about trades that never occurred, altered price and volume information for certain trades, and failed to report some actual trades, all with the intent to affect the market price of natural gas.”

In November 2007, Bloomberg news reported “Five current and former traders from Coral Energy Resources, a unit of Royal Dutch Shell Plc, agreed to pay $1 million to settle U.S. allegations that they reported false information on natural-gas trades to manipulate prices.” According to the Bloomberg article, Shell confirmed that three of the people named in the settlement were employed by the company. Bloomberg quoted a Shell spokeswoman Rebecca Elliott as stating in an e-mail “In settling this civil case, the individuals neither admitted nor denied the allegations of the complaint”, and “Since this matter was between the CFTC and the individuals, it is not appropriate for us to comment further on the matter.”

On 15 January 2008, the CFTC issued an enforcement press release under the headline “CFTC Obtains Verdict Against Former Coral Energy Trader Anthony Dizona for Attempted Manipulation”. The sub-headline stated “Jury Finds Defendant Violated the Commodity Exchange Act by Attempting to Manipulate the Natural Gas Market Eight Times” In a summary entitled “ENERGY MARKETS ENFORCEMENT RESULTS” issued on 17 March 2008, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission revealed a fine of $300,000 imposed on Shell Trading US Company and Shell International Trading and Shipping Company in respect of “fictitious sales & noncompetitive trades and prearranged trading”. At the time of the offenses “Dizona was an employee of Shell Trading Gas and Power Company which provided services for Shell subsidiary Coral Energy Resources, L.P.”


Shell espionage

On 17 June 2001, The Sunday Times published an article headlined MI6 ‘Firm’ Spied on Green Groups”. It revealed that a private intelligence firm, Hakluyt & Company Limited, “with close links to MI6” spied on environmental campaign groups to collect information for the oil companies, Shell and BP. The article revealed that an undercover agent, German-born Manfred Schlickenrieder, a serving member of the German secret service, infiltrated and “scuppered” environmental campaigns directed against the oil giants. Schlickenrieder was said to have “posed as a left-wing sympathizer and film maker”.

The Nigerian Connection: According to the article, Schlickenrieder tried to dupe The Body Shop group to pass on information about its opposition to “Shell drilling for oil in a Nigerian tribal land”. The spying operation began in 1996, when Mike Reynolds, a director of Hakluyt and former MI6 head of station in Germany, “was asked by Shell to find out who was orchestrating threats against its petrol forecourts across Europe”. The threats apparently followed an outcry over Shell’s attempts in 1995 to “dump” the redundant Brent Spar oil platform at sea and allegations of environmental damage caused by Shell’s oil drilling in Ogoniland, Nigeria. Schlickenrieder made a film on Shell in Nigeria called “Business as Usual: the Arrogance of Power”. Using this cover story, he interviewed friends of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Nobel prize nominee hanged by the military regime in 1995 after leading a campaign against Shell.

“Schlickenrieder was known by the code name Camus and had worked for the German foreign intelligence service gathering information about terrorist groups, including the Red Army Faction”. The Sunday Times also reported that it had seen documents which confirmed that “the spy, German-born Manfred Schlickenrieder, was hired by Hakluyt, an agency that operates from offices in London’s West End”. Confronted by The Sunday Times, BP and Shell admitted hiring Hakluyt, but said they were unaware of the tactics used on their behalf. Shell said it had wanted to protect its employees against possible attack. One of Schlickenrieder’s spying missions was to gather information about the movements of the motor vessel “Greenpeace” then operating in the north Atlantic. Greenpeace alleged that the scandal had “echoes of the Rainbow Warrior affair”, when in 1985 its ship campaigning against nuclear testing in the South Pacific was blown up by the French secret service. Schlickenrieder was hired by Mike Reynolds. According to The Sunday Times report, “Reynolds and other MI6 executives left the intelligence service after the cold war ended to form Hakluyt in 1995. It was set up with the blessing of Sir David Spedding, the then chief of MI6”. The article stated that Christopher James, the managing director of Hakluyt, had been head of the MI6 section that liaised with British firms. The Sunday Times article also revealed “MPs believe the affair poses serious questions about the blurring of the divisions between the secret service, a private intelligence company and the interests of big companies. Hakluyt refutes claims by some in the intelligence community that it was started by MI6 officers to carry out “deniable” operations”. Sir William Purves, a Shell director was Chairman of Hakluyt & Company. A former Group Chairman of Royal Dutch Shell, Sir Peter Holmes, was President of The Hakluyt Foundation, an associated organisation.

There is an earlier example of Shell’s admitted involvement with undercover activity. In connection with a letter dated 23 June 1998, Shell Legal Director Richard Wiseman admitted that Shell had used undercover activity involving a Mr Christopher Phillips in the course of litigation. The letter from Mr Wiseman refers to a related letter to the Office for Supervising of Solicitors. According to an article published in the Sunday Telegraph, although Shell lawyers admitted that they hired Mr Phillips, they said it was only to carry out “routine credit inquiries”. Shell subsequently settled the relevant litigation.

On 12 September 2001, under the headline: “No Secret’s Safe From These Sharp Eyes”, The New York Times published an article focused on corporate “cloak-and-dagger escapades”. An executive of Shell International Exploration and Production, Mr Stephen J. Wade, was revealed as being a “competitive intelligence analyst — management-speak for corporate America’s equivalent of a spy”. The report said that Mr. Wade “uses every trick in the book” and “may even dish out erroneous information…” Mr Wade was quoted as commenting: It isn’t James Bond. The article went on to say: “Still, like any good spy, Mr. Wade declined to give detailed examples of information gleaned this way”. It also pointed out that corporate spying “sometimes skirts ethical bounds”.

An article published in the Financial Times on 5 October 2005, revealed that a Mr Ian McCredie was in September 2004 appointed as a Shell Vice-President responsible for security. McCredie was described as “head of Global Security Services at Shell International”. The FT article said of McCredie “He had worked for the UK Foreign Service since 1976 in security and intelligence”. This is believed to be a reference to the naming of Ian Forbes McCredie OBE, as being a former MI6 officer.



Shell courted controversy in January 2007 when they announced that they had signed a deal to help Iran develop a major gas field in defiance of pressure from the United States. [12]

Shell has been active in Iran for many years. Shell Iran has an office in Tehran [13] from which various downstream businesses are managed and which is also the centre for new exploration and production and other projects. In 1999 Shell signed an agreement with the National Iranian Oil Company to redevelop the Soroosh and Nowrooz offshore oil fields and Shell executives made it clear at the time of the signing how much the company valued its relationship with Iran [14]. Drilling commenced in 2001. Whilst American oil companies were prohibited by sanctions from working in Iran Shell, along with some other European companies (e.g. Repsol), continued to operate and pursue new opportunities in the country. This was in contrast with BP who decided not to be involved at a time when the Iranian regime was criticised for its anti-western stance, its suspected nuclear weapons programme, its support for the insurgencies in Palestine and Iraq and its institutionalised anti-Israeli and holocaust denial rhetoric.

On 27 July 2007, The Daily Telegraph published an article under the headline “Shell’s Iran venture to continue”. It reported that “Royal Dutch Shell’s chief executive Jeroen van der Veer said there were no plans to halt preparatory work on possible investments in Iran, despite renewed pressure about the risks of operating in a country where America has imposed economic sanctions.” The article said that Shell had signed an initial “$10bn (£4.9bn) agreement with the Iranian government to develop two phases of the South Pars gas field”. It also revealed that a number of U.S. pension funds had warned Shell about potential consequences of business links with Teheran when worsening US-Iran relations could “impact companies doing business there.” On 22 September 2007, The Times newspaper reported “Washington has repeatedly pressed European banks and energy companies to cease investing in a state it lists as a state sponsor of terrorism. Firms that could be hard hit include the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, Shell, which is considering a multi-billion pound project in Iran to produce natural gas.” On 20 September 2007 The Houston Chronicle reported “Florida to drop $1.3 billion in Iran, Sudan investments”. It said that Florida’s largest investment, $303 million, “is with Royal Dutch Shell PLC, headquartered in London, which operates in Iran but not Sudan.” A Shell spokesperson was reported as saying that Shell was “monitoring Florida’s law and similar proposals in other states and Congress to assess their potential affect on the company’s operations.” The Associated Press reported on 18 September 2007, that Royal Dutch Shell plc had paid Covington & Burling LLP $100,000 to lobby Congress and the U.S. State Department “to oppose economic sanctions against Shell…”

On 12 May 2008, Thomson Financial News [reported] that Royal Dutch Shell and Repsol had withdrawn from “the $10 bln-plus development of phase 13 of South Pars, the world’s largest gas field…” but on the basis that they might participate in “other phases”. On the same date, The Times published an article which said in the opening paragraph: “Royal Dutch Shell has apparently caved into political pressure from the US in backing out of a $10 billion gas project in Iran”.



In 2002, a $490 million judgement was made in favour of 466 plaintiffs by a Nicaraguan court jointly against Shell Oil Company (SOC) and three other named defendants (not affiliated with SOC), for alleged injuries resulting from alleged exposure to dibromochloropropane (DBCP), a pesticide manufactured by SOC. According to information on page 147 of Shell’s Annual Report and Form 20-F for year ending December 31, 2006, the pesticide was manufactured prior to 1978 and was not shipped or sold by SOC to any party in Nicaragua. The report states on page 147 that “As of December 31, 2006, nine additional Nicaraguan judgements that have been entered in the collective amount of approximately $1.2 billion in favour of 1,737 plaintiffs jointly against Shell Chemical Company and three other named defendants…” Shell claims that the Nicaraguan DBCP judgements are unenforceable in a US court.



Shell is a major partner in a controversial oil exploration project in the Beaufort Sea off the northern coast of Alaska and 15 kilometres from the protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The project has been opposed by environmental protesters who have questioned the content of environmental impact assessments, stated that the project has been rushed with inadequate consultation and who have launched legal challenges against the scheme. “Green Groups act to halt Shell Plans” [15]



A number of incidents over the years led to criticism of Shell’s Health and Safety record:

Main article: Royal Dutch Shell safety concerns



Shell has been criticised by some activists for seeking to benefit from the regime change in Iraq. The NGO “Hands off Iraqi Oil” has charged that “Shell has been working closely with the occupying powers to create a framework that will allow multinational companies to take control of Iraq’s oil.” And that they lobbying of Shell and other oil majors “…could result in multinational oil companies controlling and profiting from most of the country’s oilfields for up to 20 years”. [16]


Change of early retirement scheme in Ethiopia

On November 20, 2007 Shell Ethiopia Workers Union, which claims to represent around 90% of the total Shell Ethiopia workforce, filed a law suit at the Federal First Instance Court in Ethiopia alleging that Shell has illegally changed its early retirement policies in order to save money on lay-offs ahead of a possible closure of its operations in Ethiopia.

The complain states that Shell scrapped its “Special Early Retirement Scheme”, which pays up to 55 months salary to employees who leave company service earlier than their retirement date and replaced it with a ‘Voluntary Severance Package’. The new package is alleged to reduce the amount of money to be paid to departing employees by up to 70pc while management members will get an additional payment ranging from 40pc to 100 pc.

The Statement of Claim points out that a few years ago Shell took over Agip Ethiopia and accepted 34 employees, 13 of whom opted to avail themselves of the special early retirement scheme, thereby receiving 55 months of salary.

On 2 December 2007, the Addis Fortune Newspaper in Ethiopia published an article entitled “Labour Union Sues Shell Over Severance Benefits”.

On 17 December 2007, an Ethiopian newspaper, the Jimma Times, published an internet article under the headline “ETHIOPIAN Employees accuse Shell of raiding retirement fund”

The case is scheduled for hearing on December 28, 2007.


See also

  • Sacred Headwaters – campaign against Shell gas development in Canada



  1. ^ Wesseling, Louis (2000). Fuelling the War : Revealing an Oil Company’s Role in Vietnam. London: I B Tauris & Co Ltd. ISBN 978-1860644573.
  2. ^ Sierra Club, “Defending Those Who Give The Earth A Voice”, 2000.
  3. ^ Christian Aid, Behind the Mask
  4. ^ DNV Inventory. Contents of Brent Spar, relative to quantities in the North Sea, as detailed by Det Norske Veritas. Retrieved on March 10, 2005.


External links

  • Shell Oiled Wildlife
  • Rising Tide UK (Climate change activists)
  • Riding the Dragon: Shell Facts
  • Remember Ken Saro-Wiwa
  • Shell to Sea Campaign environment campaign in Ireland
  • environment campaign in USA
This website and sisters,,,, and, are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia segment.

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