Caroline Dennett has been a senior safety consultant for Shell for 11 years, but in an emotional farewell video, she has walked away from her position, citing its “disregard for climate change risks” and the “extreme harms” the company is doing to the environment. She went on to urge others in the oil and gas industry to “walk away while there’s still time.”
Dennett works for Clout, an independent agency that specializes in evaluating safety procedures in high risk industries, including oil and gas production. She began working with Shell in the aftermath of the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
In an open letter to Shell executives and 1,400 of its employees, she said she was quitting because of Shell’s “double-talk on climate.” She accused the company of “operating beyond the design limits of our planetary systems” and “not putting environmental safety before production. Shell’s stated safety ambition is to ‘do no harm’ — ‘Goal Zero’, they call it — and it sounds honorable, but they are completely failing on it. They know that continued oil and gas extraction causes extreme harms to our climate, to our environment, and to people. And whatever they say, Shell is simply not winding down on fossil fuels.”
Dennett told The Guardian she “could not marry these conflicts with my conscience. I could not carry that any longer, and I’m ready to deal with the consequences. I can no longer work for a company that ignores all the alarms and dismisses the risks of climate change and ecological collapse. Because, contrary to Shell’s public expressions around net zero, they are not winding down on oil and gas, but planning to explore and extract much more.”
She added that she was inspired to stop working with Shell after watching news footage of Extinction Rebellion climate protesters urging the company’s employees to leave. Its Tell The Truth project encourages oil and gas employees to walk away from the industry. In late 2020, several Shell executives in its clean energy sector left amid reports they were frustrated at the pace of Shell’s shift towards greener fuels. In her announcement, she urged Shell executives to “look in the mirror and ask themselves if they really believe their vision for more oil and gas extraction secures a safe future for humanity.”
Shell Annual General Meeting This Week
Dennett’s actions come on the eve of Shell’s annual general meeting in London this week, where its plans to reduce emissions will be discussed. Dutch activist group Follow This will push for the company’s policies to be more consistent with the Paris climate accord. The company’s board of directors has advised investors to reject the group’s resolution that asks it to set more stringent climate goals. Shell investor Royal London has said it intends to abstain on a vote on the firm’s climate change proposals.
A Shell spokesperson told the press on Monday, “Be in no doubt, we are determined to deliver on our global strategy to be a net zero company by 2050 and thousands of our people are working hard to achieve this. We have set targets for the short, medium and long term, and have every intention of hitting them. We’re already investing billions of dollars in low-carbon energy, although the world will still need oil and gas for decades to come in sectors that can’t be easily decarbonized.”
Shell also faces the prospect of a potential windfall tax to fund cuts to household bills after the energy industry reported record profits due to the increase in market prices following the Russian assault on Ukraine, which has prompted calls for the new tax.
This week, Linda Cook, CEO of Harbour Energy, the biggest oil and gas producer in the North Sea, opposed the new tax, saying it would lead to the industry approving fewer projects. She told the Financial Times, “A higher tax burden will make it more challenging for new oil and gas projects to meet investment hurdle rates, meaning fewer projects will be sanctioned. This is at a time when industry is being encouraged to increase domestic UK oil and gas production and support an orderly energy transition.”
Harbour has informed the UK government it plans to invest $6 billion in the North Sea over the next three years. The Guardian reported last month that Cook received a £4.6 million “golden hello” from the Shell, which may or may not have colored her remarks this week.
Fossil Fuels & Climate Change — The Takeaway
Will Dennett’s grand gesture have any impact on this week’s Shell annual meeting or the oil and gas industry in general? That’s unlikely. We have been treated to numerous “blah, blah, blah” speeches by Greta Thunberg and pronouncements from the Secretary General of the United Nations about a “criminal lack of leadership” but nothing has changed.
Now, because of the antics of a lunatic dictator in Russia who wants to play “mine’s bigger than yours” in front of an international audience, there is an explosion in interest in finding new oil and gas reserves and bringing them to market, even though several people have pointed out those projects amount to nothing less than “carbon bombs” that will tilt the environment even more severely to a climate crisis that threatens humans with extinction.
Unprecedented heat waves in Pakistan and India, rampaging wildfires in Australia and the United States, crushing drought in the American West, punishing rains in Canada’s wheat belt, disappearing polar ice caps — none of them deter the oil and gas companies from pursuing their dream of extracting every molecule of coal, oil, and gas that can be found anywhere on Earth.
The industry is positively giddy with joy at the prospect of discovering new reserves that were previously buried under the ice in the Arctic. No one seems capable of savoring the delicious irony that those resources are now accessible precisely because the waste products from burning fossil fuels have warmed the Earth enough to melt the ice that used to protect them from the drilling rigs as climate change kicks in.
Shell and its colleagues blather about being “net zero” in three decades, without ever explaining those pledges do not include the emissions created by burning their products. In other words, they are playing a public relations game designed to protect their profits while they continue to desecrate the planet. Caroline Dennett won’t slow the fossil fuel juggernaut for one second — unless several million of us, collectively and individually, join with her to push for a transition to 100% renewable energy.
It will be a Herculean task, but if we can mobilize to fight against weapons of mass destruction, we should be equally capable of mobilizing to fight against business practices that are little more than a mass extinction plot. Shouldn’t we?