So, Why Shell?

In case you’ve missed it, we’ve fired off another salvo in our effort to urge Shell Oil Company to truly be a leader for Louisiana’s coastal wetlands and step up to fund large-scale restoration efforts.Dr. John’s personal appeal to the public to support efforts to counterbalance Shell’s PR efforts at Jazz Fest have gone well, with a front-section article in the Times-Picayune today, a post in the Gambit blog, seven hundred YouTube views, and a couple hours of banner towing time.Inevitably, when we target Shell, we get a lot of questions along the lines of “why?” “are you crazy?” “aren’t they the only oil company actually DOING something?”I thought I would take a couple moments to lay out some of our reasoning. Shell didn’t do it, the Corps did: While there are many forces at work in our coastal crisis, researchers I trust, such as LSU’s Gene Turner, and the late Shea Penland of UNO peg the oil and gas contribution at 40-60% of the problem. Yes, the levees/jetties along the Mississippi River are a huge problem and long term would kill the coast, and we work on that too, but when you add in the effects of thousands of miles of oil and gas canals the problem takes decades to unfold instead of centuries. To see Walter Williams short film which lays out the scientific and legal rationale for oil companies to pay for the coast, head here.When Shell did some of the damage, no one knew it was a problem: Maybe for some of the first exploration in the wetlands in the 30’s and 40’s. But in 1971 when the Corps environmental assessment was published, the truth came out – oil exploration and development killed wetlands. Did Shell and friends then stop? No, they just had to lobby harder for permits. This letter details their footprint since 1983 alone.The State said it was okay: That’s right. The state of Louisiana granted permits for the activity, and collected some revenues in exchange. In case you missed it, the State is also ponying up a fair amount of money for this fight. So should Shell and friends.Shell cares: You’re right. Shell does care. They have a long history in our community. I used to park my car (yes, I drive a car) in the parking garage at One Shell Square, the tallest building in NOLA. They are the largest corporate sponsor of the America’s Wetland/America’s Energy Coast PR effort. They bring you Jazz Fest. They built ice houses after Katrina/Rita destroyed fishing (and energy) infrastructure. They apparently lobbied Congress in favor of OCS revenue sharing with the affected coastal states. Just because they care, we can’t let them off the hook for their direct impacts. Shell mad eover 40 billion dollars in profit last year – the company needs to pay for real, on-the-ground coastal restoration to make up for the damage they’ve done.Shell has been a leader in our community, they need to keep leading. One of the oil companies needs to step forward, and say, we’ll pay. I think Shell is the most likely to actually do that, but it won’t happen without a public outcry. We know that the cost of restoring our coast and securing our communities is new estimated in the range of $100b. I wouldn’t ask Shell, or even the oil and gas sector to pay all of that, but I would argue the payment should be commensurate with the impact. The State is paying, the Feds are paying, but it’s going to take more to get to that $100b. Enter Shell and friends. Anyone who argues that oil interests shouldn’t pay, must not be that serious about fixing the problem. As my friend Mark Davis has said, we shouldn’t have any sacred cows in this discussion about solving our crisis.We’ve taken on Shell before, and found them to be relatively thoughtful and responsive. In fact, when the Gumbo Alliance (a coalition made up of conservation groups and recreational and commercial fishing interests) urged Shell to pull out of their off-shore, fish killing liquefied natural gas terminal, Shell eventually dropped the project. We worked with an international effort to hold Shell accountable for the environmental impacts of their projects. We didn’t go after Exxon, who also had an LNG project on the books. We went to Shell’s shareholder meeting in the Hague. And while we were asking the Shell board, president and shareholders to address our concerns (and being served coffee, chocolates and after the meeting, Heineken) Exxon was putting Greenpeace protesters in jail for a similar demonstration.Unfortunately, the folks we’ve worked with before are from a whole different sector of the company, and are nowhere to be found on this effort. When we sent Shell this letter, they replied with this response, a form letter. Not terribly insightful. So we’re working with Dr. John, Walter Williams and anyone who is willing to help tell the truth about our coast, and urge oil industry accountability for the impacts they have had on our wetlands.Aaron Viles is GRN’s Campaign Director

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