A longtime security consultant for the oil company Shell unpacks. Your accusation: While the company publicly claims to be moving towards climate neutrality, it is actually working to significantly increase CO2 emissions. What happens behind the scenes, she reports in an interview.
Caroline Dennett worked for the oil company Shell for eleven years. Then she was fed up: Shell’s public commitment to work sustainably and to emit no more emissions by 2050 does not fit at all with what she has seen and experienced. The group is apparently using the increased profits from the exploding energy prices to continue investing in fossil energy production. With a spectacular action, the manager is now trying to hold up a mirror to Shell.
She decided to act: In a mass email to more than a thousand Shell employees, including CEO Ben van Beurden, Dennett wrote: “The United Nations and the International Energy Agency agree: there is no safe bet of new oil and gas production, each new project leads to global overheating and an uninhabitable world.”
And she posted a video online in which she justified her resignation by saying the oil and gas company was knowingly doing “extreme damage” to the planet. She tells us how she made the decision to take the step.
Ms. Dennett, what exactly was your job at Shell?
Caroline Dennett: I have been employed by Shell since 2011 as a safety culture consultant. My job initially was to design a process safety survey to help Shell identify opportunities for improvement in their facilities. I worked with their teams to develop the survey. They brought the technical know-how and we brought the research and analytical know-how. Even then I had reservations about working for Shell because of the pollution that the industry causes, but they seemed genuinely committed to improving safety to avoid incidents like the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010.
So you have plans in place to improve security at Shell?
Dennett: That was the original assignment. We thought that would be it, they had the tools and would run it themselves, but they saw the value and benefit of independent advice. So we were invited to continually review the safety culture. A total of around 20,000 employees have taken part in our surveys and topics over the years. The work was appreciated and the results and recommendations from the surveys were used to drive operational security improvements.
Then everything was actually fine. When did you first notice the contradictions between Shell’s public appearance and what actually happened?
Dennett: My concerns are not related to Shell’s efforts to improve safety culture. That’s not it. Rather, my concern is that Shell is publicizing its goal of producing “no harm” while its core business remains fossil fuel extraction – and Shell is worryingly expanding that business. They thereby accelerate climate change and the well-known risks and consequences such as global warming, extreme weather events, storms and hurricanes, floods, intense heat waves, sea level rise from melting glaciers and all that.
So the commitment to climate neutrality is at best a facade?
Dennett: While Shell may talk about climate tactics in the marketing and communications departments, there is very little talk on the operational front about climate change, net-zero ambitions or the transition to renewable energy, as far as I can tell in discussions with management and employees witnessed at the forefront. I think this is classic greenwashing: the climate and environmental emergency is being declared while the corporation knowingly continues to pump CO2 into the atmosphere and plans to emit even more.
Dennett: Shell is in the process of building new oil and gas infrastructure, despite calls from the International Energy Agency and the UN that this must stop and there is no scope for new production if we are to avoid catastrophic global warming.
But doesn’t Shell also invest in renewable energies?
Dennett: I’ve worked with Shell’s small portfolio of “new energy” companies. It’s made up of a few small renewable energy companies that they’ve acquired. Scalable investments in research and development in the field of renewable energies, the production of an infrastructure for it, the installation and finally the energy production – that would be different.
Have you discussed this with your colleagues?
Dennett: I didn’t share my concerns with colleagues at Shell, they were our customers. We have at times discussed environmental issues related to spills or leaks.
How long did it take you to decide to quit?
Dennett: I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable working in the fossil fuel industry, especially in the last 2-3 years. As my awareness of greenhouse gas emissions, climate change and biodiversity loss has increased, so has my uneasiness. This led to a major conflict between my personal values and concern for the environment on the one hand and Shell’s failure to prioritize planetary security over the pursuit of growing profits on the other.
And what was the trigger for her spectacular termination?
Dennett: Ultimately, the decisive factor was the realization that Shell is building expansion projects in Nigeria, is looking for new offshore licenses in southern Africa and has been pressuring the British government to develop new fields in the North Sea. I knew I could no longer work for a company that ignored every alarm and dismissed the risks of climate change and ecological collapse. Then a few weeks ago I saw a video clip of Extinction Rebellion’s action at Shell’s UK headquarters. There were protesters in the building holding up placards that read “Insiders wanted” and called for “tell the truth.” That motivated me to do something.
How did you come up with the idea for the video?
Dennett: I wanted to do something that I could easily share with Shell employees and contractors and others in the industry, and this seemed like a very personal and serious way of getting my message across.
Does this have consequences for you?
Dennett: Shell has been a significant revenue stream in my business, so there are definitely financial implications. But they are secondary if I stay true to myself. By sending this message publicly to Shell I was able to raise awareness and encourage others in the industry to reconsider their position, at least the action stimulates discussion. I expect there will be legal ramifications, but the bottom line is it’s worth it.
What are you doing now? Do you have a new job?
Dennett: My company has other clients outside of the oil and gas sector, so we continue to conduct research and consulting services and move into sustainability strategies for companies that really want to do less harm.
The article “Shell insider: “I knew then that I could no longer work here”” comes from WirtschaftsKurier.