Shell consultant quits, accusing firm of ‘extreme harms’ to environment
This story was originally published by The Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
A senior safety consultant has quit working with Shell after 11 years, accusing the fossil fuel producer in a bombshell public video of causing “extreme harms” to the environment.
Caroline Dennett claimed Shell had a “disregard for climate change risks” and urged others in the oil and gas industry to “walk away while there’s still time.”
The executive, who works for the independent agency Clout, ended her working relationship with Shell in an open letter to its executives and 1,400 employees. In an accompanying video, posted on LinkedIn, she said she had quit because of Shell’s “double-talk on climate.”
Dennett accused the oil and gas firm of “operating beyond the design limits of our planetary systems” and “not putting environmental safety before production.”
She said: “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,” adding: “I could not carry that any longer, and I’m ready to deal with the consequences.”
Shell was a “major client” of Dennett’s business, which specializes in evaluating safety procedures in high-risk industries including oil and gas production. She began working with Shell in the aftermath of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, which rocked the industry.
“I can no longer work for a company that ignores all the alarms and dismisses the risks of climate change and ecological collapse,” she said. “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.”
Dennett – a criminal justice graduate who has spent her career in research and consultancy – was inspired to stop working with Shell after watching news footage of Extinction Rebellion climate protesters urging the company’s employees to leave. The movement’s TruthTeller whistleblowing project encourages oil and gas employees to walk away from the industry.
The consultant, who runs internal safety surveys and is based in Weymouth, Dorset, acknowledged she was “privileged” to be able to walk away and “many people working in fossil fuel companies just aren’t so lucky.”
She urged Shell’s 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.”
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.
Her announcement comes on the eve of Shell’s annual general meeting of shareholders in London on Tuesday. Its plans to reduce emissions will be discussed at the meeting where the Dutch activist group Follow This will push for the company’s policies to be more consistent with the Paris climate accord. Shell’s board has told investors to reject the group’s resolution that asks it to set more stringent climate goals.
The Shell investor Royal London has said it intends to abstain on a vote on the firm’s climate transition proposals.
The Shell chief executive, Ben van Beurden, could experience an investor rebellion against his £13.5 million pay packet at the annual general meeting after the investment adviser Pirc urged a vote against it.
A Shell spokesperson said: “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 bumper profits fueled by the increase in market prices, prompting opposition parties to call on the government to bring in a one-off levy.
On Monday, the biggest oil and gas producer in the North Sea spoke out against a one-off levy, arguing it would lead to the industry approving fewer projects.
Harbour Energy’s chief executive, Linda Cook, 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 told the government it plans to invest $6 billion in the North Sea over three years as industry makes its case against the tax. The Guardian revealed this month that Cook had received a £4.6 million “golden hello” from the firm.