Why was the President of Shell Oil in Grand Rapids?

On Thursday, Shell Oil president John Hofmeister spoke in Grand Rapids. His talk–held as part of a public relations tour by Shell–portrayed the company in a favorable manner while emphasizing the idea “alternative fuels” and ignoring Shell’s history of environmental and human rights abuses.

photo of john hofmeister

John Hofmeister, President of Shell Oil, spoke as part of the “Global Executives Briefing Series” hosted by the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan. His talk–held at the University Club in downtown Grand Rapids–was titled “How the US Can Ensure Energy Supply for the Future.” Hofmeister stated up front that he was on a 50 city tour and that Grand Rapids was number 45. The tour is designed to “engage key audiences and talking to the American public about Energy Security.” According to Source Watch, the tour is part of a larger public relations campaign to “counter public anger at high oil prices and “windfall profit” tax proposals.” Hofmeister referred to this public anger as an “intolerant debate after Katrina.”

Hofmeister began his talk by stating that the US is faced with 4 major insecurities–homeland insecurity, financial insecurity, environmental insecurity, and energy insecurity. In each case the government has responded fairly well except in the are of energy insecurity. Hofmeister said there are more energy resources to be had than we can use, but he didn’t substantiate that point. Hofmeister also said “public policy prohibits us from getting 85% of US based energy.” He then gave the example of how the Energy Bill of 2005 permitted some positive changes in the system, but “the 2007 Energy bill takes away the 2005 remedies.” Hofmeister also stated that “there is no energy strategy dealing with energy policy. So, what could the energy security strategy look like?”

He went on to say, “when it comes to conventional oil and gas, the US model is still the envy of the world – we need to develop conventional gas and oil resources, but we are prohibited from accessing it. Unconventional oil and gas sit in a different state of development,” but that Shell is exploring this type of energy. He discussed coal as a viable source of energy, but to make it more efficient “why not gasify coal so you can manage the molecular structure into clean energy.” He also stated that there is an increase in the demand of natural gas but that the US is inadequately equipped with what he referred to as re-gasification terminals.

Hofmeister then discussed bio-fuels, which he claimed Shell has been developing for 40 years. Shell is putting its effort into other bio-fuels technology, such as the use of corn stalk or cane pulp instead of the current forms of bio-fuel production. Shell also has wind farms in 7 states and has a partnership with GM on hydrogen fuel cells. However, for the US to have energy security, Hofmeister said that Shell believes there are three other things that need to happen. First, there needs to be a commitment to a culture of conservation, which he emphasized as new technology development not our present consumption habits. Second, he said, the government needs to take the lead on greenhouse gas emissions so that companies can trade energy credits. Lastly, Hofmeister said, the public needs to be educated about energy and energy policy. He said that Katrina provided a great opportunity for this to happen but instead people just complained about gas prices and “didn’t understand it and accept the fact that production was down by 25% but demand stayed the same.”

In many ways, Hofmeister was presenting Shell Oil in an extremely positive light, with the emphasis on future technology development and “alternative fuels.” However, the public record on Shell is significantly different and raises serious questions about the motives of this global energy company that contrast significantly from the talk that Hofmeister gave. For instance, Hofmeister mentioned on several occasions that government seemed to be a barrier to great access to energy resources, yet Shell Oil has spent over $27 million dollars in lobbying efforts since 1998 according to the Center for Public Intergity. He is also a member of the Department of Energy’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technical Advisory Committee thus providing Shell with additional opportunities to influence public policy.

The largest omission from Hofmeister’s talk however, was that Shell does most of its business overseas and it is outside of the US that Shell has a record of environmental devastation and in some cases has played a role in human rights abuses. Oil extraction alone has caused tremendous ecological devastation and the process itself creates highly toxic waste. In the Niger Delta, villagers have been suffering the consequences of Shell Oil’s decision to inject waste from energy extraction into the ground. Hundreds of residents became sick from the toxins in the ground and water and dozens have died. Oil spills and toxic waste are common with oil extraction, but 40% of Shell’s global spills have occurred in the Niger Delta according to Al Gedicks, author of Resource Rebels.

Many communities have organized in response to the health risks and environmental devastation committed by Shell Oil. The most famous case began in the 1990 with the Ogoni people in Nigeria. After years of suffering from contamination the Ogoni people organized MOSOP, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People under the leadership of a charismatic organizer named Ken Saro-Wiwa. MOSOP organized demonstrations and mass protests and in 1993 Shell was forced to close its production facilities on Ogoni land. However, the Nigerian military was now occupying the territory and began attacking the Ogoni movement. Within two years 2,000 civilians were dead and 37 villages were destroyed. In May of 1994 Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders were arrested. It was later discovered that Shell was bribing witnesses to testify against the Ogoni organizers. In 1995 Saro-Wiwa and the other eight prisoners were tried in a military court and executed. The execution sparked an international campaign to boycott Shell. In the US there was a Senate bill that would have prohibited Nigeria Oil from being imported into the US, but the bill was easily defeated and couldn’t even get enough sponsors.

Shell Oil has consistently denied any wrong doing in the Ogoni case, but during ongoing legal battles over the 1994 executions a memo was leaked that originated from a Nigeria military officer in charge of the Ogoni operations. The memo states “hell operations are still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken for smooth economic activities to commence.” The officer then recommends “wasting operations during MOSOP and other gatherings, making constant military presence justifiable and wasting targets cutting across communities and leadership cadres, especially vocal individuals in various groups.” When the documentary Delta Force was released Shell admitted to paying “field allowances” to the Nigeria military and providing logistical support in the form of access to Shell helicopters and boats. According to Resource Rebels, “The company also admitted to importing weapons into Nigeria to arm the police.”

The Ogoni case is just one example of how Shell and other oil companies are anything but proponents of a culture of conservation. For information on oil company practices globally and community resistance to their practices an excellent resource is Oil Watch which can be read in both English and Spanish.

“No Nukes Rally” Planned for Palisades Plant

photo of palisades nuclear protest

Less than a month after a court filing charging that the Palisades Nuclear Plant in Covert, Michigan threatens environmental and human health, activists are planning a “No Nukes Rally” near the plant. The rally is demands that the government “Shut it down before it melts down.”

The protest announcement:


“On the Beach,” at Van Buren State Park, on the Lake Michigan shoreline 23960 Ruggles Road South Haven, MI 49090

(From I-96 take Exit 13 W. 1/2 mile, N. on Old Blue Star Hwy. For 4 miles. Left on Cr 380, then left on Ruggles Rd.)

Sunday, July 22, 2 p.m.

Speakers from Don’t Waste Michigan & the Michigan Peace March (20th anniversary celebration)

Music by Great Lakes singer-songwriter Victor McManemy of Traverse City


For more info. on the ongoing grassroots resistance to Palisades atomic reactor, see:


Anti-Nuclear Power Groups File Federal Court Appeal of Michigan’s Palisades Plant

photo of palisades nuclear plant

Don’t Waste Michigan and the Nuclear Information Resource Service (NIRS) have filed an appeal with a federal appeals court in Washington DC charging that the Palisades Nuclear Plant in Covert, Michigan violate earthquake-safety regulations by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The groups allege that containers of spent and irradiated fuel rods that sit 150 yards from water are a threat to both environmental and human health. The two groups argue that underwater submersion could cause the nuclear waste to overheat and cause a radioactive release. The issue is being addressed in the federal appeals court as all administrative approaches with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have been exhausted.

The two groups have expressed concern over the safety of the Palisades nuclear power plant for decades, most recently objecting to the Nuclear Regulator Commission’s approval of a twenty-year license extension for Palisades.

Clean Energy could Revitalize Michigan’s Economy according to Study

A study by Environment Michigan has found that a strong state-level commitment to renewable energy and energy efficiency in Michigan could help revive revitalize Michigan’s economy. According to the peer-reviewed study, such a commitment could bring 6,800 new jobs and $3.3 billion in new salaries, in addition to $2.2 billion in energy bill cost savings and a 30% reduction in power plant pollution. The study says that in order to achieve these benefits, Michigan must develop policies that establish a Renewable Energy Standard requiring 20% of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020 and that establish an Energy Efficiency Fund of $225 million per year. The policies would eliminate the need for new power plant construction in the state, saving money on utilities payments and reducing the $20 billion spent annually by Michigan residents on energy imports.

The study asserts that Michigan does not need and should not pay for any additional coal or nuclear power plants, arguing instead that Michigan’s energy needs would be better served by investment in clean energy technologies. Investing in these technologies would reduce dependency on imported energy resources such as coal, gas, and uranium while also taking advantage of clean energy resources within Michigan. The study explains that Michigan has a “huge” potential for renewable energy generation, with enough on-shore wind energy, biomass, and solar resources to supply two-thirds of the electricity currently used. Investment in renewable energy would reduce power plant pollution by 30%, preventing the emission of a total of 170 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (global warming pollutant), 260,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (soot-forming), 90,000 tons of nitrogen oxides (smog-forming), and 1,000 pounds of mercury (neurological toxicant). Moreover, the proposals in the study would double the air pollution reductions proposed in Governor Jennifer Granholm’s 21st Century Energy Plan.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Endorses Palisades Plant as Anti-Nuclear Groups Continue to Organize

A media report by WOOD TV 8 on Wednesday declared that “Palisades Nuclear Power Plant has essentially been given a thumbs up” by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The NRC, who is charged with the task of monitoring nuclear power plants for violations and handling license renewals, is currently in the process of reviewing Palisades’ license. Inspectors with the NRC have reviewed the plant’s operations and have determined that its eight violations are minor and were not a threat to public safety, despite the serious nature of some of the violations. Moreover, the Commission has stated that eight is “about average” for plants around the country.

Environmental and anti-nuclear groups are continuing to organize against the plant, with West Michigan and national groups holding a teleconference for the media on Tuesday. A coalition of twenty groups including Alliance for the Great Lakes, Clean Water Action, Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes, Don’t Waste Michigan, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, Michigan Environmental Council, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, and the West Michigan Environmental Action Council are currently organizing to prevent Palisades’ license from being renewed. In April, three of the groups working to prevent Palisades’ license renewal—Coalition for a Nuclear—Free Great Lakes, Don’t Waste Michigan, and Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS)—released a report on the threats of “high level atomic waste mishaps” at Palisades and cited internal NRC documents obtain via the Freedom of Information Act that challenged the NRC’s claim that an October 2005 incident in which a nuclear waste container remained suspended above its storage pool for two days was not a threat. NRC documents show that had the container dropped, the spent fuel pool could have sustained severe damage and, had the pool been cracked, triggered a situation in which considerable amounts of high-level radiation could have been released, thereby setting off a scenario described in other NRC documents that would have been similar to the Chernobyl disaster. The coalition has also filed a petition for enforcement along with a supporting declaration from a former NRC dry cask storage inspector warning that Palisades’ dry cask storage of nuclear waste violate the NRC’s earthquake safety regulations. The coalition also submitted 45 pages of official comment to the NRC on May 18 on the NRC’s environmental impact statement and launched a petition drive to deny the plant’s license renewal.

Consumers Energy, who operates Palisades and relies on its nuclear power for 18% of its electricity, is seeking a 20-year extension to a forty-year license awarded to the plant in 1971. Despite the fact that the current license does not expire until 2011, Palisades’ license is currently up for renewal. Opponents of nuclear power have long voiced concerns that Palisades’ old reactor is “brittle” and therefore a safety risk, that the storage of nuclear waste on site would be catastrophic in the event of an earthquake, and that the plant is an environmental risk.

Report finds that Energy Prices have Risen Rapidly after Five Years of Bush Energy Policy

On Tuesday, the fifth anniversary of the White House energy plan developed by Vice President’s energy task force, Representative Henry Waxman released a report showing that energy prices and dependency on foreign oil have increased. The report found that:

  • Energy prices have risen rapidly. Over the last five years, crude oil prices have increased by 143%; gasoline prices have increased by 71%; natural gas prices have increased by 46%; and prices for other fuels have increased at a rate significantly higher than the inflation rate.
  • American families are spending record amounts for energy. Five years ago, the average American family spent $3,300 on gasoline, home heating, and electricity. This year, the average American family will spend over $5,100 on gasoline, home heating, and electricity. This is an increase of nearly $2,000 per family. The indirect costs of higher energy prices in the form of higher prices for consumer goods and services are likely to cost families another $1,400 per year.
  • The nation’s dependence on foreign oil has increased. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Texas Governor George Bush criticized the Clinton Administration for allowing U.S. imports on foreign oil to reach 56% of U.S. oil consumption. Five years after President Bush announced his energy plan, U.S. imports of foreign oil have risen to 65% of U.S. consumption.

While few have benefited from the rise in energy prices, the energy industry has profited considerably, with oil companies reporting record profits of over $100 billion in 2005.