“You put safety second in pursuit of profits” – Caroline Dennett at Shell’s AGM
Caroline Dennett, the former safety consultant for Shell whose resignation video went viral a year ago, has delivered a blistering speech at the oil giant’s AGM.
Addressing the executive committee at Shell’s annual meeting in May, she presented a report on their failures in safety performance which she says have contributed to catastrophic leaks and spills in the Niger Delta.
Dennett, who was hired by Shell to investigate the safety of their operations, informed the executives of a catalogue of poor process safety practices that were reported by Shell Nigeria staff and contractors to her company in an employee survey commissioned by Shell Nigeria at the end of 2021. The results of the survey exposed production pressures, short-cuts, budget restraints, unsafe manpower levels and poor maintenance regimes, including overdue maintenance on safety critical equipment and a lack of training.
Failure to prevent oil spills
Additionally, her report found that contractors would go unpaid for months, unable to feed themselves and their families. The results represented up to 40% of the operational workforce, and were reported to Shell Companies in Nigeria (SCiN) management in January last year.
“My name is Caroline Dennett and a year ago today I resigned my contract with Shell where I was working as a safety consultant, because I can no longer tolerate your failure to address the harm caused to our planet and to local environments, ecosystems and people whilst publicly claiming you have green policies and high ambitions for safety,” she began.
“I worked with you for over 10 years trying to keep people safe, trying to prevent oil and gas leaks, major incidents, injuries and fatalities. For those who don’t know, your stated safety ambition is to do no harm to people and you call it Goal Zero. It sounds honourable, and I was proud to work with that ambition for many years, but you are completely failing on it.”
Dennett then went on to explain the findings of the survey. “Management were informed in January last year that 40% of the workforce said you did not have adequate personnel to conduct operations safely. 35% said they believe you are putting production first and process safety second in the pursuit of profits; 35% also said that corrective maintenance on safety critical equipment, so that’s critical repairs, was not done in a timely manner, and a staggering 80% said that spare parts were not available when needed.
“A recipe for process safety incidents”
“Setting aside statistics, here are direct concerns expressed by your personnel and shared with management,” she continued.
“Organisational restructuring has led to reduced manpower with increased workloads for people, a system-induced error enforcing condition for people to attempt to take shortcuts or neglect critical aspects when executing jobs. And this is a recipe for process safety incidents.
“Another said they have heard of at least two individuals in the organisation who have died as a result of overbearing workload having to work through the day and night.”
Directly addressing the CEO, the Chair, the Executive Committee and Board of Directors Dennett asked, “Why do you withhold funding to your own assets, that would enable them to be operated more safely and maintained properly? Will you now commit the necessary finances and resources to prevent harm to workers and communities, to prevent extensive leaks and spills the likes of which we have seen in the Niger Delta for decades and continue to see, with loss of life and health, loss of livelihoods, loss of nature and loss of ecosystems?”
Shell to leave Niger Delta
In CEO Wael Sawan’s response, he appeared to place the blame for safety issues on local sabotage. “Over 90 to 95% of the leaks that are occurring in SPDC, which is the joint venture that manages the Nigerian assets, come from sabotage and theft.”
He explained that Shell now intends to withdraw from onshore oil operations in Nigeria. “It’s a location that we have recognised a few years ago that the risk-reward to operate in a place like Nigeria is no longer tolerable when it comes to onshore oil. And that is why we have announced a couple of years ago the intent to exit onshore oil in Nigeria, and focus on the gas value chain, the [liquified natural gas] LNG chain specifically as well as the border, which I deeply regret, because I think Nigeria deserves the capabilities that a company like Shell is able to bring both in terms of the tax returns and the proceeds, but also the many who we employ in Nigeria, many of whom are amongst our best staff and represent the largest expatriate community in Shell.”
In May 2022 Dennett publicly released a video of her resignation where she explained she was quitting her role because of Shell’s continued investment into extraction projects and the use of fossil fuels, despite pledging a commitment to net zero.
Commenting after the AGM, Dennett said, “Shell has clearly stated in real speak they would rather abandon their operations there to save money than provide the necessary resources and capital to improve process safety and make good their harms. They’ve spent decades exploiting the Delta and will now walk away from the Armageddon they have created. The activist’s cry of ‘Go to hell Shell’ is entirely fair given Shell’s evil actions and unwillingness to acknowledge their sins, show remorse or repent.”