Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Dirty Truth About Big Oil: Royal Dutch Shell

What is it about Big Oil and the Nazis? In my last blog post I wrote about Standard Oil of New Jersey (now ExxonMobil) and its nefarious ties with Hitler's Germany. In this post I'll try to uncover the sinister roots of Royal Dutch Shell while painting a brighter picture of their modern-day move towards renewable energy.

The Anglo-Dutch petroleum company was created in 1907 from a merger between Royal Dutch Petroleum Company and the Shell Transport and Trading Company. The alliance would help compete with John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil.

The Nazi connection stems from Royal Dutch co-founder/chairman and later Royal Dutch/Shell chairman Sir Henri Deterding. Called the "Napoleon of Oil," Deterding admired Hitler and was a fervent supporter of the Nazi party. Here is an excerpt from the 1975 book "The Seven Sisters" by Anthony Sampson courtesy of the website Royal Dutch Shell PLC:

"His influence on the company was erratic and as one Shell veteran recalls: ‘Deterding’s interventions were like thunderstorms; suddenly flattening a field of wheat, while leaving other fields un-scathed.’ The stately managers of Shell began to have the worrying impression that their Director-General was going mad, and still worse, going pro-Nazi. His anti-Communism, spurred on by his Russian second wife, had already made him sympathetic to the Nazis. But in 1936, just after he had celebrated his seventieth birthday and his fortieth year with Shell, he married a third time, to a German girl, Charlotte Knaack, who had been his secretary. He was now convinced that the Nazis were the only solution to the Communist menace.

He died six months before the outbreak of war: memorial services were held in all Shell offices in Germany and Hitler and Goering both sent wreaths to the funeral on his estate."

And here is an excerpt from the website Shell News about the petro company's Nazi ties:

"Approximately 1,385 forced laborers worked at oil refineries and petrochemical plants owned and operated by the Royal/Dutch Shell Group during the Second World War. These workers, largely civilians from Eastern Europe and the Low Countries of Western Europe, were compelled to work on the grounds of Shell's German and Austrian subsidiaries, Rhenania GmbH and Shell Austria AG, respectively. At these locations, the forced laborers toiled long hours under the watchful (and often brutal) guard of Hitler's S.S. men. Deported from their home countries by force, these workers were housed in filthy barracks, and were denied freedom of movement and proper nutrition. For their work, which was contracted from the S.S., the laborers received no pay from Shell or the German Government.

Shell's ties with the Third Reich, however, were not limited to the use of forced labor. It was also a founding partner in Deutsche Gasoline (25%), the national German petroleum company explicitly crafted to give the Reich greater control over domestic gasoline production - for both military and civilian purposes. Shell additionally held the dubious distinction not only of having collaborated with the Nazi Regime to bring Deutsche Gasoline into fruition, but also of sharing control over the company with I.G. Farben Industrie - the infamous producer of Zyklon B poison gas."

And while Shell is currently joining the likes of ExxonMobil in focusing on R&D of next-generation biofuels such as the promising area of algae oil, last year the company cut back on investments in other renewable energy such as solar and wind (Shell owns 11 wind farms in the U.S.). And even with biofuels only about one percent of Shell's investments go towards clean energy -- that leaves the other 99% for dirty, polluting fossil fuels.

If there is any silver lining in this story, it is that earlier this year Shell announced plans for a $12 billion venture with Brazilian sugar producer and ethanol developer Cosan to create sustainable biofuels. But with its spotty history of reducing renewable energy funding and pulling back on projects like the world's biggest planned offshore wind farm in Britain, there is no guarantee that Shell will maintain its commitment to biofuels. For the sake of the planet I hope they do.

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