McSpotlight on the
Oil Industry
| Shell | BP | Texaco | Exxon | Others |

With the current censure and boycott of Shell over its activities in Nigeria, consumers may be looking for someone else to buy their fuel from. But are Shells rivals any more ethical?

Texaco and Total for example have been criticised for fuelling the oppressive military regime of Burma. Du Pont, the owner of Jet petrol stations, is said by Greenpeace to be responsible for 14% of the ozone hole due to its production of ozone-depleting chemicals. And the French companies, Elf and Total could be on your boycott list over France's nuclear testing.

The fact that petrol is derived from crude oil, a non-renewable fossil fuel, means that the petroleum industry has considerable enviromental impact. But petrol is only one of the end products of crude oil along with plastics, chemicals and pesticides. The oil companies have also attracted criticism for these operation. Du Pont and Shell manufacture the fungicide Benlate DF and pesticide DBCT respectively, both of which have landed the companies in the US courts for hefty compensation claims. Elf and Shell are also involved in the chlorine industry, which has recently begun to be more heavily criticised for its role in the production of dioxins (see the WEN report; Chlorine, Pollution and the Parents of Tomorrow).

Shell's oil exploration and production activities on Ogoni land in Nigeria has brought to the public's attention the impact these operations have not only on the environment but also on tribal peoples' land rights. Shell is not the only oil company operating in Nigeria; British Petroleum, Chevron / Esso, Du Pont, ERAP, Texaco, and Total also have interests in Nigeria, where any exploitation is facilitated by a compliant oppressive regime.

Other oil companies have also been criticised for this sort of behaviour in other oppressive regimes, for example Total and Texaco in Burma. It is reported that the Burmese military is forcing indigenous peoples to work on clearing forest areas to prepare them for oil and gas exploration and transportation.

Shell Oil in the McSpotlight
Royal Dutch / Shell Group: c/o Shell Centre FNX/6, London SE1 7NA

Shell Oil has attracted much criticism and media attention recently over two major issue; Brent Spar and Nigeria.

It is now over a year since the Nigerian military dictators executed Ken Saro Wiwa, the leader of a minority ethnic protest group in Nigerian region called the Ogoni. He and eight others were sentenced to death in an unfair trial for their alleged involvement in murder. They were innocent, the real motive for the 'trial' and the execution was to end campaigns against Shell Oil. Ken Saro Wiwa played an important part in leading the protest against the exploitation of Ogoni lands and Ogoni people by the oil giants such as Shell. Shell Oil did nothing to stop the killing because they wished the protests to end so that they could return to Ogoni to continue to exploit the oil reserves, the environment and the local people. As media interest peaked, Shell Oil was forced to admitted that they had even supplied guns to the Nigerian government. Nineteen others are still detained without charge for their involvement in the anti-Shell movement.

Shell owns Brent Spar, an oil storage platform in the North Sea. It is obsolete and awaiting decommissioning. Shell Oil asked the British government for permission to dump Brent Spar in a deep water trench and the British government gave them permission to do so (Oil companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico have been required to take their platforms apart and dispose of them on shore). Greenpeace successfully campaigned against the dumping, and Shell backed down.

It is important to remember that the issue was not about Shell or Brent Spar specifically, but about the hundreds of other similar oil installations that Shell and other oil companies would then have been able to dispose of in the same way (over 50 are due for decommisioning in the next 10 years).

Other criticism of Shell Oil include their anti-trade union activities that include playing a leading role in moves by the Oil Industry to de-recognition of trade unions in the UK.

Shell On-line

Shell critics on-line

Heres a few Shell US [free]phone numbers:
General Inquiries: 1-800-248-4257
Shell MasterCard: 1-800-993-8111
Shell Credit Card: 1-800-331-3703

BP in the McSpotlight
British Petroleum Co.: Britannic House, Moor Lane, London EC2Y 9BU

BP operations feature in the Greenpeace Filthy Fifty list and in Friends of the Earth's Secret Polluters list. In February 1991, a 300,000 gallon spill from a BP-charted oil tanker spread for twenty square miles and severely disrupted the enviroment of nearby Huntingdon beach in California. The State of California then drafted new legislation to improve tanker safety and to elicit a $500m spill responce fund to be paid for by the oil companies. This was part of the far-reaching 'Big Green' enviromental proposals defeated in late 1990 by a 3:2 majority. BP spent $171,000 to help oppose the bill.

BP has been criticised a number of times in the past for its mineral operations on tribal people lands. The company has now pulled out of minerals. It does however continue to search for oil and, along with other companies, it has been criticised for operations in the Amazon, where a number of Indian Reserves have been affected.

In July 1988 the Piper Alpha disaster led to a series of strikes on North Sea oil rigs. Workers wanted union recognition and improved safety rights. BP did not agree and started to recruit non-union labour. In 1989 a number of workers at two BP-owned plants in Brazil were said to be suffering from pulmonary silicosis, as a result of inhaling dust containing silica at the plants. In 1990, two explosions in ten days at BP's Grangemouth refinery cost the lives of three workers and the company 750,000 for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Between 1985-9 BP received contracts from the Ministry of Defence for more than 100 million and is the supplier of strategic and non-civilian products used in weapons systems.

BP has animal testing undertaken by sub-contractors. Through its subsidary BP Nutrition, the company is involved in breeding animals including poultry layers.

Texaco in the McSpotlight
Texaco Inc.: 2000 Westchester Avenue, White Plains, NY 10650 USA

For 20 years, Texaco pumped oil from the Ecuadorian rainforest, one of the Earth's gems of biodiversity, and home to 300,000 Quichua, Siona, Secoya, Cofan, Shuar, and Huaorani Indigenous people. After extracting more than one billion barrels of crude oil, Texaco washed its hands and pulled out of Ecuador in 1992, leaving behind a colossal mess of toxic waste pits, oil spills, and poisoned communities. Texaco's legacy to Ecuador;-

  • Spills totalling 17 million gallons of crude oil (50% more than the Exxon Valdez spill)
  • Discharge of 20 billion gallons of wastewater, with hydro-carbons, heavy metals and other toxic
  • Contaminants abandonment of hundreds of unlined toxic waste ponds
  • Construction of oil roads opening more than 2.5 million acres of the forest to colonization

    Besides extensive damage to rainforest ecosystems, Texaco's operations have affected the people of the Amazon, who use river and rain water for bathing, drinking, and fishing. Skin diseases, stomach ailments, respiratory diseases, headaches, malnutrition, and cancer have surfaced in Native communities affected by Texaco's operations.

    Texaco refuses to cleanup, or even to compensate those people whose lives have been affected by their dirty operations. Wherever they work, Texaco has demonstrated irresponsibility and lack of concern for public health, human rights, and the global environment:

    In Burma, Texaco collaborates with the brutal Burmese military dictatorship in an offshore natural gas project. In order to construct a pipeline through the rainforest, the army has declared "free-fire zones" in which soldiers are authorized to shoot civilians, including members of the Karen hilltribe.

    In Indonesia, pollution from Texaco's Caltex operations has killed fish in Siak River tributaries, destroyed rubber trees near the streams, and caused skin diseases among Sungai Limau villagers.

    In Haiti, Texaco has blatantly violated the U.N. oil embargo, designed to pressure Haiti's military dictatorship.

    Texaco is America's third largest oil company, with 1992 revenues of $37 billion. They are drilling for oil in 24 countries, and their international holdings include refineries, petrochemical plants, and an international trading and transportation network. Texaco also owns gasoline stations and convenience stores around the world, including 14,000 in the U.S. alone.

    Texaco critics on-line

    Exxon / Esso in the McSpotlight
    Exxon Corp.: 225 East John W Carpenter, Freeway Irving, TX 75062-2298 USA

    The big tanker spills at sea are often the most visual and striking reminder of the potential enviromental damage of oil production. In March 1989 the Exxon Valdez supertanker ran aground and broke open, releasing 11 million gallons of crude oil into the Prince William Sound, Alaska. The US National Transportation Safety Board, investigating the causes of the spill, partly blamed the "higher-ups" at the Exxon Shippinh Company for poor management. It also criticies the Alyeska pipeline consortium, of which Exxon is a partner, for it's massive failure' in reposonse to the spill, which greatly contributed to its severity.

    Pollution and spillages can even occur at petrol services stations. In 1991 the US EPA found Exxon and Shell amoungst oil companies that discharged contaminated fluids from their service stations into or directly above underground drinking water sources. Exxon was fined $125,000.


    The petroleum industry is described as the 'one of the world's least ethical industries' in a report by the Ethical Consumer Research Association, but obviously some are 'less bad' than others.

    In the ECRA report, taking into account corporate responsibility and enviromental impact, they recommend as 'overall best buys' (read 'lesser of the evils');-
    Murco (Murphy Oil Corp.), Anglo & Repsol (Repsol/Spanish State) and Q8 (Kuwaiti State).

    Of course the only real ethical choice is not to use fossil fuel at all. Alternatives to fossil fuels include; electricity (when produced by non-polluting renewable sources), biofuels; Biodiesel, Ethanol (which do pollute), and, perhaps most promising, hydrogen. However the most practical ethical choices to make when considering transport are; walking, cycling or even shared or public transport.

    Credits: The information on this page was taken from
    'the Ethical Consumer Guide to Everyday Shopping',
    the ECRA product report on Petrol and Diesel,
    and from the on-line resources given above.