Saving What Remains
Shell: Turning a New Leaf?
In the heat of criticism from human rights groups, conservation organizations, and even stockholders, Royal Dutch Shell may be turning a new leaf. According to a Wall Street Journal article, Shell recently sent a Cambridge-trained anthropologist and a team of biologists from the Smithsonian Institution to an natural gas project in the Peruvian rainforest. Whether a public relations ploy or a genuine gesture, Shell's action is a step toward improving oil operations in the Amazon.
Shell hired the anthropologist to devise a development strategy for the indigenous people and villagers who live directly around the project site. Steps are being taken to minimize the spread of diseases like influenza, measles, and typhoid from the oil workers to the local people, something which has been a major problem in development projects in the rainforest. The project is subject to Peru's new petroleum and environmental laws and there will be no roads leading to the project; all materials are flown in by plane or helicopter. Shell maintains that all wastes that cannot be processed or recycled will be hauled out of the site and not dumped into rivers, as is the standard mode of operations in the Amazon. The team of Smithsonian biologists is surveying the local flora and fauna to help Shell restore the site to its natural state once the natural gas fields are exhausted.
Though is its unknown whether Shell will make good on its stated plans, the oil company is taking a step in the right direction , departing from the past policy of silently covering up its work. In the coming months, the project will be scrutinized by other oil companies and conservationists alike to see how well the project works.
During the summer of 1998, Shell announced it was pulling out of the Peruvian gas project citing concerns over the size of the gas deposits. Although the project will not continue, the plans can serve as a blueprint for similar projects in the future.
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