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"Public Pressure, Not Just Money, behind Shell's Decision to Leave Gas Field"

Corporations seldom admit it when their decisions are influenced by pressure from environmentalists and the public. Rainforest Action Network (RAN) Amazon Oil Campaign Director Shannon Wright believes that "Industry press has so far failed to tell the whole story behind the recent withdrawal of Royal Dutch/Shell and Mobil Corp. from the Camisea Project in Peru".

A History of Controversy

While many factors contributed to the decision by Royal Dutch/Shell and Mobil Corp., the significance of environmental and human rights concerns in the decision should not be ignored. The Camisea Project has been mired in controversy since 1996 when Shell Prospecting and Development (Peru) first signed the licensing agreement with the government of Peru.

The proposed development site is controversial because it is located on remote, pristine rainforest land that is inhabited by several vulnerable indigenous populations-including two of the world's last isolated, nomadic peoples. Exploitation of this area would have devastating impacts on the fragile forest ecosystem, and would threaten the lives of the indigenous peoples who depend on this ecosystem for their survival.

Widespread Criticism

Over the past two years, Royal Dutch/Shell has received harsh criticism from a broad base of environmental, human rights, and indigenous rights organizations for their involvement in the Camisea project. In an attempt to neutralize this criticism, Shell sought endorsement of the project from several key environmental organizations, including the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Despite Shell's attempt to portray the project as a model of sustainable development, it was unable in recent months to win the "green" stamp of approval necessary to divert criticism from the project.

After suffering from intense public pressure over their disregard for delicate ecosystems and human rights in places like Nigeria and the North Sea, Shell has clearly become more vulnerable to public opinion. Without support from the environmental and human rights communities, the public relations costs of proceeding with the Camisea project would prove too dear for a company already under international scrutiny.

Shell's Other Policy Changes

Shell's actions in the Camisea region are all the more significant when you consider their recent withdrawal from similarly controversial projects in other parts of the world. Most notably, Royal Dutch/Shell withdrew from the Samor oil project in the Colombian rainforest. This project came under intense international scrutiny after the local indigenous community threatened to commit mass suicide if Shell and investment partner Occidental Petroleum went ahead with plans to drill for oil on their ancestral territory.

Shell also recently pulled out of the Global Climate Coalition, the oil industry front group lobbying against emissions regulations, and has established an $500 million renewable energy department. This is a sign that Shell is beginning to pay attention to prevailing science - and public concern - by acknowledging the reality and seriousness of climate change. The fossil fuel industry should take a moment to reflect on Shell's recent decisions before continuing with business as usual in the Camisea region. The tide of public opinion is clearly turning, and as our natural resources rapidly dwindle, the need for full-scale investments in renewable energy is more evident than ever. Market realities may very well be setting Shell on a path that other companies will eventually have no choice but to follow.

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Source: Rainforest Action Network. For personal, non-commercial use only. Not to be reproduced without permission from the source.

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