The Green Gauge: Shell and BASF guilty in Brazil

By Christopher Greenwald
September 8, 2010

A Shell petrol station sign is seen reflected in a puddle in London February 4, 2010. Royal Dutch Shell Plc said it planned even deeper cuts to its oil refining and retail operations after downstream weakness caused a 75 percent fall in fourth-quarter profits to $1.18 billion (743.87 million pounds).  The photograph has been rotated 180 degrees.  REUTERS/Luke Macgregor (BRITAIN - Tags: BUSINESS ENERGY)

Royal Dutch Shell and German chemicals maker BASF were dealt a costly blow last month in a court ruling in Brazil that found both companies liable for contaminating groundwater with toxic waste northwest of Sao Paulo.

The ruling puts Shell and BASF in the lead position in this installment of The Green Gauge, a breakdown of companies that made headlines Aug. 22 to Sept. 6 for winning or losing credibility based on environment-related activity.

Selections of companies were made by Christopher Greenwald, director of data content at ASSET4, a Thomson Reuters business that provides investment research on the environmental, social and governance performance of major global corporations. These ratings are not recommendations to buy or sell.

bot25 Royal Dutch Shell and BASF

A court in Paulinia, Brazil has ruled that Shell and BASF are responsible for the “collective damage” caused by toxic emissions to the groundwater at a large pesticide plant 120 kilometres northwest of Sao Paulo, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) reported. Shell built the plant in the late 1970s and BASF controlled it between 2000 and 2002.  The total liabilities are estimated to be $626 million, which include payments of $360 million to over 1,000 individuals who have experienced illnesses believed to have been caused by toxic chemicals at the plant.  BASF claimed that Shell is solely responsible for the problem. Both BASF and Shell said they plan to appeal the ruling.

Greenpeace Brazil originally exposed the problem  of toxic pollution at Shell’s plant in this 2001 report.

bot25 PTT Exploration and Production

Indonesia recently revealed plans to pursue damages of $2.2 billion against Thailand’s state-controlled PTTEP as a result of damages from a significant oil spill in 2009 from an oil rig controlled by the company in the Timor Sea.  PTTEP argues that Australia thus far has been unable to prove extensive economic damages resulting from the spill, which would represent more than 200 percent of the company’s annual profit in 2009.

bot25 Cairn Energy, Royal Bank of Scotland

The heightened criticism by environmental activists of off-shore drilling in the wake of the BP oil spill was dramatically on display as Greenpeace activists forced a temporary shut-down of Cairn Energy’s drilling activities off the coast of Greenland.  Four Greenpeace activists boarded Cairn’s Stena Don drilling rig last week, forcing a temporary shut-down of the rig’s operations.  The activists had been arrested by the end of the week and would face prosecution in Greenland for their actions.  The financing of Cairn Energy’s off-shore drilling activities by Royal Bank of Scotland was also criticized by activists in Edinburgh, who protested a RBS office in central Edinburgh and spilled fake oil in front of the offices of Cairn Energy.

top25 Exelon Corp.

Exelon announced last week it will purchase Deere & Co.’s wind power business for $860 million.  Deere’s wind farms include 36 projects in eight states, and the transaction will increase Exelon’s capacity for renewable energy by 75 percent, raising the overall proportion of energy from renewable sources for the company from 3.2 percent to 5.5 percent.  The transaction is part of Exelon’s larger “Exelon 2020” strategy to reduce its CO2 emissions by 15 million tons by 2020.

top25 Sony Corp.

Sony has partnered with the WWF to create “Open Planet Ideas,” which is a project to solicit ideas of environmental product innovation from the general public.  The first phase of the project through the end of September allows anyone to describe an environmental challenge or problem that needs to be addressed using available technologies.  Finalists will be selected by a panel of experts in October and will be asked to develop a concept of how existing Sony products can be combined to address the environmental challenge. A finalist will be chosen in January and will be asked to participate in developing a proof of concept for implementation.  The entire project, including the final proof-of-concept white paper will be available on the Internet, which is designed to help Sony gain awareness of how its existing products might be combined in innovative ways to address an environmental issue.

The initiative and the complete results of the submissions are available here.

top25 Timberland, The Gap, Walgreen’s, Levi-Strauss

As controversy continues to swirl around the negative environmental impacts of the Canadian oil sands, Timberland, The Gap, Walgreen’s and Levi-Strauss recently announced they will prioritize using transportation suppliers who avoid using oil imported from the Canadian oil sands.  A campaign to encourage companies to avoid using tar sands oil is being organized by the NGO Forest Ethics.  More evidence of the environmental dangers associated with oil sands production has been recently published in a study by researchers at the University of Alberta who have found concentrations of the EPA’s 13 priority pollutants in the Athabasca River as a result of releases from the oil sands.   A copy of the study is available here.

For more on the campaign, see the Forest Ethics Website.

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Photo shows a Shell petrol station sign is seen reflected in a puddle in London February 4, 2010.  The photograph has been rotated 180 degrees.  REUTERS/Luke Macgregor (BRITAIN – Tags: BUSINESS ENERGY)

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