Greenpeace, the Yes Men and the inside story of #ShellFail
June 11, 2012
Last Thursday somebody on Youtube called “kstr3l” posted a video from his phone of a Shell PR event gone horribly, hilariously wrong. By Friday afternoon it had already been watched 500,000 times, and was making the rounds with the tag #ShellFAIL. Then journalists who had covered the story received a threatening email to cut it out, calling the whole thing an environmental activist hoax and directing people to a website about the company’s arctic oil drilling plans.
The event was a hoax, and so was the follow-up email and the website with its often hilarious-if-it-wasn’t-true fake Shell marketing copy. From the ArcticReady.com homepage: “That’s why we at Shell are committed to not only recognize the challenges that climate change brings, but to take advantage of its tremendous opportunities. And what’s the biggest opportunity we’ve got today? The melting Arctic.”
This is the backstory.
With help from the Yes Lab we built a special Arctic Ready website for Shell, which houses our new advertisements, plus a tool for you to create your own. Take a moment to choose a picture and add your own message – there are some great ones up already. We’ve even built a charming kids’ game – Angry Bergs – to keep the littl’uns happy. Watch the dollars flood in as you protect your oil platform from those pesky natural hazards. Unsinkable.
But the centerpiece of the campaign was a gala event we created to give Shell’s drilling rigs (which are currently docked in Seattle) the send off they deserved. We hired the Skyline room at the Space Needle, invited a host of local energy leaders, and brought in a large team of actors. The piece de resistance was a beautiful ice sculpture which rested in a bath of cola next to a scale model of the Kulluk drill rig.
But something went horribly, hilariously wrong. As our guest of honor turned on the spigot to get the black gold flowing, there was an uncontrolled blowout. Sadly, in such a remote setting no one had the right equipment to deal with it. The elderly lady who caught the spurt full in the face was supposedly the widow of the rig’s original designer – but it was actually 84 year old Occupy activist Dorli Rainey who was pepper sprayed last year. Shell’s harried reps did their best to contain the unfolding PR disaster, but alas the footage somehow got out. The resulting video has been viewed over half a million times already, generated a dubstep remix and sparked an entirely new brand: #shellfail
Buried below the Boreal Forest of northern Alberta on indigenous land is the world’s second largest oil reserve: the tar sands. Oil from the tar sands is one of the world’s most carbon-intensive fuels, and rapid development of the tar sands could tip the scales towards dangerous and uncontrollable climate change.
Alberta oil is actually bitumen, a viscous crude comprised primarily of cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Unlike any other petroleum product, it requires extensive processing and refining to become thin enough to flow through pipes. There are no free-flowing streams of black gold in the Athabasca region — far from it.
The tar sands cover an area of land the size of England, which has been divided up and leased to the world’s biggest oil companies. These multinational organizations use mammoth machines to carve into the earth and excavate the sticky sand from the open-pit mines. The surface area that must be destroyed to get at the bitumen is called “overburden” by industry, but we call it the Boreal Forest.
The other type of extraction, called in-situ, essentially boils the earth. Massive quantities of steam and natural gas are used to melt the bitumen and pipe it back up to the surface, while fragmenting forests and destroying critical habitat.
Two tonnes of tar sand is needed to produce a single barrel of oil. Three to five times more water and energy are required per barrel than any other source known to mankind. The tar sands use more water every day than a city of two million people and consume enough natural gas to heat six million Canadian homes. Until the oil boom, the tar sands were too expensive to be economically viable. But our global addiction to oil has us scraping the bottom of the barrel.
The tar sands generate 40 million tonnes of CO2 per year, more than all the cars in Canada combined. Because of the tar sands, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions have grown more since 1990 than those of any other G8 nation, according to the 2009 national inventory report that Environment Canada filed with the United Nations.
As the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, the tar sands are the main reason Canada continues to block meaningful global climate regulations. The Canadian government ignores the warnings of the scientific community by aiming for abysmal targets that will leave us at nearly double the science-based target that we need to meet to keep the increase in global temperature below 2 C and avoid catastrophic climate change.
Key waterways like the Athabasca River are being polluted to the tune of 11 million litres of toxic runoff every day. The tar sands are lacing our air with dangerous toxins, poisoning communities with rare cancers and autoimmune diseases, destroying critical animal habitats and carving up some of our most pristine countryside.
While the tar sands are often touted as Canada’s economic driver, from a social costs standpoint, Albertans are paying a hefty price. The Alberta government has been cutting essential social services from hospital beds to Aboriginal services, while oil companies rake in record profits. And while the tar sands create jobs in the short term, two out of three jobs are in construction, meaning once the initial work is completed, those jobs disappear.
Yet despite all of this, the Alberta government has approved 100 per cent of proposed tar sands projects. Greenpeace is calling for an immediate end to new approvals, and a phase-out of existing projects.