Geographical Society Barnaby Briggs (Shell), ‘Oil Companies and the Environment’

The Geographical Society were very fortunate to host Mr Barnaby Briggs, who works in the Public Affairs section of Shell. Mr Briggs was able to give an extremely engaging talk which covered a great deal of ground. I can speak for all who went that it was interesting to hear the perspectives of an oil company in relation to issues such as climate change, depletion of oil and gas reserves and alternative energy. The talk began with Mr Briggs defining what the current energy situation was in his view, and ultimately concluding that oil companies not only occupy a significant and crucial role as energy providers now, but also in the medium to long-term future. This is because in order to meet the world’s demand for energy and electricity in 2050, even by throwing every piece of alternative technology at the effort we would fall short of demand rather staggeringly by the amount of electricity being provided worldwide in 2000. Climate change was also focused on, with Mr Briggs highlighting that Shell were investing in the growth of crops for biofuels as well as pioneering further research into Carbon Capture and Storage technology.

Arguably Mr Briggs’ most insightful words were in reference to how a major corporation such as Shell interacts with and affects the local communities in areas where the company operates. Understandably there is resentment on the part of the local population, and the company is often faced with difficult situations. To illustrate this, Mr Briggs explained that efforts made by Shell to alleviate poverty in the villages near to where Shell operates in the Niger Delta in Nigeria has sometimes resulted in violence between villages, each vying to receive the greatest benefits from the company. Mr Briggs also made clear the nature of the armed resistance effort against Shell’s presence in the area. Another example which was indicative of the sort of opposition Shell comes up against is the effort to commence extracting operations in Alaska. We were told that here the local population was so against the corporation locating there that billions of pounds have had to be spent by Shell to obtain the right to extract legally, and yet drilling hasn’t even begun. Something that came across particularly strongly during the evening was the idea that ‘straight-line thinking’ in regards to issues as broad as energy provision or climate change is simply inadequate as, despite the best of intentions, opposition and obstruction to planning can be found at every step.

Jack Davies OS (RPDF)