Five of the oil and gas industry’s biggest scandals

Umar Ali 25 February 2019 (Last Updated January 31st, 2020 07:47)

The world of oil and gas is no stranger to scandal, with a number of environmental and financial controversies taking place in the offshore industry. Offshore Technology explores five of the biggest oil and gas industry scandals, from international corruption rows to ecological disasters.

Five of the oil and gas industry’s biggest scandals
A fire at the Deepwater Horizon facility in 2010. Credit: Wikimedia

 

5. WWF and Denham Capital

In 2017, the Paradise Papers revealed that a number of environmental organisations invested in oil and gas groups, most notably independent conservation organisation WWF.

An investigation by NBC News in June 2018 revealed that in 2008, WWF invested more than $2m with oil and gas private equity firm Denham Capital. The agreement with Denham runs until 2020, with WWF potentially losing money if it divests before then.

In a statement on its website, WWF said: “WWF advocates for responsible development in areas where oil and gas may occur. If development does transpire, WWF wants to ensure it is done as safely and responsibly as possible. Development must avoid areas considered especially sensitive. In some areas, like the Arctic, it is our one chance to do it right.”

4. The Car Wash corruption row

Brazilian oil giant Petrobras has been the focus of corruption allegations as part of wider criminal investigations in a case known as Operation Car Wash.

Named after the car wash that the operation was first discovered in in 2014, Operation Car Wash saw Petrobras accused of bribing politicians and political parties in Brazil and trying to conceal these payments from regulatory agencies and investors. The bribes were paid to secure contracts at inflated prices.

The US Department of Justice described the Car Wash scandal as “the largest foreign bribery case in history,” with $2.1bn siphoned from Petrobras in bribes and secret payments.

In September 2018, the company reached a deal with the US and Brazilian authorities to settle longstanding investigations in the scandal. As part of the settlement deal, the company agreed to pay $853.2m in penalties.

In a statement, Petrobras said: “The resolution is in Petrobras’s best interest and that of its shareholders. It puts an end to the uncertainties, risks, burdens and costs of potential prosecution and protracted litigation in the US.”

3. Shell-Eni Nigerian corruption case

In December 2018, Nigeria filed a $1.092bn lawsuit against oil companies Shell and Eni over alleged fraudulent practices and cases of corruption.

Nigeria contended that Shell and Eni engaged in bribery and conspiracy against the country, claiming that the companies diverged billions of dollars of potential revenue from the Nigerian people.

The lawsuit relates to money Shell and Eni used to purchase interest in the OPL 245 block. It is alleged that this money was paid to Malabu Oil and Gas, a company owned by former Nigerian Minister of Petroleum Dan Etete, where it was then used for bribes and kickbacks.

Reynolds Porter Chamberlain solicitor Tom Hibbert, who represented Nigeria, said: “This claim reflects the determination and ongoing efforts of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to recover the very significant sums lost to corruption and the unlawful activity of Shell and Eni in this transaction.”

In a statement on its website, Shell said: “We are disappointed by the outcome of the preliminary hearing and the decision to indict Shell and its former employees.  We believe the trial judges will conclude that there is no case against Shell or its former employees.”

2. The Ogoni Nine

That wasn’t Shell’s only scandal in Nigeria, as the oil multinational faced allegations of complicity in a number of human rights violations in Nigeria on 12 February 2019.

Judges in The Hague heard testimonies from four women of the Ogoni people, who hold Shell partly responsible for the execution of their husbands by the Nigerian military in 1995.

Nine men, including protest leader Ken Saro-Wiwa, were unlawfully detained and executed by the Nigerian military regime. The plaintiffs claim this was encouraged by Shell, as the “Ogoni Nine” were outspoken critics of Shell’s operations in Ogoniland, a kingdom in southern Nigeria.

Lead plaintiff in the case Esther Kiobel said: “Over the years, Shell has continually fought to make sure this case is not heard in court. They have the resources to fight me instead of doing justice for my husband.”

Shell continues to protest its innocence in the case of the Ogoni Nine. Former Shell director Malcolm Brinded said at the time: “While we were prepared to go to court to clear our name, we believe the right way forward is to focus on the future for Ogoni people.”

1. The BP oil spill

But by far the biggest oil scandal in recent memory is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, better known as the BP oil spill.

The explosion at the BP-owned Deepwater Horizon drilling rig offshore Mexico in 2010 killed 11 men and injured several others.

The resulting oil spill is considered to be the largest in the history of the petroleum industry, releasing an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Investigations following the oil spill revealed problems in BP’s administration that contributed to the disaster. In September 2014 US district judge Carl Barbier accused the company of wilful misconduct and gross negligence, ruling that BP had acted with “conscious disregard of known risks” and describing the company’s conduct as “reckless”.

The US presidential commission also published a report on the oil spill, adding that “most of the mistakes and oversights at [the Deepwater Horizon rig] can be traced back to a single overarching failure – a failure of management”.

In a statement on BP’s website, BP group general counsel Rupert Bondy said: “Gross negligence is a very high bar that BP believes cannot be met in this case.

“This was a tragic accident, resulting from multiple causes and involving multiple parties. We firmly believe we were not grossly negligent.”