The $4 Billion Lobbying Blitz That Bought Shell the Arctic


Do you happen to head up a massive multinational oil concern? Curious just how much it'd cost you to snag the long-desired right to drill in the Arctic? Well, have I got a number for you: $4 billion. That's about how much you'll have to fork over to wage a successful all-out lobbying campaign on multiple fronts. Thankfully, if you're a respectable Big Oil outfit, $4 billion is probably what you dig up between the couch cushions when you're doing laundry.

So let's say that you're, oh, some giant oil conglomerate called 'Shell.' Here's all you'll have to do to get drilling access to one of the most sensitive, pristine, and traditionally protected areas in the US:

First, in D.C., where you've got to convince a surprisingly eager moderate Democratic president that there's a bounty of oil up there, and that it can be extracted "safely."

Your crack team of three dozen lobbyists will do full court press, sidling up to environmentalist coalitions and wheeling and dealing with Democrat insiders. Pretend that you want to fight climate change, join "anti-global warming groups," and get inside access to how the opposition works. Hold your tongue when necessary, sated by the knowledge you will soon make fools of them all.

Second, you'll have to go to the front lines, in Alaska, where there's a long legacy of conservationism in the local Eskimo communities. The Eskimo leader, in fact, is a fierce opponent of oil drilling—and rightfully so, because that stuff is almost certain to wash up on his homeland's shores at some point. But no matter.

Deploy your best company stooge, and have him go on a "charm offensive," getting to know the locals and dumping money into the community. Meanwhile, slowly undermine that feisty leader by "funding local colleges, village parties and whaling equipment." By the time that silly ol' Eskimo figures out that you've bought off the town's opposition, he'll have little choice but to negotiate a deal.

Third, you wait. There are PR problems with some other oil spill down south, and the president will probably want to cite your project as proof that he's pro-drilling when he's campaigning. But it's just a matter of time, and you'll know it. Nothing can stand up to the kind of cash you're throwing around. Not piddly green groups or whiny progressives. No, they'll all be forced to cower from the sheer might of your capital.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism puts it this way: "Recognising the blunt force power of Shell’s lobbying blitz, environmental groups have backed off, ... choosing to focus on projects where victory is more feasible."

Congratulations, 'Shell'! You've just earned yourself the first rights to drill in the Arctic, one of the last remaining refuges from human resource extraction out there. It will be incredibly tough to clean up oil from the inevitable spills, and ecosystems are sure to be devastated, but who cares? The government will foot most of the bill for that, anyways. The important thing is that you've won. That you've kicked off perhaps the last great oily gold rush of our times. To the Arctic!

To get the rest of the facts on Shell's lobbying blitz, see the New York Times and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism—but that's pretty much exactly how it went down.

The $4 Billion Lobbying Blitz That Bought Shell the Arctic
Shell spent $4 billion dollars lobbying for the right to drill in one of the nation's most pristine areas. Its efforts paid off.

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