In this first episode of a two-part series on Putin’s war on Ukraine and oil and gas, we focus on Shell’s business prospects and what room there is to wind Shell down. First, we ask, what does Shell’s and other fossil fuel companies’ exit from Russia mean for Shell economically and for the future of its business? Second, can such an exit somehow contribute towards a just energy transition?

Future Beyond Shell
Putin’s War Part 1: Shell

Oil and war are often tightly bound together, both in terms of war’s causes, and the outcomes. Indeed, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused massive shifts in the oil and gas industry. Soon after the start of the war in February 2022, BP, Exxon Mobil, Shell and Equinor announced their exit from Russia – an unprecedented response to a conflict situation. The industry has always managed to navigate around geopolitical conflict, with producers claiming inherent neutrality due to their inability to choose the location and owners of oil and gas reserves. Choosing to outwardly condemn Russia’s invasion breaks with that tradition.

Shell in particular announced it will drop its joint ventures with Russian gas giant Gazprom. This includes a 27.5 percent stake in the Sakhalin-II liquefied natural gas facility, a 50 percent stake in the Salym Petroleum Development of oil in Western Siberia and a 50 percent stake in a joint venture for oil and gas exploration on the Gydan Peninsula. Shell will also cut ties with the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline project.

But how do we interpret these decisions? Is there a genuine commitment to sacrifice profits in solidarity with the people in Ukraine or even in favor of a just energy transition? In May oil giant Shell reported a record first-quarter profit of $9.1 billion, boosted by higher oil and gas prices, among other things.

In this first episode of a two-part series on Putin’s war on Ukraine and oil and gas, we focus on Shell’s business prospects and what room there is to wind Shell down. First, we ask, what does Shell’s and other fossil fuel companies’ exit from Russia mean for Shell economically and for the future of its business? Second, can such an exit somehow contribute towards a just energy transition?

We will be speaking with Laurie van der Burg, co-manager of the Global Public Finance Campaign at Oil Change International. Previously, she worked on the court case holding Shell accountable to greenhouse gas emissions targets, and knows the ins and outs of the industry’s financial side.

Show Notes

at 05 mins, Marie-Sol mentions ‘the beginning of the war, the invasion of Russia’ by which she means the beginning of this renewed attack by Russia on Ukraine – this is part of a conflict that has been ongoing since at least 2014, particularly in Crimea and the Donbas region.

Shell’s exit from Russia:

Shell’s first quarter profits:

Oil and gas windfall profits in the UK in the wake of the war:

US oil and gas profiting from high wartime oil prices:

European and US energy companies’ contribution to Russian war chest:

Beyond Oil and Gas Coalition (of governments who are going to stop signing new licenses for fossil fuel extraction):

Ember and IEEFA reports on supporting the EU’s energy needs using renewable energy and energy efficiency rather than
new infrastructure and therefore cease using imported Russian gas (in addition to the oil embargo):


Archana R: Today we’ll be speaking with Laurie van der Burg, co-manager of the Global Public Finance campaign at Oil Change International. Previously, she worked on the court case holding Shell accountable to greenhouse gas emissions targets, and she knows the ins and outs of the industry’s financial side. So thanks for coming on the podcast Laurie.

Laurie vd B: Thanks for having me.

Archana R: So I thought maybe we can start quite broadly. Before we dive into Shell and the war in Ukraine, could you tell us a little bit about how you see the relationship between oil and conflict, most generally?

Laurie vd B: Yeah, I’d say that the history of fossil fuels is one of conflict and of inequality and of colonialism. Shell’s own history is also one of conflict and colonialism. And when we look at the word Ukraine, it’s not an exception, like compared to some of the other fossil fuel wars that we’ve seen in the past. This really is a fossil fueled war, there’s no doubt about it. Because fossil fuels are the single biggest source of income for Putin. So it’s really the fossil fuels that are financing this war, and that are fueling this the war chest of Putin. And so almost 45% of our ships budget is made up from fossil fuel revenues. And the Kremlin also holds a grip on Europe because it accounts for 40% of the EU’s gas imports. So the EU has also been a fuel in this war by continuing to import fossil fuels from Russia, and those payments have been used to fuel this war. So yeah, stopping fossil fuels from Russia is really critical to winning this war to stopping this war, and, and to also stop fossil fuel conflict elsewhere in the world. We need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels overall.

Archana R: Thanks Laurie, I think that’s pretty clear, you know, and I think we’ve seen some action recently also, on behalf of the EU to cut down on buying oil, at least from Russia. But, I’m curious about Shell in particular, today. And so I’m curious how you see this situation, the war in Ukraine, the invasion of Ukraine, as affecting shells, business broadly, or maybe even the fossil fuel industries business. How does it impact them?

Laurie vd B: Yeah, so the cruel reality is that the fossil fuel industry is profiting from this war. And that counts for Shell just as much as for the other oil and gas majors. So because of the war, the energy prices have continued to increase. They were already on the rise after the world started opening up a bit more, after kind of the worst of the pandemic was behind us. So the prices were already on the rise. But these price increases have been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. And shell and other oil and gas companies are profiting from these price rises. So in the first quarter of this year, shell reported $9 billion in profits, which was three times as much as they made in the first quarter last year. And so well, households are struggling to pay their energy bills, and some of them are even forced to kind of choose between electricity and foods. Shell’s CEO, Ben van Beurden is filling his pockets, thanks to these high oil and gas prices. And we’ve done a piece of research as OCI – as Oil Change International together with some of our partners that has shown that the US and UK oil and gas companies are making 10s of billions in extra profits, thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Marie-Sol R: Yeah, I think that’s really interesting to hear because I mean at the beginning of the war or the invasion of Russia, we heard the news, you know, Shell had to exit so many crucial projects in which it had such a large stake. Could you maybe elaborate a little bit more on what impact the war has had so far on their business viability and how they were able to compensate some of the financial losses?

Laurie vd B: Yeah, so Shell had significant operations in Russia and the invasion of the Crimea, actually, back in 2014, did not convince Shell to leave Russia. Quite the opposite, they actually continue to invest in Russia in oil and gas projects. And we also have a piece of research that shows that since the invasion of the Crimea, Shell actually paid 8 billion dollars to the Russian government through its oil and gas activities in Russia. So it has not moved away from Russia because of increased aggression against Ukraine. And it’s only starting to do so now because the public opinion has shifted with the full scale invasion of Ukraine. So it has decided to divest from a number of Russian projects, including Sakhalin two and Nord Stream 2. But rather than closing down those activities, Shell was actually looking to sell off these assets to other companies. So that doesn’t weaken the power of Putin, or the power of the Kremlin, because they’re just selling off these activities to Russian companies or to other countries. And Ben van Beurden has actually literally said, this is a commercial process. This is not abandonment, we’re not just shutting down these projects, we’re just selling them to other industries. So of course, they might incur some losses from selling these assets. But those losses are kind of far outweighed by the extra profits that they’re making because of the high energy prices. And so, yeah, if you look at it in a net way, Shell overall is really profiting from this war. And that’s just that kind of how would you say it is? That’s kind of thematic for the fossil fuel industry as a whole. They have in the past been profiting from crises. And this is just another example of the industry profiting from crises.

Marie-Sol R: Could you also maybe name some examples where Shell is investing in new gas fields to sort of compensate losses from the projects that are sort of that they are now selling off in Russia, that they’re leaving?

Laurie vd B: So yeah, you would hope that in response to a fossil fueled war, Shell would use its extra profits to invest in energy efficiency and to invest in renewable energy and to basically transform the business in one way or another, but that’s not what we’re seeing happening. And Shell is using its extra profits to increase payouts, payouts to shareholders, it’s using its extra profits to invest in new fossil fuels. We’ve done a piece of research that shows that the biggest fossil fuel firms are planning to spend almost a trillion dollars in new oil and gas fields through 2030. So rather than investing in energy efficiency, or clean energy, they’re planning to lock us further into fossil fuel dependency and Shell often tries to portray itself as one of the more progressive oil and gas companies as upon that is leading climate action but it is no different from the other oil and gas industries. And it also continues to invest in oil and gas and it now particularly sees opportunities to invest in liquefied natural gas, LNG. So that’s gas that is turned into liquid so that it can be more easily transported around the globe. And we’re now seeing a big push for more investments in LNG to offset Russian supply, which would be catastrophic, not just from a climate perspective, but also from an energy security perspective, because as we’ve seen, this reliance on fossil fuels also really exposes households to these volatile and high fossil fuel prices that do not really contribute to a secure source of energy.

Marie-Sol R: I think you’re mentioning some really, really important points. And I think it’s very saddening to hear that indeed. Big oil corporations seem to just manage to adapt their business model that doesn’t necessarily lead us closer to a just transition. Yeah, I’m curious to hear more if, is there more information or insights you can give us on how they’re adapting their business model? Can you name a few more examples?

Laurie vd B: Yeah, I’d say one example that shows how Shell is definitely trying to manage its image, and make sure that it’s – that it acts as if or it shows that it cares about this war is the example of Shell actually buying cheap Russian oil. So soon after the start of this full-scale invasion of the Ukraine, Shell announced that it would withdraw from Russian assets. But soon after that, it came out that Shell was continuing to buy cheap Russian oil. And recently, the Ukrainian government has even come out against Shell and has said that it’s like using an accounting trick to continue to buy cheap Russian oil. So to the public, Shell has said that it would stop buying this oil from Russia. But apparently Shell only defines oil as Russian when the blend of the different sources of oil consists of more than 50% of Russian oil. So this way, you can continue to buy oil that has 49% Russian oil blended into it. So since that this came out Shell has is supposed to have strengthened its criteria and further kind of reduce its buying of Russian oil. But yeah, I have yet to see more evidence on this.

Archana R: I guess I’m interested in one thing that you mentioned, Laurie, about Shell selling off its assets, particularly in Russia, to other oil and gas companies. And I’m wondering, for example, recently, there was the case of them selling their retail stations to their petrol stations and their lubricants business to Lukoil in Russia. And I’m wondering, if they’re selling it to a Russian company, that would mean, in theory at least that Shell is not exporting it to other other countries? And if various places are banning Russian oil and gas, it would be more difficult for Russia to make money off of this. Is that the right way to think about this? Or am I barking up the wrong tree?

Laurie vd B: I’d say that if they’re selling their retail business to Lukoil, so the retail businesses mostly focused on the pump stations or the petrol stations across the country in Russia, so that was even when it was in Shell’s hands, mostly for domestic consumption, I’d say. And so I don’t think it actually really changes things. I think the one thing to note, when we’re looking at Shell selling off its Russian assets is that if it doesn’t shut down these activities, or it doesn’t shut down these fields that it’s selling to other companies, it is not weakening Putin’s power, because if other companies continue to operate, these fields are continue to operate these pump stations, then the revenues from those activities will still support Putin’s war. So I’d say it’s, there’s not like a better way of selling off these assets. Or it’s not necessarily better if Shell sells these assets to Russian companies, it should just really wind down these activities and make sure that there are no other companies that can profit from these activities and thereby prop up Russia’s fossil fuels more.

Archana R: Yeah, definitely. And I think, as you mentioned, they’re expanding in other areas. I think we heard just a few days ago that the Jackdaw gas field in the UK – they’re going to open it, and Shell is going to drill for gas there. You’ve already mentioned, you know, a couple of the ways that Shell has managed to make record profits in the first quarter of 2022. I mean, they made like $9.1 billion, but could you just bring those things together? Like what, despite this war, seems to have made them more money in this weird way?

Laurie vd B: Yeah, so this war has definitely made Shell and the other oil and gas companies more money, they are profiting from this war like they have done in so many other wars. One of the things that campaigners have been calling for in response to these exorbitant profits is a windfall tax where these companies actually would be taxed so that these exorbitant fees offsets can be used to compensate households that are facing higher energy bills, because of this war, and a number of countries have already introduced such a windfall tax, including Spain and Bulgaria and Romania and Italy. And just last week, the UK also introduced such a windfall tax. But there are different ways of introducing such a windfall tax, and there are definitely ineffective ways of doing so and more effective ways of doing so. And generally, it’s also good to remember that such a windfall tax is not a structural solution to the problems that we’re seeing here. And because it can also introduce this incentive to continue to invest in oil, because the revenues can then be used to compensate households. So I’d say that we do need windfall taxes, because we know that if we don’t tax these massive profits, that climate criminals will just become enriched thanks to the high fossil fuel prices, and they will continue to invest in more fossil fuels. So we do need these windfall taxes, so that we can take those profits and ideally invest them in the energy efficiency and clean energy solutions that can that actually provide more of a structural solution to the crisis that we’re facing. But in addition to that, we also need governments to really step in and ensure more structural phase outs of this industry. And so I’d say that one of the things that this war has shown yet, again, is that fossil fuels and conflicts are really interlinked. And that it’s not just because of the climate crisis, that we need to phase out this industry. But it’s also critical that we phase out this industry, if we want to build a more secure and safe future, through renewables, and preferably community-led or community-approved. And I think that if we succeed in really bringing home that that message, and if we succeed in getting leaders to understand that fossil fuels are the problem, and that fossil fuels are also a source of conflict, next to causing this climate crisis that we’re in, then this could be a breaking point. And this could be a moment in which we actually accelerate this transition that we need. And yeah, move away from fossil fuels as we need.

Archana R: Yeah, thanks for that, I think you bring up an important point about, you know, these resources, like oil and gas are, you know, by chance, perhaps, or they’re bounded in certain countries, and those countries then gain power because of because of these resources. And renewable energy gives us the opportunity to organize energy in a more decentralized way. Which I think is something that we don’t think about, I think in the sort of public sphere enough that, you know, you can hoard power on a global stage on the global stage by owning oil and gas, I think, which is much more difficult to do with windmills, or solar energy. And it sort of brings things back to a more local level. So it’s definitely an important thing to consider, I just want to go back to this windfall tax, because you mentioned that it can windfall taxes can spur more production of fossil fuels. And I’m wondering if you could spell out this mechanism for us a little bit more. And I think, you know, there was this example of the UK as well, and how they had had tied windfall taxes to incentives for companies to drill more. So could you just tell us a little bit more about that?

Laurie vd B: Yeah, so windfall taxes can definitely be designed in an effective way or in a less effective way. And I think the UK is windfall tax is definitely an example of the latter. Because with the UK is windfall tax companies that are investing in new oil and gas production are actually exempted from this tax, or they pay a reduced tax rate. So this incentivizes them to invest in more oil and gas domestically. And that is the world upside down, because that is, again, increasing our reliance on the fuels that got us into this crisis in the first place. So a more effective windfall tax is one that actually uses these profits to invest in the energy efficiency and clean, clean energy solutions that can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. So I think that there is definitely a reason to impose windfall taxes in this moment, and I’m very much supportive of using them so that we can take these profits out of the hands of the industry. But we need to make sure that governments design them in such a way that they’re actually used to benefit people credit and profits. And rather than investments in more fossil fuels.


Marie-Sol R: Yeah, thanks Laurie. I want to switch gears a little bit. Our podcast is really centered around the question how to build a future beyond Shell, how to phase out Shell. And I’m really curious to hear from you how, in this political economic context, what maybe new kind of pressure points of vulnerabilities you see, with shell or the oil industry as a whole, that movements can potentially exploit really to move towards a just energy transition?

Laurie vd B: Yeah, that’s a good question. But what we’re really seeing in this moment is that Ukrainian organizations are calling for a ban on fossil fuel imports from Russia, they are calling for governments not to invest in new fossil fuels elsewhere in the world, because they see that as exacerbating the problem, and also creating the foundations for conflict elsewhere. And they have been calling on the governments to, in response to this crisis, accelerate the transition. So there’s a real opportunity for the broader climate and social justice movement to really amplify those calls from Ukrainian organizations. And today, it’s actually 100 days since the full scale invasion of Russia and the Ukraine. And on this occasion, the Ukrainian organizations that we are also working with are, again, kind of putting out these calls for a phase out of fossil fuels, also in response to the atrocities in in Ukraine. So there’s really an opportunity for us to kind of amplify those voices and, and bring home that message to leaders in our own countries around the world. And I’d say that there is a real risk of a new wave of fossil fueled colonialism in response to the concerns around energy security, an increasing number of governments are looking to invest in oil and gas, particularly in the Global South to then import that oil and gas to replace Russia and supply. And what we’re also hearing from our partners on the African continent, for example, is that they don’t want to see that happen. They don’t want this new wave of fossil fuels colonialism where Europe extracts gas or oil in Africa only to export it to the European continent. And so, in this moment, there’s also really a need for countries to instead invest in clean energy everywhere around the world. And may be one example of some progress that we’ve made on this topic in the last few days is the G7 communique that came out last week. So in that statement, the G7 countries committed to end international public finance for fossil fuels by the end of this year, and instead prioritize their investments for clean Energy. And this is something that we need countries to follow through on this commitment. They really, yeah, need to implement those commitments with integrity. And then we need to see many more countries making the same commitment so that we can shift these financial flows out of kind of fossil fuel lock-in and into the solutions that we now need to see.

Marie-Sol R: Yeah, yeah, no, I definitely appreciate you appreciate you saying this. And I was also, yeah, what you pointed out earlier, that, for instance, the fact that Shell actually is just selling off assets rather than winding down its industry. I think that’s such a crucial point to realize at this point. And yeah, I think also an important, I think, pressure point to focus on that. Yeah. What we demand, what we want is an actual wind down at this point from the industry. And what I’m worried about, or what I can see just in general communication, it’s sort of ‘yes, we want to boycott Russian oil and gas,’ but it hasn’t gone up to the extent now we want to really like a complete phase out, like no oil and gas, anywhere, basically. So the risks that you pointed of new gas drillings, particularly in the Global South are very real. So I’m curious if you have any more ideas on how we can really tackle these issues, these bottlenecks at this point?

Laurie vd B: I think this is a really critical point, that the response to this war cannot just be stopping imports from fossil fuel imports from Russia. Yes, we need to do that. But we also need to stop investing in fossil fuels elsewhere in the world. And this is what Ukrainian organizations are calling for, this is what organizations that we’re working with on the African continent are calling for they want this war to lead to an end of the fossil fuel era, not just in Russia, but everywhere in the world. One of the things that we can use in in making this point on the need to not just phase out a imports from Russia, but also stop this from leading to new investments elsewhere in the world is a few pieces of research that have been produced that actually show that we can replace Russian fossil fuel supply through investments in energy efficiency and energy savings and in clean energy, and through using existing infrastructure. So existing LNG infrastructure that is currently being under-used. There are a few pieces from pieces of research from Ember and IEEFA that show that we can replace Russian fossil fuels through clean energy, through energy efficiency, without investing in new fossil fuel supplies. So we have the evidence, and we also are building kind of the people power to bring home that message. And yeah, that is definitely something that I invite people to amplify. Because that is the real risk that we’re seeing now this leading to new investments to replace Russian gas and oil. And we really need to stop that from happening.

Archana R: I’m wondering, you mentioned these reports from Ember and IEEFA about replacing Russian imports of oil and gas with renewable energy and that it’s possible, and I’m wondering whether they’re referring largely to Europe, or they’re also referring to other countries, because, for example, Nigeria has been having a really hard time and various other countries also who may be dependent on oil revenue, or maybe importing oil and gas and are struggling, their economies are struggling because the prices of oil and gas are so high right now. And so the local population can’t necessarily afford to, to buy things or to use fossil fuels or petrol, for example. So I’m wondering, what can we offer in this predicament for these countries? You know, is it true that that transition will also be possible and help these countries? Countries like Nigeria, for example?

Laurie vd B: Yeah, I think that what you just explained kind of shows that fossil fuel reliance is not in the interest of these countries, because what we are now seeing is that countries that are particularly dependent on fossil fuel imports, are facing these really high energy prices and are therefore struggling. And that’s also the people living in these countries are, are struggling to pay their bills because of this. So I think that’s kind of your introduction to this question already shows that there is an interest for these countries to move away from fossil fuels. Historically, it’s of course the Global North that is responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, and that is responsible for this climate crisis, this crisis that is also affecting a countries in the Global South the most, and acknowledging this, countries in the Global North have said that they would provide 100 billion a year in climate finance to the Global South to kind of help them invest in clean energy and in energy efficiency solutions. And rich countries, despite their role in causing this crisis have not delivered on this promise. And they’re only planning to now deliver on this 100 billion a year target three years late, so from next year. We also know that that 100 billion a year is far from sufficient to make the investments that we need and to also adapt to the impacts of the climate crisis that countries are already having to deal with. And at the moment, we are also seeing public finance, still largely flowing to fossil fuels rather than to renewable energy. So it’s the same countries that are also investing more in fossil fuels in the Global South than they are investing in renewable energy. So we really need to see this change and energy access issues are very serious in Africa and also in other parts of the world. And so countries do need clean energy investments. But our own energy finance data shows that rather than increasing over the last few years, even since 2014, investments in clean energy has stagnated. So we really need to see those numbers go up. And I think that one positive thing that came out of the latest report of the UN climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is that we can rapidly phase out our reliance on fossil fuels over the next decade and that renewable energy and solutions are available and are also more affordable than fossil fuels, and are better placed to also support development and are better placed to be developed in a way that actually supports local needs and supports communities or is like developed in a way that is led by communities. But currently, the world is really under-investing in these solutions. So we need to see those investments increase and the money is there. It needs to be shifted. So there is a huge opportunity there that cannot be missed. Because yeah, our lives and kind of the ability to continue to live on this planet really depends on it.

Archana R: Thanks, Laurie. I think it’s yeah, really important to emphasize that this is like a collective transition, and it can’t be bit part in every country for themselves because it sort of exacerbates global inequality, you know, the rich countries can transition themselves and then and then not sort of invest in their historical, the historical harms that they’ve caused or invest in remediating them. And I’m curious Laurie, what, what kinds of things is Oil Change International calling for at this point around the war in Ukraine, you like what are what are your campaigns on this issue right now?

Laurie vd B: Yeah, so we have been amplifying calls from Ukrainian organizations that are calling for a ban on imports from Russia and they’re calling for an end to investments in fossil fuels elsewhere as well, we have been writing reports that are assessing the extent of the windfall profits that the industry is making, because of the war. And we have also been mapping how much money the fossil fuel industry has been paying to the Russian government since the invasion of Crimea. And we have also continued to kind of call on countries to really prioritize their investments for the clean energy solutions that can build a more secure and safer future rather than investing in new fossil fuels. And links to those G7 commitments that I mentioned earlier to and public finance for fossil fuels by the end of this year. And, yeah, I think one of the things that we see is really important at OCI is that governments really step in to manage the phase out of this industry, because we cannot rely on this industry to transform itself. I think that that’s something that history kind of shows is that this industry is not willing to change, and it wants to continue to profit from fossil fuels. So we really need governments to step in. And so one of the things that we’re advocating for is for governments to impose a ban on new oil and gas licenses. So a ban on new oil and gas production. And at the climate conference in Glasgow last year, we actually saw a group of governments come together and announce that they would end licenses for new fossil fuel production. So we’ve made a bit of progress there. And this group of countries that launched this kind of collective effort to end licenses for fossil fuel production is called the beyond oil and gas Alliance. So we’re hoping that that coalition will expand. And then next to that, we are also focusing on growing this this list of countries that commit to use their public finance their public money to accelerate distribution transition, rather than to prop up fossil fuels. And I think if there’s one thing that we can learn from both the pandemic but also this war in the Ukraine is that there is no lack of money in this world. And when governments want to, they can free up huge sums of public money to respond to a crisis. And the climate crisis is such a crisis. And getting off of fossil fuels is a critical solution to not just the climate crisis, but also the war, and also even the pandemic. So in this moment, we really need to see countries show that kind of political will to make that that money available that we need to really build this is safer world built on renewable energy.

Archana R : Absolutely. That sounds like there’s a lot going on nowadays. Thanks so much for all your insights. We really appreciate it.

Marie-Sol R: Yeah, thank you also from my side.

Laurie vd B: Thanks again for having me.