The side wall of Hurricane Katrina's eye passed directly over Shell Exploration & Production's Mars Tension Leg Platform, the largest producer in the Gulf of Mexico, battering it with waves 120 feet high and winds of 170mph for four hours. All told, the gulf hurricanes inflicted $300 million of damage to Shell's offshore operations in 2005. But there was a silver lining. The hurricanes prompted Shell to make redesigns, including higher decks and new materials, to protect platforms from extreme storms. "We got quite a bit of data out of the hurricane season in 2005," says Marvin Odum, Shell Exploration & Production's executive vice president for the Americas. "And that data has been rolled into the design parameters for future systems."
Oil companies aren't likely to be first on anybody's green list, since they're producing the very stuff of greenhouse-gas emissions. But when it comes to facing a warming world, both as a world citizen and as a supplier of energy, parent firm Royal Dutch Shell is ahead of its rivals. It is the only oil giant to make the Global 100 List of Most Sustainable Corporations this year as it continues to diversify into alternative energy and take steps to reduce its own carbon footprint. The list uses a best-in-class system, giving each sector a set number of places, and Shell won in the oil category, besting rivals like BP and Exxon Mobil.
Innovest cited Shell for "its history of aggressively investing in renewables" and its "innovative product development," says research analyst Dana Sasarean. These include large-scale wind programs and thin-film solar projects, producing hydrogen for zero-emissions transport and the first commercially available straw-based ethanol, and developing carbon-capture technology. And Shell is planning to build a pilot plant that would turn captured CO2 into solid form. "Over the last five years, we've spent a billion dollars in the [alternative energy] area," says Graeme Sweeney, Shell's executive vice president for Renewables, Hydrogen, and CO2.
Shell also gets plaudits for reducing its own greenhouse-gas emissions, second highest among all the Big Oil companies Innovest studied. But in 2005, the year Innovest studied, Shell managed to trim emissions by improving energy efficiency at its refineries and reducing continuous flaring of associated gas at its oil production sites. Shell has also shown adaptability to extreme-weather events. CEO Jeroen van der Veer is looking beyond "easy oil" in readily accessible wells and is going after oil in tar sands, beneath deep waters, in the Arctic and other "unconventionals," which means weathering rough climates and locales—a good skill to have these days.