Hugo Kelly has been with us from the very start and always pens an interesting and controversial column with this piece on Shell no exception to his usual high standard.

BOUQUET TO SHELL AND PETER HARRIS

We’ve checked out the Shell website and reckon this subscriber has a fair point that Shell deserves a bouquet for at least fostering open debate about petrol pricing and other issues on their website:

Hi Crikey,

Following your recent request for anyone “doing it right” and deserving of a pat on the back, can I put forward Peter Harris at Shell.

The fuel companies, probably deservedly, have a lousy reputation, but having stumbled across the FAQs on the Shell site I was astounded and impressed at the frankness of the dialogue.

I wish more companies had the guts to respond to their customers in such a frank and PR free way. Take a look and good on them: http://www.shellau.com/petrolpricing/faqs/faqs.html

Regards, Michael (I have no relationship with Shell but am impressed to see honesty in corporate communications.)

Hugo Kelly begs to differ

Your correspondent Michael yesterday was so gushing in his praise of everybody’s favourite multinational predator, Shell, that I checked out the link he recommended here

Michael was “astounded and impressed at the frankness of the dialogue”, and no doubting there were a few angry questions from pissed-off consumers, with lengthy responses from the company.

But a cursory glance at the “consumer information” on the site reveals little more than mischievous propaganda on the part of our friends at “Go Well – Go Shell”. I was disappointed but not surprised.

Take the prominently featured graph purporting to show Australia has the world’s lowest petrol prices. The claim – studiously backed up with an authoritative-looking line on the bar chart – that US petrol prices come in a few cents lower than ours is ludicrous.

I checked the US Petroleum Institute website here and there it was in black & white: Petrol stateside is currently around US$1.45 a gallon. With those primary school conversion tables seared into my impressionable mind, there are 3.78 litres to the US gallon. Redoing your calculations with this figure, and assuming the A$ at 52 cents US, gives a price of around 74 Australian cents per litre, well below what you’d pay anywhere in Australia.

Another section of the site that made me laugh – or groan – was the Shell PR flak’s “explanation” of why fuel is so often cheaper at Independent outlets. Apparently it’s because “maybe the discounting cycle ended”.

How these petroleum types can suggest with a straight face their products’ prices are determined by Adam Smith’s noble “invisible hand of the market” is beyond me. They’ve never given an adequate explanation why “the discounting cycle” always seems to end on Thursday afternoon. Except the obvious: The oil cartel have rigged up a market designed to screw every single available cent from motorists.

While oil companies in general are an unsavoury, anti-competitive lot, I have a particular dislike for the Shell organization – a hangover of their role in Nigeria and the execution in 1995 by the compliant government of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. Their oil, for me, represents the blood of Nigeria’s Ogoni people.

Check out this Prwatch.org analysis of Shell’s cynical political manipulations in Nigeria: here.

So next time you’re on empty, give your friendly Independent operator a try. They’re the only ones who can guarantee any level of real competition, and they’re less likely to have blood on their hands.

We do not recommend following the advice of a naughty friend of mine, who delights in patronising the large Shell multiplex servos. Trouble is, as he tells it, he has such a faulty memory that by the time he’s checked the oil & tyres and washed the windscreen, he forgets to pay the cash register jockey – usually a freckled youth on $11 an hour.

Naturally, I severely scold this miscreant and remind him that stealing is forbidden somewhere in the Bible. But he just laughs and tells me the bigger Shell franchises are so busy stuffing their tills with motorists’ cash, they never notice him executing a sneaky “drive-off” and giving the security camera the bird once he’s filled his tank with Shell’s ill-gotten fuel.

I’ve advised him to get a PR flunky and set up a website.

Go Well, Hugo Kelly.

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Peter Fray

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