Just how crooked is the oil business? In
its latest annual report, Royal Dutch/Shell has revealed that a drive
to end bribery and corruption saw a whopping 203 staff and contractors
sacked in 2004 alone. This related to 16 different bribery incidents
and 123 fraud cases.

That might sound like a lot, but BP is worse: it recently revealed that
252 staff and contractors were sacked in 2004, a 50% increase on the
2003 figures. At least the British multi-national oil giants are
starting to reveal these figures, although Shell provided no
comparisons with 2003.

British oil majors have long been regarded as being less ruthless than
their American rivals, so you can only wonder at the sort of behaviour
that Dallas-based Exxon-Mobil, the world’s most profitable and valuable
company, and Chevron have been up to over the years.

Maybe this
explains why the likes of BHP Petroleum flopped so badly during its
multi-billion hunt for oil around the world in the 1990s. Instead of
drilling hundreds of dry wells across the globe, maybe it should have
just been better at the bribery business.

But with Woodside
Petroleum pushing hard to get into the Iraq oil game, it would be very
interesting to know the sorts of tactics being deployed by the
Perth-based company, now run by American Don Voelte, and its global
rivals. Senator Ross Lightfoot’s claims, since denied, of sewing cash
donations from Woodside into his jacket certainly put the question of
oil influence pedalling in Iraq on the map.

The oil industry has
long had a reputation for crookedness when it comes to accessing
reserves in corrupt third world countries. Shell’s various antics in
its huge Nigerian operation have long tainted the company. Controversy
in Nigeria remains as Shell’s annual environment report, also released
late last week, admitted that the promise to end the damaging practice
of flaring waste gas in Nigeria, had been extended from 2008 until 2009.

Of course, you shouldn’t blame Shell for this, as the Financial Times
on Saturday quoted the company saying the program was “behind schedule
because of our past under-funding by our government partner.” Of course!