Shell spoof site drawing fresh attention after rig runs aground

A hoax website mounted by environmental activists to highlight the dangers of Arctic drilling and mock Shell’s search for oil in the region is getting fresh attention in the wake of the grounding of one of the oil company’s Kulluk rig near Alaska.

The website — designed to look exactly just like Shell Oil Co.’s real website — is welcoming a surge of traffic as people take to the Internet to search for more information about the Kulluk. Only most of them don’t know it’s a spoof.

For instance, one environmentalist emailed a quote attributed to Shell but pulled from the site to reporters Tuesday night before issuing a mea culpa few minutes later.

On Wednesday morning, a radio host on the NPR station KUOW in Seattle quoted directly from the site and attributed these comments to Shell:

“No oil company has ever operated in an environment as extreme as the Arctic, let alone with heritage equipment—yet that’s exactly the sort of challenge that makes the Arctic so appealing to many of us at Shell. On the slight chance that something does go wrong, Shell’s spill cleanup plan is second to none. No one has yet fully determined how to clean up an oil spill in pack ice or broken ice—but that too is exactly the sort of challenge we love.”

Careful website visitors might have picked up on the spoof if they looked closely at the image of the Kulluk, taken while it was docked in a Seattle shipyard undergoing renovations last year. Tattooed on one side of the derrick base is a muscle man caricature and the script “We’re pumped!” — certainly an unlikely bit of decoration for oil drilling infrastructure.

KUOW issued a correction later, saying that it regretted using the site in its broadcast.

The spoof is a collaboration between Greenpeace and the Yes Lab, part of a satirical campaign to draw attention to what activists describe as an oil company’s hubris in thinking it can conquer Mother Nature. The website has fake fact sheets on Shell’s plans and ships — with plenty of factual data thrown in — as well as an iceberg-zapping game and fake ads with a “Let’s Go! Arctic” tagline.

As part of the initiative, Greenpeace mounted a billboard on the highway near Shell’s Houston headquarters last July. The billboard featured polar bears and the phrase: “You can’t run your SUV on cute. Let’s Go.”

Travis Nichols, a Greenpeace spokesman, said the initiative is meant to highlight Shell’s “reckless” Arctic drilling plan and counter the oil company’s massive PR campaign.

“We’re simply presenting the facts in an unexpected way – Shell really is planning to drill in the Arctic, and they really are exploiting melting sea ice to drill for more oil, and they clearly have no idea what they’re doing,” Nichols said. He added:

“This company has billions to spend on advertising and PR, and that’s why we’re using creative tactics to compete with their traditional campaign. What we’re doing is pointing out the facts that Shell is trying to hide – like the age of the rigs and the very real threat to polar bears.”

Nichols noted that the site contains plenty of “clear signs” it’s a spoof, including a description of oil as “the dinosaur’s parting gift to man.” But, he said, “Shell’s ongoing incompetence has made our satire seem plausible.”

Shell officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While the spoof site gets fresh attention, the activists behind it are planning their own response to the Kulluk grounding. For instance, Greenpeace officials said they hope to send scientists to the region for an independent assessment, in light of official Coast Guard reports that the rig is upright and stable.

As many as 150,000 gallons of fuel are on board the Kulluk, locked mostly in the center of the double-hulled conical drilling unit.

It ran aground on rocks along the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island near Kodiak, Alaska on Monday night. But it started having troubles four days earlier, when boat towing it across stormy seas in the Gulf of Alaska lost its tow line to the rig and its four engines failed. Attempts to steer the Kulluk to safe harbor — including four failed bids to reconnect tow lines to various boats — were fruitless.

The fierce storm in the Gulf of Alaska that prompted the initial tow problems continues to thwart much of the response, including hopes to put inspectors on the grounded rig Tuesday in order to assess its integrity. Coast Guard officials said that remains a top priority and launched surveillance flights Wednesday morning.

Last year, Shell dealt with a string of fake advertisements made by environmentalists. Here is a sample of the fake ads that made their way around the internet.