It seemed like a hopeful sign of the times: News that Shell Oil might soon drop the word “oil” from its name. British Petroleum made a similar move not long ago, rechristening itself as BP, a company with a vision “beyond petroleum.”
But alas, Shell is not changing its name. “We are not,” Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith told msnbc in a brief statement, the company’s first definitive denial of the rumor.
As if to prove the point, Shell Oil—the U.S. unit of Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s biggest oil company—is right now amassing a multi-billion dollar team in Alaska. In the days to come, it plans to drill in the icy waters offshore, opening the largest untapped oil reserve on the planet. While in the area, it will not be putting up solar panels and praying to the sun gods.
Bogus talk of a name change ignited after a Shell executive offered what turned out to be a joke at a business luncheon in Toronto last week. Marvin Odum, the director of a Shell division that focuses on exploring for new oil reserves in the Americas, acknowledged to a Bloomberg reporter that the world was changing and so was Shell.
“Climate change is real,” Odum said, and Shell was actively looking at alternative fuel sources. Interviewer Matthew Winkler, the founder of Bloomberg News, then quipped that Shell’s expansive new investment in natural gas might make the name “Shell Gas” more accurate than Shell Oil.
Odum ran with the joke. Oil, he said, “is a little old-fashioned, I’d say, and at one point we’ll probably do something about that.”
Another Shell spokesperson told Vice News that the comment was “hypothetical.” Now we know it's also it's dead-on-arrival back at Shell headquarters.
“Look, it really doesn't matter what they call themselves,” said Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesperson for the climate change action group, 350.org. Still, he sees significance in little slips like this one.
“People are turning against companies like Shell, which is why so many of their executives are desperate to change the conversation with PR stunts and rebranding,” he said. “But that won't work, because slapping a new sticker on a barrel of oil won't do anything.”