Activist group accuses Shell of misleading investors on renewables

Energy company Shell's logo is pictured seen during a launch event for a hydrogen electrolysis plant at its Rhineland refinery in Germany
Energy company Shell's logo is pictured seen during a launch event for a hydrogen electrolysis plant at its Rhineland refinery in Wesseling near Cologne, Germany, July 2, 2021. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen

LONDON, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Oil major Shell (SHEL.L) has been accused of misleading investors over its renewable energy spending plans in a complaint filed with the U.S. securities regulator by activist group Global Witness.

Like other leading European energy companies, Shell is aiming for rapid expansion of its low-carbon and renewables business as part of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades.

In Wednesday's complaint to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Global Witness said it was "concerned that Shell has materially misstated its financial commitment to renewable sources of energy by inflating" its spending in that area.

The British company said in February 2021 that it aims to spend between $2 billion and $3 billion a year on renewables and energy solutions.

Shell's spending on the division, which includes renewables, carbon capture and offsets as well as hydrogen and retail gas and power sales, amounted to $2.4 billion in 2021, its annual report said. That equated to 12% of the company's total spending.

Global Witness said that its own calculations showed Shell spent only 1.5%, or $288 million, of its total spending of $20 billion on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

Shell rejected the accusations, saying it is "confident that its financial disclosures are fully compliant with all SEC and other reporting requirements".

The complaint also requested that the SEC examine whether the inclusion of gas trading in Shell's renewables and energy solutions division "constitutes a materially misleading misstatement".

Shell accelerated its investments in renewables in 2022 with the $1.55 billion acquisition of India-based Sprng and an agreement to buy Danish renewable natural gas company Nature Energy for $2 billion.

Reporting by Ron Bousso Editing by David Goodman

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Ron has covered since 2014 the world’s top oil and gas companies, focusing on their efforts to shift into renewables and low carbon energy and the sector's turmoil during the COVID-19 pandemic and following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. He has been named Reporter of the Year in 2014 and 2021 by Reuters. Before Reuters, Ron reported on equity markets in New York in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis after covering conflict and diplomacy in the Middle East for AFP out of Israel.