Oil and Gas UK

‘Our primary aim – and I want to underline and emphasise this – our primary aim is to maximise economic recovery of those [oil and gas] reserves’.

Who could possibly have given such a ringing endorsement to the continuing exploitation of hydrocarbon reserves at the Oil and Gas UK conference in 2017? Why no less than our very own First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon! So our First Minister  is down with oil and gas is she? Not half! She recommends tax cuts for the sector and repudiates those who challenge her support. Fortunately for this industry, this opinion is echoed by the UK Government, who have formulated one of the most generous tax regimes in the world, during austerity-era Britain no less! Well, clearly austerity never existed for the rich and powerful!


Nicola Sturgeon next to OGUK’s CEO Deridre Michie (left). Source: Flickr

Campaigning for a Tax-free North Sea!

How has this polluter-friendly state of affairs come into being? A 2017 Influence Map report places OGUK at the forefront of corporate networking for the oil and gas industry, arguing for a ‘lighter tax burden’ for this already under-taxed sector. At least internally, OGUK remain pretty open about this. In their 2019 membership pack, Deirdre Michie, CEO of OGUK proclaimed that OGUK ‘…stand up for the issues that matter to your business by engaging with governments, regulators, and the media’. Indeed, further on in the membership pack (pg7) they advertise that their engagement with the UK Government led to tax revisions, saving the sector over £100m a year.

We’re surprised that this laissez-faire regime (and OGUK’s role) hasn’t received more coverage, although intrepid organisations such as Scot.e3 have highlighted the laxity of the regulatory framework for oil and gas. But when there is media coverage, who steps up to defend the current set up? Why OGUK no less! Fancy that!

Sycophants of the rich

One of OGUK’s primary roles seems to be to deflect any bad PR – of which there is plenty – for this destructive sector. If anything, we’re rather impressed by their efforts, since in every report a different OGUK employee seems to be shilling for the industry. Clearly the work pays the bills and then some!

When planned North Sea investments are called out for breaching climate targets, up steps OGUK’s Mike Tholen to defend the sector. When Greenpeace occupy climate-wrecking BP infrastructure, OGUK’s Gareth Wynn bravely steps forward to defend our ‘need’ for the sector. When an employment lawyer comments on the general stripping back of employment rights in the sector, here’s OGUK’s Alix Thorn to proclaim that they don’t ‘recognise those claims’. And so forth.

We suspect that OGUK is keenly aware of the perilous state of the oil and gas sector in the North Sea. Firstly, because all the easy (and thus super profitable) resources have been extracted and, secondly, waves of political activism have highlighted Scotland’s role in the climate crisis, increasingly calls to initiate a just transition away from oil and gas. Indeed, when a scientific report suggested we need to close down North Sea oil and gas to meet the Paris Agreement, right on cue, OGUK’s Matt Abraham was there in a flash to pollute the waters of sensible thought.

A just transition?

In response to growing calls for a shift away from oil and gas, OGUK are pushing Roadmap 2035, which is a way for the sector to help the UK reach Net Zero by 2050. Ignoring the fact that aiming for Net Zero (a rather misleading concept in itself!) by 2050 is grossly insufficient, everything in this roadmap smacks of the usual corporate-friendly, politically unambitious tropes. Of course, that did not stop Scottish Energy Minister (and fan of wind powered oil platforms) Paul Wheelhouse from welcoming these plans with open arms.

From OGUK’s 2035 Roadmap. Might be missing something there. Source

We see Carbon Capture and Storage as the key solution. We see the need for continued extraction of oil and gas. We see hydrogen mentioned (but what kind, they do not say). We don’t see any accounting of actual emissions at the point of consumption (Scope 3 emissions). You can read for yourself, of course, but honestly, we do not think they are serious. But why would we expect anything different from an organisation committed to extracting as much out of the North Sea as possible?

It’s all part of the triple bottom line, which is the idea that corporations need to emphasise social and environmental issues as part of their PR plan. It also ties into the repeated warnings of OGUK about job losses from within the sector. Now, in this time of coronavirus, we don’t want to doubt the veracity of claims of job losses in the sector, what we would like to point out though, is that OGUK were making these claims during times of immense profit for the sector and that when the sector is called into questions for it’s workplace practices, OGUK step up to defend the sector.

A just transition this is not, OGUK need to go.