Some will rightly argue that Shell never embraced sustainable development, it only ever pursued long-term profitability at the expense of people and planet. The days of Mark Moody Stuart at Shell are long gone. The new boss at the helm is Wael Sawan, who joined Shell two years after the murder of the Ogoni 9 and Brent Spar, just at the time that Shell began to spin its image towards being a caring company.
Under Sawan’s leadership, Shell keeps courting controversy. Month by month, the company doubles down on fossil fuels, and sheds its last remaining veneers of being a company that cares about people and planet.
He has reversed what pitiful progress that Shell had made to address the scale of its CO2 emissions, angering climate campaigners and scientists. In June, the Guardian reported that Sawan “has rowed back on the oil giant’s climate commitments.” The paper added that since taking over, Sawan has emphasised financial returns for investors. He told financiers at the New York stock exchange that he wanted to “reward our shareholders today and far into the future.”
In September, Reutersreported that Sawan “has come under pressure over his strategy from within the energy company after two employees issued a rare open letter urging him not to scale back investments in renewable energy.” The following month, in October, Sawan responded by cutting 200 jobs from the company’s low-carbon division to focus on high-earning oil profits.
And now, last week, the day before the Ogoni 9 anniversary, it was announced that Shell was suing Greenpeace for over $2.1million in damages. But that is just the start. The legal action also calls for an indefinite blocking against Greenpeace protests at all Shell infrastructure worldwide, otherwise, the claims could be as high as $8.6 million.
The lawsuit, which the Guardian notes is one of the “biggest ever legal threats against the group”, was served by Shell after Greenpeace campaigners occupied one of Shell’s moving oil platforms earlier this year.
Whenever Shell cuts a climate commitment or threatens its critics, it loses its social license to operate. Day by day, it looks like a corporate Dodo. It may not happen tomorrow or even in the next decade, but Shell’s days are numbered. A just, equitable future does not include the bully boys from Shell who still threaten their critics. In our collective future, they will become extinct.
“I will stand up in court and fight this; and if Shell refuses to stop drilling, I refuse to stop fighting for climate justice,” one activist named in the suit said.
Oil giant Shell is menacing Greenpeace International and Greenpeace U.K. with a lawsuit that represents “one of the biggest legal threats against the Greenpeace network’s ability to campaign in its more than 50-year history,” the environmental group revealed Thursday.
The lawsuit comes in response to a protest in January in which activists boarded one of the Shell’s oil platforms while it was en rote to a North Sea oil field. Shell has given Greenpeace a choice between facing a full $8.6 million in damages or settling for a reduced charge of $1.4 million and a promise never to protest on Shell infrastructure again.
“Shell is trying to silence my legitimate demands: that it must stop its senseless and greedy pursuit of fossil fuels and take accountability for the destruction it is wreaking upon the world,” Yeb Saño, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said in a statement.
Saño, who is one of the activists named in the suit, attempted to board the platform and then met it in port in Norway to protest its arrival.
“I will stand up in court and fight this; and if Shell refuses to stop drilling, I refuse to stop fighting for climate justice,” Saño continued.
The protest that triggered the suit lasted from January 31 to February 12. Four Greenpeace activists used ropes to haul themselves onto the vessel while it was moving at full speed off the Canary Islands, Reuters reported. They stayed occupying the platform until it reached Norway. The platform was set to be used in the Penguins oil and gas field in the North Sea, which has not yet started production.
“He’s trying to crush Greenpeace’s ability to campaign, and in doing so, seeking to silence legitimate demands for climate justice and payment for loss and damage.”
The platform, the Penguins floating production storage and offloading unit, was the first new vessel that Shell had sent to the northern part of the North Sea in 30 years, Greenpeace said. While the protest was ongoing, Shell announced record 2022 profits of almost $40 billion. Greenpeace wanted Shell to stop extracting new oil and gas and to pay into a loss and damage fund to help vulnerable countries respond to the climate crisis. The activists carried signs reading, “Stop drilling—start paying,” The Guardian reported.
Saño said he had a personal reason to object to Shell’s business model.
“I have lived through the devastation caused by Shell and companies like them,” he said in a statement. “Ten years ago I spoke at COP global climate talks while my brother was still missing in the fallout from Super Typhoon Haiyan. Incredibly, he survived, but he helped carry the bodies of 78 innocent people who tragically did not.”
During the occupation itself, Shell and platform builder Fluor promised to seek more than $120,000 in damages. However, in a document seen by Reuters, Shell is now demanding $2.1 million in damages related to shipping delays, security, and legal costs, and Fluor is seeking $6.5 million. The suit was filed in London’s High Court.
“The right to protest is fundamental, and we respect it absolutely. But it must be done safely and lawfully,” a Shell spokesperson said in a statement reported by The Guardian. “Shell and its contractors are entitled to recover the significant costs of responding to Greenpeace’s dangerous actions.”
While Shell has offered to reduce the damages if Greenpeace stops protesting its infrastructure, Greenpeace answered that it would only agree if Shell promised to obey a Dutch court order to cut its emissions by 45% of 2019 levels by 2030.
Greenpeace said that negotiations between it and Shell had wrapped up and the organization had been waiting for details, or “particulars,” from Shell since November 1.
Areeba Hamid, co-executive director of Greenpeace U.K., said the lawsuit reflected the climate-polluting direction of Shell under new CEO Wael Sawan, who took the reins in early 2023. Under his leadership, Hamid said, “Shell’s abandoned any pretence of good intentions, and is brazenly embracing a sinister strategy that’s not just risky for shareholders, but completely devastating for people on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Sawan’s ditching green policies, sacking former colleagues from his renewables division, and he’s gaslit the world by claiming a retreat from fossil fuels would be ‘dangerous.'”
“Now he’s trying to crush Greenpeace’s ability to campaign, and in doing so, seeking to silence legitimate demands for climate justice and payment for loss and damage,” Hamid continued. “We need this case to be thrown out and for Shell to be regulated by the government because it’s clear Sawan is hell-bent on profit, regardless of human cost.”
‘Shocking’ findings show how board members at the Tufton Street think tank are tied to fossil fuel firms.
The influential Conservative-linked Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) has been pushing for further North Sea oil and gas drilling while several of its board members hold financial interests in the industry, a DeSmog investigation has found.
The news follows the government’s approval of the major Rosebank oilfield and the issuing of new North Sea licences, which the government intends to turn into a mandatory annual process, as announced in this week’s King’s Speech.
Five of the think tank’s board have financial interests in North Sea oil and gas, including its chair Lord Spencer, a major Conservative Party donor whose exploration company is bidding for licences in the current round.
The think tank, which is based at 57 Tufton Street in Westminster, meets regularly with ministers. It has called for new oil and gas projects to be accelerated, labelled the windfall tax on energy companies a “terrible idea”, and argued for a more generous fiscal environment for the UK’s fossil fuel producers.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is quoted on the organisation’s website as saying that “Lots of exciting ideas are being generated at the CPS… many of which are finding their way into government.”
Tessa Khan, executive director of climate group Uplift, said the findings were an example of how some think tanks have “long been little more than lobbying vehicles for private interests, including oil and gas”. The CPS denies that it is a lobbying group.
Khan added that organisations like the CPS “amplify the voices” of the oil and gas industry.
“This maybe goes some way to explaining why this government is set on subsidising new oil and gas fields when they represent such a bad deal for the public, in that they won’t lower bills, won’t increase energy security but will make the climate crisis worse,” she said.
Nature broadcaster Chris Packham, who is threatening to take the government to court over its recent watering down of climate measures, said: “Just weeks after we learn that not a single new offshore wind project will be going ahead this year due to the government’s intransigence – and as Rishi Sunak tears up vital climate policies – these findings are shocking.
“They provide further evidence that Number 10’s fossil fuel agenda is far from accidental. There are powerful vested interests at work and the Centre for Policy Studies seems to be at the heart of it. The government’s plan to hand out more than a hundred new North Sea drilling licences in the coming months is looking grubbier than ever.”
DeSmog previously revealed that the Conservative Party received £3.5 million from fossil fuel interests in 2022, including from the North Sea industry. This week, DeSmog also revealed that the government watered down its windfall tax on the excess profits of energy firms after a lobbying blitz by the oil and gas industry.
When asked about its board members’ business interests, a CPS spokesperson said that the think tank is “grateful for all our supporters, especially the support of our board members, but the investments of other boards on which they sit have no bearing on their relationship with the CPS”.
They claimed that DeSmog was “cherry-picking in order to manufacture an incorrect picture of the CPS’s position” and that it was “misleading and below journalistic standards.”
They added that “the Centre for Policy Studies has been one of the most prominent champions of free-market environmentalism, with a dedicated workstream on net zero” and that “Where our work is sponsored, this is made clear in the report acknowledgments, in press releases, and in event invitations.”
The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), the regulator in charge of issuing drilling licences, said that oil and gas were “forecast to play an important role in the energy mix for decades to come”. A spokesperson said the NSTA was “pleased” with the number of applications received in the current oil and gas licensing round and that the process of assessing them was “progressing well”.
The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero declined to add any further comment.
At the end of September, the International Energy Agency, of which the UK is a member, released a report reiterating the need for a phaseout of fossil fuels if climate goals are to be met.
Lord Deben, the recently retired chair of the UK’s Climate Change Committee, which advises the government, argued in August that the government should stop approving North Sea licences.
Lord Spencer, who has chaired the CPS since the start of 2020, is the largest shareholder of Deltic Energy, which holds stakes in 18 North Sea areas, known as blocks, according to NSTA data.
A former Conservative Party treasurer, Spencer was given a life peerage by Boris Johnson. Official data shows that he has donated more than £7.5 million to the Conservative Party, individual Tory politicians and officially affiliated groups since 2015. He also sits on the board of the party’s multi-million-pound endowment fund. DeSmog revealed earlier this year that many of its directors have significant fossil fuel interests.
Through his holding company, IPGL, Spencer owns a £17.5 million stake in Deltic, according to Refinitiv data – nearly a fifth of the firm. He has held a significant shareholding since at least 2018, and bought more shares in 2019 from its founder Algy Cluff, a pioneer of the original North Sea oil boom in the 1970s who himself later joined the CPS board.
Responding to an enquiry from DeSmog, Cluff said that although the value of the company “may have increased in the view of management”, the stock market is “unimpressed and very much aware of the risks associated with any oil investments nowadays”. He described the “small number” of options he holds in the company as “presently worthless”.
Cluff has nevertheless spoken of the North Sea’s “second coming”, claiming that there is “a lot more oil to be found” and a “huge amount of gas”.
Deltic has made significant discoveries in recent years, touting its “enviable reputation as proven hydrocarbon finders” on its website, and has seen its market value rise in tandem.
It won blocks in North Sea licensing rounds in both 2018 and 2020, with the former is said to represent an area the “size of Bedfordshire”.
In its latest annual report, for the 2022 calendar year, Deltic criticises the government’s windfall tax but praises its accompanying investment allowance, which provides North Sea companies with tax breaks to encourage investment.
A presentation it gave investors in March describes its strategy as “Identify. Explore. Monetise. Repeat.” It says the investment allowance “significantly enhances economics from investment in Deltic exploration”, touts controversial gas-derived “blue hydrogen” as environmentally friendly, and highlights “established export infrastructure” and “regular licensing rounds” as attractive features of the North Sea.
Deltic is chaired by Mark Lappin, a former technical director of fracking company Cuadrilla who has publicly called for more oil and gas production, criticising opposition to new drilling.
Lord Spencer’s Conservative donations, made either personally or through IPGL and ICAP, include £25,000 gifts to the 2022 leadership campaigns of Sunak, Liz Truss, and Penny Mordaunt.
Spencer made £20,000 donations to Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove and Sajid Javid in 2019, and has made smaller donations to numerous other leading figures within the party in recent years, including Kwasi Kwarteng, Dominic Raab, Theresa May, Brandon Lewis, and Andrew Griffith.
Spencer has also funded “Blue Collar Conservatism”, a large caucus of Conservative MPs working to “champion working people”, with donations totalling £25,000 in 2019 and 2020. The group has campaigned against fuel duty rises.
Spencer’s Other Fossil Fuel Interests
Lord Spencer has also publicly talked up the fossil fuel industry, telling LBC’s Nick Ferrari last September that the UK “sadly has opposed further investment in North Sea oil and gas”. During the interview, he praised then Prime Minister Liz Truss for speaking out against windfall taxes on the sector, calling them “not Tory policy” and “not pro-business”.
He also expressed support for fracking, praised Truss’s “strategy” and “ideology”, and called for investment in renewable energy, but omitted to mention his interests in oil and gas.
In addition to the North Sea, Spencer has various other fossil fuel interests. According to Refinitiv, he holds the second largest stake in Pantheon Resources, a UK company exploring for oil in Alaska that recently hailed a potentially enormous discovery.
His brokerage firm ICAP also includes an oil and gas trading arm. Until December last year, Spencer held shares in Petrofac, an oilfield services firm heavily involved in the North Sea, including the controversial Cambo project.
Spencer’s shareholdings are disclosed to the House of Lords – indicating either a stake worth more than £70,000 or significant control over the company. They include Cluff Energy Africa, described as an “early stage oil prospecting company, seeking licences in Africa (Angola and Sierra Leone)”.
Its founder, Algy Cluff, told DeSmog that they had “wound the company up” because they “found the premium being asked by governments for the right to explore not to be consonant with the rewards”.
Cluff was a director of the CPS between 1995 and 2006, coinciding with the executive directorship of the late Tessa Keswick. Cluff confirmed to DeSmog that Keswick helped him find investors for his North Sea consortium in the 1970s, as has been reported.
Tessa’s husband Henry Keswick, chairman emeritus of the conglomerate Jardine Matheson and a major Tory donor, used to own the influential conservative Spectator magazine and sold it to Cluff in the early 1980s. Cluff was its chairman until 2004, during which Charles Moore, Dominic Lawson, and Boris Johnson were editors.
Cluff’s remaining business interests include Cluff Mineral Resources, an Africa-focused gold and coal exploration company, which was temporarily based at 55 Tufton Street before moving next door to share an address with the CPS.
Another CPS board member, Lord Strathclyde, is a senior strategic adviser to Hibiscus Petroleum, a Malaysian oil and gas company that has amassed stakes in 11 North Sea blocks in recent years.
Ithaca, the firm behind the high-profile Rosebank and Cambo projects, is partnering with Hibiscus on one of the blocks.
Hibiscus is also one of the firms to have been awarded stakes in the latest round of oil and gas licences.
Strathclyde, who was leader of the House of Lords under David Cameron, is an adviser to oil trading giant Trafigura.
Sir Douglas Flint, chair of Abrdn – formerly, Standard Life Aberdeen – also sits on the CPS board. Abrdn has been targeted by protesters for its investments in oil and gas, which climate researchers Urgewald estimate at £2.9 billion. According to the latest figures, they include oil majors like BP, Shell and Exxon, as well as North Sea-focused firms Serica Energy, Harbour Energy, and EnQuest.
The major asset manager was reportedly one of a group of financial institutions recently summoned by the Treasury to increase investment in the North Sea.
Lord Spencer’s entry in the register of interests indicates he also holds a stake worth more than £70,000 in Abrdn.
Other CPS board members include Jon Moulton, chair of FinnCap, a financial advisory firm whose activities include raising finance for North Sea oil and gas companies, and Roger Orf, a partner at Apollo Global Management, a US private equity firm with £349 million of investments in BP and Shell, both major North Sea players.
Two further CPS board members have wider interests in oil and gas: Ian Molson, deputy chair of Central European Petroleum, which is exploring for oil in Germany and Poland; and major Tory donor Lord Bamford, chair of construction giant JCB, a sector still heavily reliant on fossil fuels.
In April 2023, DeSmog revealed that CPS board members had donated more than £600,000 to the Conservatives since Rishi Sunak became prime minister.
The CPS also leans on its board for funding. According to the group’s latest accounts – for the period up to September 2022 – its directors donated £1 million to the company during the year. Turnover was £650,000 during the year and ‘other operating income’ hit £1.5 million, meaning that the CPS board contributed nearly half (47%) of its income during the period.
North Sea Push
The Centre for Policy Studies has strongly supported new North Sea oil and gas drilling in recent years.
In a March 2022 economic bulletin, it recommended that the government “look at accelerating regulatory approval for upcoming oil and gas projects such as Rosebank [Phase 1], Clair South, Glengorm, Cambo and Bentley [Phase 2]”.
The bulletin added that introducing a windfall tax on profits would be a “terrible idea” and “completely self-defeating”. It welcomed “reports” suggesting the government was planning to launch another licensing round for fossil fuel projects.
A month later, the CPS welcomed the government’s “energy security strategy”, calling the return of annual North Sea licensing rounds “overdue”. A 33rd licensing round was launched in October.
In February this year, one of the CPS’s senior researchers criticised the “punishment beatings inflicted on the North Sea oil and gas industry from George Osborne onwards” – despite the sector having enjoyed one of the most generous tax regimes in the world until the recent windfall tax.
Other articles published on CapX, a commentary website run by the CPS, have labelled the Labour Party’s policy of no new North Sea licences “more than a little nuts” and the SNP’s similar position a “dangerous gambit”.
The CPS has significant political access, having conducted private, one-to-one meetings with ministers on 27 occasions since 2014 and attended many other larger ministerial meetings, according to data compiled by Transparency International from government disclosures.
A number of the think tank’s former employees are now working as government advisers and its homepage carries supportive quotes from former prime ministers Liz Truss and Boris Johnson.
Rishi Sunak spoke at a CPS event at the Conservative Party conference in 2019 and wrote a report for the organisation in 2016 backing the roll-out of freeports, which have since been introduced.
The think tank, which was co-founded by Margaret Thatcher, hosted a “dedicated space” at this year’s party conference, with speakers including Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, and Grant Shapps.
The chair of Times Newspapers, which publishes The Times and Sunday Times, and the editor of The Spectator,both sit on the CPS board. All of the titles editorially support new North Sea oil and gas.
Richard Sharp, who was forced to resign as chairman of the BBC earlier this year over his connection to a secret £800,000 loan to Boris Johnson, sat on the CPS board for 19 years before joining the BBC in 2021.
The CPS, which does not disclose its funding, has offices on Tufton Street in Westminster, alongside several other “free market” pressure groups and think tanks, including the climate science denying Global Warming Policy Foundation.
Other board members include Rachel Wolf, a co-author alongside CPS Director Robert Colvile of the 2019 Conservative manifesto, which said the “North Sea oil and gas industry has a long future ahead” and supported a deal with the sector that allows for new drilling projects.
Industry figures held more than 200 meetings with key politicians in the year following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, new research finds.
The UK government’s weakening of its windfall tax on energy profits matched the demands of a high-level lobbying campaign by the oil and gas industry, new research reveals.
Trade body Offshore Energies UK (OEUK), formerly Oil and Gas UK, and its operator members including BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, TotalEnergies, and Equinor, met with ministers at least 210 times in the 12 months following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
The meetings – which include in-person talks with the then Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and his minister Greg Hands (now the Conservative Party chairman) – are revealed in research by Fossil Free Parliament (FFP), a group campaigning against fossil fuel influence on UK politics.
They form part of a lobbying blitz by fossil fuel firms against the windfall tax, conducted through meetings, drinks receptions, letters, parliamentary groups, and a “fiscal forum” with the Treasury attended by the then chancellor (and now prime minister) Rishi Sunak.
The evidence, published in a briefing today (October 24) and shared exclusively with DeSmog, indicates that certain changes requested by the oil and gas industry were accommodated by the government when developing the scope of the levy.
It comes as Sunak faces criticism for delaying some net zero targets and granting 100 new North Sea oil and gas licences, including Equinor’s Rosebank project. As DeSmog reported in March, the Conservative Party received £3.5 million from fossil fuel and polluting interests in 2022.
A spokesperson for OEUK defended its contact with the government: “We will always champion our industry to all parliamentarians on a cross-party basis and do so in an open and transparent manner.”
Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, described the research as “shocking”.
“Fossil fuel giants have been committing countless climate crimes, polluting our planet and reaping obscene profits – while everyone else faces sky-high energy bills and a cost of living scandal,” she told DeSmog.
“This research reveals the extent to which the dirty fossil fuel lobby has been aided and abetted by this Tory government – taking their donations, offering privileged access, and handing over staggering tax breaks and subsidies to carry out yet more climate-wrecking damage.”
Windfall Tax ‘Loophole’
The Energy Profits Levy, known as the windfall tax, was announced by the government in May 2022 to tax energy companies’ billions in excess profits due to the global price spike fueled by Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
Then chancellor Sunak said the windfall tax would raise around £5 billion over the next year to help with cost of living. However, when the levy was passed in July 2022, it included a loophole where companies received 91p tax relief for every pound they invest in UK extraction, in what the independent Institute of Fiscal Studies called a “huge tax subsidy” for energy companies.
As of September 2023 the windfall tax had raised £2.6 billion, just over half of what was promised, and following a year of record profits by five oil majors. Between them, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and TotalEnergies made a total of £195 billion in profits last year.
The new research indicates this ‘loophole’ came about following a surge in meetings and lobbying between OEUK and its member companies with the government,
In June 2022, the month the windfall tax was being consulted on and drafted, meetings between the government and OEUK and its members nearly doubled from 15 to 29, according to the new research.
In the same month, OEUK also wrote letters to Sunak warning the proposed windfall tax would have a negative impact on oil and gas investments in the UK. The letters also called for an emergency summit, including a meeting of the “fiscal forum”, a talking shop between the industry and the Treasury. OEUK describes the fiscal forum as a tool for “facilitating coherent engagement with government authorities to drive the policy agenda”.
On 20 June, the day before the consultation’s launch, the British Offshore Oil and Gas Industry All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), which is co-run by OEUK, held a summer reception at the Houses of Parliament. The reception saw speeches from Conservative MP Peter Aldous, the APPG’s chair, and Greg Hands, then a minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
At the reception, OEUK’s then chief executive Deirdre Michie gave a speech claiming the windfall tax could “undermine and disrupt” energy investment at a time when the UK needs to focus on “energy security and working for net zero”.
Three days later, Sunak, Hands and exchequer secretary Helen Whately attended an “Oil and Gas Roundtable”. The meeting, also known as a fiscal forum, was held in Aberdeen, Scotland, with OEUK and members including BP, Shell, Equinor, and TotalEnergies. According to a 28 June letter from Michie, the meeting discussed the “negative impact” of the windfall tax “on investor confidence”, while companies warned of its “damage to the UK’s competitiveness”.
Michie wrote: “While we remain disappointed at the decision to create the EPL [Energy Profits Levy], OEUK and our members want to work constructively with you to help rebuild investor confidence and ensure that the EPL is designed and implemented thoughtfully and is fit for purpose.”
OEUK’s concerns appear to have been taken into account by the government.
For example, in Michie’s 28 June letter she insisted that the windfall must tax end in 2025: “Industry needs certainty that the EPL will be terminated by the end of 2025 at the latest and we would hope that ministerial statements will continue to reinforce the timebound nature of the EPL.” A deadline of 31 December 2025 was later included in the EPL bill.
Michie’s letter also requested that the windfall tax should not apply to the Petroleum Revenue Tax (PRT), a tax break that oil and gas companies receive for decommissioning oil rigs, adding: “[we] have written to your officials with detailed proposals on the changes to the draft legislation and hope you will give this significant consideration”. The final windfall tax bill did not apply to PRT, as Michie had requested.
“This research makes it abundantly clear that our government has an open-door policy when it comes to the fossil fuel industry”, said Carys Boughton, a campaigner with Fossil Free Parliament.
“They ask for special treatment; they get special treatment, and the rest of us pay for it – with obscenely high energy bills, and a worsening climate crisis.”
She added: “Our political leaders should be channelling every effort into a just transition from fossil fuels, but this won’t happen until the industry with a vested interest in keeping us all hooked on oil, gas and coal is kicked out of our politics.”
Jeremy Hunt and the ‘Price Floor’
A tranche of additional documents, obtained by Fossil Free Politics and seen by DeSmog, shed further light on the extent of industry lobbying, which continued beyond the introduction of the windfall tax.
After Liz Truss’s disastrous September mini-budget, newly-installed chancellor Jeremy Hunt used his Autumn statement in November 2022 to extend the windfall tax to 2028 and increase it from 25 percent to 35 percent.
OEUK raised its opposition to these changes with Victoria Atkins MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, in a meeting on 17 November 2022.
Minutes of the meeting, obtained via a Freedom of Information request, show the body’s chief executive Deirdre Michie telling Atkins that the windfall tax extension “plays into investors being undermined”, and that the 10 percent increase “will impact companies borrowing and projects”.
Michie also complained of a “lack of engagement” with ministers, and brought up “the previous HMT [Treasury] fiscal forum”.
A few weeks later, on 9 December, Hunt hosted a fiscal forum in Edinburgh with OEUK and its members BP, Shell, Equinor, TotalEnergies and others. There he promised “more regular fiscal forum meetings in future”, according to a Treasury press release.
Ahead of the meeting, OEUK said it would urge the government to “scrap the windfall tax on homegrown energy when oil and gas prices fall back to normal levels”. This would mean that if prices drop below a certain point, the windfall tax could be removed before 2028.
Ahead of the Spring Budget in March 2023, OEUK repeated this demand, reportedly writing to Hunt to call for a “trigger price” which “switches off” the windfall tax.
Lobbying continued through the spring. In a meeting on 15 March with Treasury’s Exchequer Secretary James Cartlidge, OEUK’s new chief executive David Whitehouse told Cartlidge that the industry was “extremely disappointed that oil and gas did not get a mention in the budget” and called for more engagement and “a public signal” to “shore up confidence”.
On 9 June, OEUK got its wish. Hunt introduced a “price floor” to the windfall tax, which meant the tax would end before 2028 if wholesale energy prices fall back to normal levels – as OEUK and member companies had been requesting.
When contacted by DeSmog, OEUK did not address the evidence of lobbying specifically on the windfall tax. A spokesperson said the industry body was “proud” to provide a secretariat function to the all-party parliamentary group for offshore oil and gas.
“The offshore sector is a crucial part of the UK economy, supporting over 200,000 jobs in communities across the country and in nearly every parliamentary constituency,” they said.
“Our industry is playing a vital role in the UK’s low-carbon energy future and paid £11 billion in production taxes in 2022/23. It has paid a total of £400 billion in taxes over the lifetime of the basin.”
Shell referred DeSmog to OEUK for comment. All other companies named in this story were also approached but had not responded by publication.
The Conservative Party, Cabinet Office, and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero were also contacted for comment.
Tessa Khan, executive director of Uplift, a North Sea campaign and research group, said the findings revealed the latest in the industry’s “long enjoyed unwarranted influence over our politics”.
“This is an industry that has made obscene amounts of money while millions of ordinary people – older and disabled people, families with young children – have struggled to heat their homes,” she said. “That they then lobbied in private against a windfall tax designed to claw back some of these profits, is disgusting if unsurprising.”
“The cosy relationship between government and profiteering oil and gas companies needs to end, not just for the sake of everyone facing unaffordable energy bills, but for a liveable climate too.”
Major fossil fuel companies are among Onward’s “corporate partners”.
Onward has had a meteoric rise. Since its inception in 2018, five of its founding advisory board members have taken roles in Conservative cabinets and its reports regularly feature in print and broadcast media.
Onward, which describes itself as “a modernising think tank” with “bold and practical ideas for the centre right”, was ubiquitous at Tory conference in Manchester this week. It hosted two dozen fringe sessions, and it will be out in force at Labour conference in Liverpool this weekend.
While Tufton Street’s free market think tanks refuse to declare their donors, Onward is something of a novelty on Britain’s right-wing think tank scene – twice a year it publishes names of anyone who contributes £5,000 or more (although the value of donations is not declared, nor what the funding is for).
Fossil fuel giants Shell and BP are members of Onward’s “business network”, where for £12,000 (plus VAT) members get invites to networking opportunities, briefings and previews of reports.
Onward has been vocal on energy issues. It has called for the Tory government to apply windfall taxes on renewables rather than oil and gas giants and has proposed diversifying “energy supplies through greater use of oil and coal in the short term”.
Last week, another Onward donor, Equnior, received government approval to develop the Rosebank oil field in the North Sea.
Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer said that it’s “a huge concern to see that a think tank with so much influence right at the heart of the government and the opposition is funded by fossil fuel companies”, adding that “we need to get fossil fuel funding out of politics”.
Onward said it does not accept corporate sponsorship of research reports, noting that it published a report last week making the case for government to go further and faster on decarbonisation.
In all, Onward lists more than 20 “corporate partners”, including Al Altep Holdings Inc, a New York-registered holding company controlled by Len Blavatnik, according to 2021 US filings. Blavatnik made his fortune trading commodities in post-Soviet Russia and topped the Sunday Times Rich List in 2021.
Al Altep Holdings has donated millions of dollars to both Republicans and Democrats in the US, including GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell. Another company owned by Blavatnik previously donated $1 million to Donald Trump’s inauguration committee.
Blavatnik, a dual US-British citizen, is best known in the UK for his sponsorship of the Tate and the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. He has not made political donations in the UK, but he has funded the influential conservative think tank Policy Exchange.
Blavatnik did not respond to a request for comment.
‘Unparalleled Branding Opportunities’
Onward’s disclosures give a rare insight into how a think tank’s funding pool grows. Five years ago, Onward had only a handful of backers, including some charitable foundations and the Tory-linked public affairs firm WPI Strategy.
By 2021, the think tank had more than a dozen corporate partners, including Amazon, energy giant SSE, the National Union of Farmers, and the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
The think tank has also received funding from leading Conservative funders, including mega-donors such as current party treasurer Graham Edwards, former Tory CEO Sir Mick Davis, and IPGL Limited, which is owned by Conservative Foundation board member Lord Michael Spencer.
Onward is well plugged into Tory circles. Conservative MP Neil O’Brien was a co-founder – along with former Theresa May staffer Will Tanner – and the think tank’s current director, former journalist Sebastian Payne, has put himself forward as a Conservative general election candidate.
At Conservative conference, Onward advertised drinks reception sponsorship deals for £30,000 that would give “unparalleled branding opportunities” at an event “for around 200 MPs, special advisers, journalists and industry leaders. It includes a speech from a senior Cabinet minister and remarks from our partner.”
But Onward has been building bridges with Labour, too. Onward’s pre-conference promotional material includes Labour MP Lucy Powell MP saying: “I think Onward are a fantastic think tank”.
At Labour conference, Onward is offering “partnering opportunities” that include funding a private roundtable “led by a senior MP or shadow minister”, priced at £17,500.
Responding to questions about its funding, an Onward spokesperson said that the think tank “is committed to openness about our funding.
“We are a not-for-profit organisation and rely entirely on the generosity of our network to support our research programme”.
This article was originally published on Peter Geoghegan’s Substack, Democracy for Sale. [a subscription site]