The leading trade association for the UK offshore oil and gas industry has launched an attempt to defend the sector’s tarnishing reputation following growing calls from MPs to divest from fossil fuel companies in order to tackle the climate crisis.
In a letter sent to MPs on 29 October, before Parliament was dissolved, the trade body Oil & Gas UK (OGUK) sought to counter the mounting calls to divert investments away from fossil fuel companies.
The letter comes as a direct response to the October announcement that over 300 MPs have signed the Divest Parliament Pledge, calling on the trustees of the MPs Pension Fund to divest from fossil fuel firms.
OGUK represents around 400 organisations involved in upstream oil and gas extraction in the UK, including the international oil majors BP, Shell, Chevron and ExxonMobil, who alone are responsible for more than 10% of the world’s carbon emissions since 1965.
OGUK’s stated aim is to “strengthen the long-term health” of the industry.
In the letter, OGUK refers to its ‘Roadmap 2035: a blueprint for net zero’ and attempts to position the oil and gas sector as part of the solution in the transition to a net zero economy.
But its claims of being “unequivocally” committed to reducing carbon emissions contrast with recent analysis that shows the industry’s average capital expenditure on clean energy was only 1.3 percent in 2018.
OGUK’s roadmap proposes no viable concrete measures to decarbonise the sector, while openly boasting about increased drilling activity and new investments to maximise extraction.
Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org who initiated the global divestment campaign, said: “The fossil fuel industry is clearly running scared - because we are winning and our movement is forcing political leaders to understand that bold action against fossil fuels is required.
"OGUK’s feeble attempt to defend the industry to MPs is a dangerous form of climate denialism and barely masks the industry’s recent billion pound investments in new climate wrecking oil and gas projects.
"Our political leaders must work together to keep fossil fuels in the ground and bring about a global Green New Deal that invests trillions into a clean energy future to enable planet and people to thrive.”
Caroline Lucas, Green Party candidate for Brighton Pavilion, who has championed the Divest Parliament initiative, said: “The oil and gas industry is desperately trying to greenwash their dirty business model, but MPs must not buy their spin about decarbonising. To make a net zero future reality, we must shift our money out of industries that pollute and into industries that are clean.
"The public are calling for decisive action on the climate emergency, and that means voting for MPs who will stand up to an industry which is pushing us over the climate cliff edge. The Green Party has long championed the transformation of the UK economy and energy system by 2030 through a radical Green New Deal.”
Globally, oil and gas companies have approved $50 billion for new extraction projects since 2018.
Divestment campaigners argue that funding these companies is morally wrong and fatally undermines progress in tackling the climate crisis. Investors have also been warned about major financial risks associated with overvalued carbon assets.
Celebrating successes around the world, the global divestment movement is now backed by more than 1000 funds worth over $11 trillion.
In a further sign of the industry’s struggle for survival, the UK government recently imposed a moratorium on fracking (extracting gas from shale rocks), following years of intense opposition by local communities and climate activists.
With high-profile divestment campaigns such as Divest Parliament, the youth climate strikes and growing public awareness of the climate emergency, political leaders are under increasing pressure to take tangible action on fossil fuels. Polling suggests that the climate will be a decisive issue for most voters at the general election in December.
Gareth Wynn, communications director at OGUK, said: "This is an outdated view of an industry that is now at the forefront of finding solutions. With extensive engineering skills, capabilities and infrastructure, our people and companies can play a key role in supporting the UK and Scottish governments net zero ambitions, as we’ve outlined in our Roadmap 2035.
“It’s disappointing that instead of utilising the talents of the 270,000 people in our dynamic industry to tackle really tough problems, some want to shut the door while offering no constructive and practical way forward. This divisive approach won’t help find the solutions we need and undermines the extensive work in energy hubs across the UK to advance the transition.
"Our doors are always open to those who want to learn about our industry and we will continue to extend an invite to those who want to come to Aberdeen and other energy hubs around the UK so that they can see at first-hand what our industry is contributing to the net zero ambitions."
Marianne Brooker is The Ecologist's content editor. This article is based on a press release from Divest Parliament.