Oil industry lobbied Scottish Government 200+ times under Sturgeon’s ‘open door policy’ to polluters
Research conducted by Friends of the Earth Scotland has uncovered the shocking extent of the oil and gas industry lobbying of the Scottish Government under Nicola Sturgeon.
Campaigners are concerned that the influence and lobbying by the fossil fuel industry has weakened the Scottish Government’s climate commitments and is slowing action on the transition away from fossil fuels. Oil lobbyists met Ministers as they were preparing the Climate Change Act in 2019, in the runup to COP26, and ahead of the recently published Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan.
The fossil fuel industry has made hundreds of billions in profits in recent years as household bills have soared. Oil companies are pushing to expand and drill new fields despite the devastating climate impacts of burning fossil fuels.
Campaigners are calling on Humza Yousaf’s new Government to make a clean break from the old regime and end the ‘open door policy’ to big polluters like Shell, BP and Equinor.
The analysis revealed that Ministers met oil company lobbyists nearly once a week over 4 years. Meetings uncovered include then Finance Secretary Kate Forbes meeting with oil company Equinor during the COP26 climate conference, Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse meeting with BP and Shell in consecutive years at the opera in Florence, Italy, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon met with the President of Petrochina at Bute House.
The scale of oil and gas lobbying in Scotland
Analysis of the Scottish Government’s Lobbying Register and its Ministerial Diaries shows that:
- From March 2018 (when the Lobbying Register began) to December 2022, there were 212 recorded meetings between Scottish Government ministers and representatives of the fossil fuel industry.
- Of these meetings, junior ministers were present at 115 meetings, Cabinet Secretaries 71 times, Special Advisors 26 times and the First Minister attended 12 of the meetings.
- Michael Matheson MSP and Paul Wheelhouse MSP were the industry’s favourites, both clocking up 39 meetings each.
- The other members of the Government who met the industry more than 10 times were Ivan McKee MSP, Richard Lochhead MSP and Kate Forbes MSP.
- SSE was the most active company with 62 meetings followed by BP with 32 and oil lobby group Offshore Energies UK with 22Scottish Government meetings.
‘Arsonists being asked how to put out the fire’
Friends of the Earth Scotland head of campaigns Mary Church said:
“Burning fossil fuels is the major driver of climate breakdown yet the arsonists are being asked how to put out the fire. Under Sturgeon it is clear that the Scottish Government has had an open-door policy towards the fossil fuel industry for years.
“Whilst the true scale of fossil fuel company lobbying is likely to be even greater than what is detailed here, this data, and the Scottish Government’s continued overreliance on speculative technologies that are designed to prolong the life of oil and gas, show that the industry’s lobbying machine has been allowed to exert a harmful influence over decision making on climate and energy.
“The fossil fuel industry has known about the danger of climate breakdown for decades and not only failed to act, but deliberately buried and obscured the truth about their role in driving it. They have repeatedly proven that they cannot be trusted to deliver a just energy transition. If tobacco companies can be banned from lobbying about healthcare, then by the same principle the fossil fuel industry must be stopped from lobbying on climate and energy.
“To avoid catastrophic climate impacts, and do our fair share globally, we must phase out oil and gas in this decade. As First Minister, Humza Yousaf has the chance to chart a new path away from fossil fuels without the industry trying to call the shots. If his Government is serious about tackling the climate crisis and delivering a just transition, it must cut ties with the fossil fuel industry and ban them from lobbying.”
The impact of oil and gas lobbying on Scottish Government decisions
Campaigners are highlighting how the Scottish Government is still heavily reliant on Carbon Capture and Storage and hydrogen to meet their climate targets, technologies which are backed by the oil and gas companies as a way to prolong the lifespan of the industry. However, these technologies are unproven at the scale envisaged and it is indisputable that they will not be developed in time to meet the need for urgent action.
In many instances it is clear from the research that the fossil fuel industry scheduled meetings with Ministers in the lead up to decisions being made that would impact their business.
For example, in May and June 2022, Equinor held meetings with Minister for Just Transition Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport Michael Matheson and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon shortly before they announced their plans to develop the controversial Rosebank oil field in the North Sea, in August 2022. The Scottish Government has so far failed to directly speak out against Rosebank’s development, despite it being over three times the size of the Cambo oil field which it opposed in 2021.
The fossil fuel industry has had a significant impact on climate policy globally, often pushing for weaker regulations, denying climate science and blocking the transition to renewable energy.
Campaigners demand end to fossil fuel ties
A global campaign to cut ties between the fossil fuel industry and the main United Nations body that tackles climate change – the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – has been calling for a conflict of interest policy that would ban the industry from meetings like Glasgow’s COP26. There is precedent for companies with vested interest in harmful industries being excluded from decision making spaces, with the World Health Organisation banning lobbying from the tobacco industry on global health policy in 2003.
Campaigners are calling for the new First Minister Humza Yousaf to end the relationship between the fossil fuel industry and the Scottish Government, by ending lobbying meetings between ministers and representatives of the fossil fuel industry. Only meetings necessary to regulate and transition the industry should be permitted, and these should be called by public officials and held transparently.
Notes to Editors
Research was conducted through systematic searching of the Lobbying Register from its inception in 2018 until the end of 2022, based on well-known fossil fuel and energy companies, and industry lobbying bodies. Additional meetings were found through examination of ministerial diaries from the May 2021 until August 2022.
The lobbying register only records face-to-face meetings, including video calls, but omits phone calls and video calls with cameras turned off, as well as meetings that were instigated by Ministers/MSPs rather than by the industry itself, so the figures are likely to be an underestimate of the total amount of contact between politicians and representatives of climate polluting companies.
Scottish Government Ministers most frequently lobbied by the fossil fuel industry were:
Minister // Number of lobbying incidents
Michael Matheson MSP 39
Paul Wheelhouse MSP 39
Richard Lochhead MSP 24
Ivan McKee MSP 24
Kate Forbes MSP 13
Nicola Sturgeon MSP 9
Kevin Stewart MSP 6
Fergus Ewing MSP 5
John Swinney MSP 5
Derek Mackay MSP 4
The top 10 fossil fuel companies and industry bodies doing the lobbying were:
Company/body // Number of lobbying incidents
Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) 22
Net Zero Technology Centre 10
Total Energies 7
Wood Group 4
Global campaign to stop major climate polluters influencing the UN climate talks:
World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control: https://fctc.who.int/publications/i/item/9241591013
Friends of the Earth Scotland is:
* Scotland’s leading environmental campaigning organisation
* An independent Scottish charity with a network of thousands of supporters and active local groups across Scotland
* Part of the largest grassroots environmental network in the world, uniting over 2 million supporters, 73 national member groups, and 5,000 local activist groups.