Rosebank: Scottish Government fails to oppose controversial oil project as Equinor lobbies for more drilling
Climate campaigners have challenged the Scottish Government to speak out against the controversial Rosebank oil field as they revealed details of the lobbying operation by the Norwegian oil giant Equinor who are behind the project.
New data compiled by Friends of the Earth Scotland show that from the 2021 election until end of 2022, Equinor has met 13 times with MSPs including five times with Scottish Government Ministers. The lobbying register also shows that oil lobby group Offshore Energies UK, who represent Equinor, met with members of the Scottish Parliament at least 36 times over the last two years.
With a UK Government decision on the massive Rosebank oil field drawing closer, Humza Yousaf once again refused to oppose the field when questioned by journalists at the All Energy Conference in Glasgow yesterday. Equinor also faced protests in Norway, Aberdeen and London to coincide with its AGM.
Equinor pressures North East MSPs
Prior to announcing its formal application to develop the Rosebank field in August 2022 Equinor pursued meetings with 8 MSPs in the North East and Shetland to convince MSPs to back the project, the data shows.
Oil extraction from Rosebank was also discussed at the 2022 Cross Party Group on Oil and Gas, chaired by oil lobby group Offshore Energies UK, and attended by six MSPs. The group lists amongst its aims: “to encourage greater recognition of the importance of the oil and gas industry to Scotland”. 
The Scottish Government has repeatedly failed to officially state their opposition to Equinor’s plans to develop the 500 million barrels of oil in Rosebank, despite Nicola Sturgeon speaking out against the much smaller Cambo oil field in 2021. None of the MSPs lobbied have called for the project to be stopped or signed the motion of opposition lodged by Monica Lennon MSP. 
Equinor is 67% owned by the Norwegian state and posted £9.5billion pre-tax profits for first 3 months of 2023, in addition to the £62billion in profits before tax for 2022. Despite their claims to be a ‘broad energy company’ more than 99 percent of Equinor’s energy production comes from fossil fuels.
‘Revolving door’ of political influence
Equinor’s influence peddling is aided by the revolving door – whereby politicians and officials jump from public office into lucrative industry lobbying jobs – or vice versa. Equinor’s Vice President Political and Public Affairs Global, David Cairns, was formerly the British Ambassador to Sweden and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Director for the Nordic Baltic Region. 
Cairns has had at least 8 lobby meetings with MSPs in 2022 and met with Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, Kate Forbes, during COP26 in November 2021. Every single meeting Cairns has had on behalf of Equinor gives the same description of purpose in the Lobbying Register – demonstrating the limitations of lobbying transparency rules. The meetings discussed Equinor’s “broad energy portfolio of oil & gas, offshore wind and low carbon activities” and “Future opportunities for engagement with MSPs in the Scottish Parliament”.
‘Insidious power’ of major polluter
Friends of the Earth Scotland’s campaigner Freya Aitchison said:
“This research highlights the insidious power that Equinor and other fossil fuel companies have over decision making processes in Scotland. The scale and reach of the Equinor lobbying operation designed to influence the Scottish Government should be extremely alarming to anyone who takes the climate crisis seriously.
“For decades, the fossil fuel industry has denied and delayed the need for real climate action, and it is clear that it has significant means to continue doing so. Companies like Equinor have too much vested interest in continuing business as usual and cannot be trusted to play a meaningful part in a transition away from fossil fuels.
“99% of Equinor’s output is fossil fuels and the company is planning for the expansion of oil and gas drilling across the world, with the Rosebank project as well as others in Canada, Argentina and Norway. We know that in order to stay within agreed climate limits we can have no new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, yet Equinor is deliberately ignoring the science and trying to persuade politicians to let it continue profiting from new extraction.
“There can be no place for the fossil fuel industry in decision-making around climate change – just as tobacco companies were banned from public health decision-making spaces, fossil fuel companies such as Equinor need to be denied access to power and influence in order for real change to happen.”
“To avoid catastrophic climate breakdown, and do our fair share globally, we must phase out oil and gas in this decade. 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.”
Notes to Editors
1. List of known meetings between sitting MSPs and Equinor
Research was conducted through systematic searching of the Lobbying Register from 2021 until the end of 2022, based on well-known fossil fuel and energy companies, and industry lobbying bodies. Due to a loophole in the Lobbying Register, meetings called by the ministers themselves are not registered, neither are meetings that took place over the phone or on videocall with the cameras turned off. Additional meetings were found through examination of ministerial diaries from the most recent Scottish elections in 2021 until end of 2022. Key meetings between Equinor and members of the Scottish Parliament are summarised below.
|01/11/21||COP26 – Scottish Event Campus (SEC), Glasgow||David Cairns, Equinor||Kate Forbes MSP (Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Economy)||https://www.lobbying.scot/SPS/InformationReturn/SearchInformationReturnDetail/31504|
|08/12/21||Video Conference||Lobbyist not recorded (Equinor)||Michael Matheson MSP (Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport)||Ministerial diaries: missing from Lobbying Register|
|16/02/22||Constituency Office, Aberdeen||David Cairns, Equinor||Audrey Nicoll MSP||https://www.lobbying.scot/SPS/InformationReturn/SearchInformationReturnDetail/31505|
|17/02/22||Constituency Office, Aberdeen||David Cairns, Equinor||Tess White MSP||https://www.lobbying.scot/SPS/InformationReturn/SearchInformationReturnDetail/31506|
|14/03/22||Constituency Office, Inverness||David Cairns, Equinor||Fergus Ewing MSP||https://www.lobbying.scot/SPS/InformationReturn/SearchInformationReturnDetail/31507|
|15/03/22||Scottish Parliament||David Cairns, Equinor||Liam Kerr MSP||https://www.lobbying.scot/SPS/InformationReturn/SearchInformationReturnDetail/31509|
|15/03/22||Scottish Parliament||David Cairns, Equinor||Maurice Golden MSP||https://www.lobbying.scot/SPS/InformationReturn/SearchInformationReturnDetail/31508|
|15/03/22||Scottish Parliament||David Cairns, Equinor||Michael Marra MSP||https://www.lobbying.scot/SPS/InformationReturn/SearchInformationReturnDetail/31510|
|16/03/22||Scottish Parliament||David Cairns, Equinor||Gillian Martin MSP||https://www.lobbying.scot/SPS/InformationReturn/SearchInformationReturnDetail/31511|
|18/03/22||Shetland Parliamentary Office||David Cairns, Equinor||Beatrice Wishart MSP||https://www.lobbying.scot/SPS/InformationReturn/SearchInformationReturnDetail/31521|
|10/05/22||Unknown||Kristin Westvik, Equinor||Richard Lochhead MSP (Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work)||Ministerial diaries: missing from Lobbying Register|
|16/06/22||Video Conference||David Cairns, Equinor||Michael Matheson MSP (Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport)||Ministerial diaries: missing from Lobbying Register|
|10/08/22||Video Conference||Lobbyist not recorded (Equinor)||Nicola Sturgeon MSP (First Minister), unknown others||Ministerial diaries: missing from Lobbying Register|
2. Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Oil & Gas. Equinor and OEUK are members, along with 9 MSPs:
3. Motion in opposition to Rosebank
4. information about David Cairns’ career in Government and the fossil fuel industry
5. Further information about Equinor:
Equinor energy mix:
Google translated version
Equinor is a member of the Scottish Government’s Oil and Gas and Energy Transition Strategic Leadership Group, an oil and gas industry-dominated advisory group.
6. World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control: https://fctc.who.int/publications/i/item/9241591013
7. ‘Humza Yousaf hints at potential move away from presumption against new North Sea oil and gas’
8. 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.