A public conference

held on 8-9 May 2013 at the University of Aberdeen

hosted by the Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law (CISRUL)


Summary of conference papers and discussion

Written by CISRUL Director, Trevor Stack 



Wednesday morning: Politics of Oil and gas—the big questions (click on session title for summaries)

The following questions will be introduced in the first session but will run through the whole event.

  • Who does and who should play what role in taking decisions about the future of oil and gas? Experts? Companies? Government? Civil society? Universities? The workforce? And what relations are there between all the different groups? Do they overlap? Are there hierarchies and, if so, are they a problem? How does all this compare to other countries?
  • Beyond the national, what voice do non-UK based companies have, and what voice should they have, in the decisions regarding oil and gas? What are the effects of the European Commission’s attempts to regulate the industry, and what has been (and could be) the response of industry and unions? What is and what should be the role of international civil society and environmental organizations?
  • If Scotland were to become independent, would the politics of oil and gas change? There would be negotiation over UK and Scottish claims, but would there be other implications? For example, would oil and gas companies (and unions) have more leverage over government if hydrocarbons were proportionally more important to the economy? More broadly, what are the implications of Scottish nationalists’ claims that sovereignty would be ‘popular’? Even without full independence, could Scotland advance the kind of claim that was made by Shetlanders?

Chair: John-Andrew McNeish

9.45        Welcome and introduction (Trevor Stack, Director, CISRUL)

10.05      Christopher Harvie, ex-MSP (SNP) and historian

Poisoned chalice, anyone?

10.20      Jonathan Wills, Shetland Islands Councillor (Independent), writer and environmentalist

Four decades of Shetland’s oil – some lessons learned

10.35      Discussion

11.25      Malcolm Webb, CEO Oil & Gas UK

Collaboration is key

11.40      Anna Zalik, Associate Professor, Environmental Studies, York U, Canada

Conflict and the oil industry in Nigeria, Mexico and Canada

11.55      Discussion

Wednesday afternoon: Profits of Oil and Gas (click on session title for summaries)

Chair: Trevor Stack

The first of three areas to be discussed is how the profits of oil and gas are produced, and what should become of them.

  • How much and in what way should hydrocarbon profits be taxed? Recent years have seen fluctuations in UK government tax policy, suggesting political uncertainty, while there are other options to be considered—the Shetland council has been able to make its own levies on oil companies. And when reserves run low, should government offer tax breaks to keep oil and gas companies here? Should they also relax labour and/or environmental laws including those on decommissioning?
  • How should such revenues be used? For example, to what ends could a Norwegian-style oil fund be set up? Should profits be used for investment in research and development, including of renewables, as in Brazil? Should they be channeled to meeting our global responsibilities in international development (see below)? Is it enough to rely on corporate social responsibility, both within the UK and internationally?
  • A slow pace of production is said to favour producing nations because it keeps prices up and allows for greater investment, but is this necessarily the case? If it is, should the UK government be pushing for a slower pace, as Norway has? If so, how would it affect its global responsibilities? How will such decisions be affected by the likely decrease in profits with depletion?

1.45        Charles Hendry MP (Conservative), former UK Energy Minister 2008-12

Energy profits and politics: comparing UK and the Caspian

2              Discussion

2.25        John McLaren, Economic Consultant, Centre for Public Policy for Regions, Glasgow U

The profits of oil and gas: implications for the referendum debate on Independence

2.40        Andrew Cumbers, Professor in Geographical Political Economy, U Glasgow

Surplus responsibilities: energy, ownership and economic democracy

2.55        Discussion

3.40        Helge Ryggvik Researcher, Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture, U Oslo

Should we go slower? Learning from Norway’s pace of production

3.55        Fernanda Wanderley, Professor in Development Studies, U Mayor de San Andrés, Bolivia

Politics of oil & gas in Bolivia: virtues and vices

4.10        Discussion

Wednesday evening: Environment risks and future energy (click on session title for summaries)

The second set of issues concern the environment.

  • How do the environmental risks compare to other countries, and how are they changing (for example with deep-sea exploration and with shale gas extraction)? Are these risks displaced onto vulnerable populations? Is sufficient weight given to slow damage to the environment, such as through minor but persistent pipeline leaks? What should be the policy toward waste and disposal, as well as toward the vast task of decommissioning, and how will it be paid for? What were the lessons of the handling of Greenpeace’s Brent Spar protest? With what could and should environmental concerns be legitimately balanced?
  • Is UK and Scottish government investment in renewable energy just electoral posturing or is it a substantive economic policy? How does UK policy and progress in that direction compare to that of other countries? Do politicians tend to postpone urgent decisions about environmental issues? And how is a sustainable energy policy best combined with a policy on hydrocarbon depletion?

Chair: Owen Logan

6.15        David Toke, Reader in Energy Politics, U Aberdeen

Beyond oil & gas – a renewable future

6.30        Rob Edwards, columnist

Should fossil fuels be left in the ground?

6.45        Discussion

7.30        John Broderick, ESPRC Research Fellow, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, U Manchester

Shale gas in the context of climate change; a golden age or a gilded cage?

7.45        Mandy Meikle, energy campaigner, Transition Towns

Net energy returns: why peak oil is not dead

8              Discussion

8.45        End of session

Thursday morning: Workforce – risk and representation (click on session title for summaries)

The third set of issues concerns the future of the oil and gas workforce in the UK.

  • Could and should the workforce have more of a voice in decisions affecting the industry? Are labour unions a sufficient vehicle in that regard? What issues arise due to differences within the workforce, for example between high- and low-skilled, citizen and non-citizen?
  • How committed are companies and the workforce to prioritizing health and safety, and is there any need for change? With what other concerns could health and safety issues be legitimately balanced? Are companies concerned more with legal liability than with moral responsibility, and if so does it matter? Does the workforce accept risks as the price of employment, and is that reasonable? Is there any need for change in the post-Piper Alpha regulatory framework and its implementation?
  • What is and should be done to address the skills shortage in the industry?
  • When oil and gas reserves run low, should government offer tax breaks to keep the companies here? Should they also relax labour and/or environmental laws including those on decommissioning? Is sufficient provision being made for redeployment of redundant workers at all levels?

Chair: Terry Brotherstone

9.45        Jake Molloy, RMT Regional Organiser

                The ‘politics’ of engaging the UK oil and gas workforce

10           Valerie Lockhart, Senior Human Resources Adviser, EnQuest

                Will new ‘people’ issues require a new ‘people management’? A corporate HR perspective

10.15      Discussion

11.15      Helge Ryggvik Researcher, Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture, U Oslo

The role of unions in the ‘Norwegian model’

11.30      Simon Pirani, Senior Research Fellow, Oxford Institute of Energy Studies

Kazakhstan’s oil workers and government: what we can learn

11.45      Discussion

12.45      Sandwich lunch

Thursday afternoon: Our Global responsibilities (click on session title for summaries)

This session will bring together the three sets of issues—profits, workforce and environment—but with a focus on the UK and Scotland’s global responsibilities.

  • Are UK-based oil- and gasworkers on overseas rotations and UK citizens employed overseas being held individually responsible for their conduct, and is there a need for change in that regard?
  • Could and should the UK government be holding companies operating on UK soil responsible for their actions overseas? How successful have been attempts of English courts to hold parent companies responsible for the actions of subsidiaries? What are the effects of the EC’s recent attempts to hold European-based companies operating overseas to the same standards as in Europe? Could a license to operate in the UK be made conditional upon fulfilling obligations abroad? How effective has the Bribery Act been in addressing corruption, for example? And what attention is and could be paid to the trans-UK environmental effects of UK oil and gas extraction?
  • Following on the Profits session, to what extent should oil and gas revenues be channelled to meeting our global responsibilities in international development? Is it enough to rely on corporate social responsibility? How effective, for example, have Shell’s development schemes proved in Nigeria?
  • What responsibilities do Scottish and UK universities have with regard to the industry, including in its global operations? What responsibilities do they have with regard to the foreign PGs who they train and who return to their home countries? And what role do they have in commenting on the global responsibility of companies themselves?

Chair:     Janet Stewart

1.45        James Downie, Partner, Stronachs LLP

Global responsibilities: a brief introduction to the legal framework

2              Discussion

2.30        George Frynas, Professor of CSR and Strategic Management, U Middlesex

CSR and international development: A false promise?

2.45        Barnaby Briggs, Strategic Relations Manager, Shell International

Serious about CSR: the reality of oil theft and corporate responsibility in Nigeria

3              Discussion

4              Tom Greatrex MP, Shadow Energy Minister

Oil & gas: political priorities and government responsibilities

4.15        Discussion

The final discussion will begin with a summary of the preceding discussion, given by one of the speakers listed below, before drawing together the issues that need debating with the opening question of who need be involved in such a debate, and how they should be debated.

Chair: Trevor Stack

6.15        Conference respondent 1: John Paterson, Professor of Law, U Aberdeen

6.45        Discussion

7.15        Conference respondent 2: Dick Winchester, Energy consultant and columnist, Press & Journal


  1. Excellent conference that highlighted in no uncertain terms that we are sleepwalking into a potentially catastrophic future.

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