energy

New Scottish energy minister did a decade in PR for oil industry

Scotland’s new energy minister spent a decade working in public relations for the oil and gas industry.

Aberdeenshire East MSP, Gillian Martin, was made energy minister in a reshuffle by newly-elected first minister, Humza Yousaf, on Wednesday. Martin’s responsibilities will include developing energy policy and strategy, consenting new energy projects, and tackling fuel poverty.

According to her profile on the SNP’s website, Martin was the manager of an “emergency media response team for oil and gas companies for 10 years” prior to her election as an MSP in 2016. She also ran “her own business in video production and training for the energy sector for over 20 years”.

Green groups claimed that Martin had taken the energy minister role at “a critical time for the industry she has spent much of her career in”. They called on her to  “understand the urgency” of the climate crisis, and “act swiftly to implement a just transition away from oil and gas”.

The Scottish Government said it remained “committed to Scotland becoming a net zero nation by 2045” and to “the fastest possible fair and just transition away from fossil fuels”. The SNP’s coalition partners, the Scottish Greens, declined to comment.

Martin has previously voiced support for the North Sea oil and gas industry.  In a 2019 debate at Holyrood, she said that ending extraction of oil would “destroy the north-east economy” and claimed that oil and gas had “huge potential” to contribute to green energy production. 

“In this key role, the new minister must demonstrate that she understands the urgency of the crisis we are in, and act swiftly to implement a just and rapid transition away from oil and gas.”

Mary Church

Her defence of the industry came in response to a motion by the Scottish Greens that the policy of maximum extraction of North Sea oil was “incompatible” with efforts to tackle climate change. 

Following Shell’s decision to pull out of plans for the much-maligned Cambo oil field in December 2021, Martin claimed that until Scotland no longer needed fossil fuels they should continue to come from “domestic production”.

She added: “Cutting off our domestic production would mean we effectively increase our carbon footprint in real terms and put our fuel and power security at risk.”

In an interview about Cambo on the BBC Scotland television programme The Nine, Martin said she supported an “energy mix” where Scotland moves away from “burning fossil fuels” but recognises that “we still have fossil fuels that can provide a lot of the feedstock for modern society”. 

Since the last Holyrood election in May 2021, Martin has been lobbied by oil giants on five occasions. These meetings were with BP, Shell and Equinor – the Norwegian state energy company which is seeking to develop the controversial Rosebank oil field north of Shetland. 

Martin’s appointment comes at a time when the Scottish Government is consulting on whether it should support a “presumption against” new oil and gas licences and a phase out of production in the North Sea as part of its new energy strategy.

Last month, scientists produced a major report for the United Nations which warned that global inaction means key climate goals are likely to be missed and laid out how rapid cuts to fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas can help avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

The head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, Mary Church, told The Ferret that the evidence is “unequivocal” that fossil fuels need to be “phased out rapidly if we are to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change”. 

“Gillian Martin takes on the post of energy minister at a critical time for the industry she spent much of her career in,” Church said. 

“In this key role, the new minister must demonstrate that she understands the urgency of the crisis we are in, and act swiftly to implement a just and rapid transition away from oil and gas, that protects the livelihoods of workers and communities currently dependent on the industry.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to Scotland becoming a net zero nation by 2045 and our draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan, published in January, sets out a clear vision to secure Scotland’s fastest possible fair and just transition away from fossil fuels.

“The unlimited extraction of fossil fuels is not consistent with our climate obligations while also recognising that the oil and gas industry has made a vast contribution to Scotland’s economy over a number of decades, supporting thousands of direct and in-direct jobs. 

“Harnessing the skills and expertise of those in this sector will be key to securing the enormous opportunities that a net zero energy system offers the industry, our economy and our climate.”

Other controversy

Gillian Martin was previously due to be a minister in 2018 but her appointment was cancelled by Nicola Sturgeon’s government after offensive remarks she made about disabled, transgender, black and Jewish people were unearthed. 

The comments were written on a blog before Martin was elected to the Scottish Parliament.

Humza Yousaf has defended the appointment of Martin as a minister and cited her “fulsome support” of the Gender Recognition Reform bill as evidence of the “journey she has been on” since the comments were made. 

Cover image thanks to iStock/jax10289

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