Revealed: the 43 peers entangled in big oil

As many as 43 members of the House of Lords have investments totalling millions of pounds and senior roles in oil and gas companies, prompting accusations of “unethical” conflicts of interest.

An analysis by The Ferret can reveal that 33 of the peers who help make UK laws have shares worth a minimum of £50,000 in 19 oil and gas companies. A further ten peers chair, direct or advise 15 fossil fuel firms.

Most of the lords linked to big oil are Conservatives — 23 in all — amounting to nearly one in ten of the party’s peers. There are also 17 without political affiliations and three Labour, including five Scottish politicians.

Some 23 peers invest in the anglo-dutch oil giant, Shell, while others have shares in BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Total and Equinor. Companies led or advised by lords include Engie, Bahrain’s Oil and Gas Holding Company, Canadian Overseas Petroleum and Pakistan Oilfields.

Two peers with shares in Shell – Conservative Baroness Noakes and crossbencher Lord Burns – sit on the House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee. In September 2021 the committee took evidence on net zero climate policies.

Campaigners have described the revelations as “absolutely shocking” and warned that “big oil and gas has its tentacles firmly wrapped around our governments”. The relationships between lords and the industry were “worryingly cosy” and “deeply conflicted”, they said.

The House of Lords, however, pointed out that all interests had been declared and were “open and accountable”. One peer defended the role of oil companies in transitioning to a low-carbon economy.

The House of Lords is the second chamber of the UK parliament, playing a crucial role in making laws and examining government policies. It currently has 789 members, of whom 262 are Conservative, 230 are crossbenchers or not affiliated and 172 are Labour.

The Lords has long been criticised for being unelected, unrepresentative and archaic. But repeated attempts over decades to reform or abolish it have been defeated or abandoned.

The Ferret analysed the published registers of interests declared by all peers as at 1 October 2021. Peers with multiple shareholdings included the Conservatives Lord Glendonbrook, Lord Farmer, and Lord Spencer of Alresford and the crossbencher Lord Levene of Portsoken.

BP’s former chief executive, crossbencher Lord Browne of Madingley, declared directorships of Bahrain’s national Oil and Gas Holding Company and Germany’s oil gas producer, Wintershall Dea. He’s also an advisor for oil services provider NEOS GeoSolutions, and executive chairman of L1 Energy, an oil and gas investment company controlled by the Russian billionaire, Mikhail Fridman.

One well-known Scottish peer tied to the oil industry is Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, former Labour defence secretary and secretary-general of Nato. He has shares in BP, a paid position as the company’s advisor and gets “limited” secretarial assistance.

The former Conservative Scottish secretary, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, is director of Denholm Enterprise, which invests in Denholm Oilfield Services. Two former Scottish Conservative under-secretaries, the Earl of Lindsay and Lord Dunlop, have shares in Shell. 

Other peers with oil and gas interests include Lord Agnew of Oulton, the Conservative minister of state at the Cabinet Office; Lord Clarke of Nottingham, the former Conservative chancellor; and Lord Patten, a former Conservative minister.

The peers linked to oil and gas industry

Lord AdebowaleCrossbencherscrutiny board member, Engie UK
Lord Agnew of Oulton

Conservative, minister of state at the Cabinet Officeshares in Equinor
Viscount Astor

Conservativedirector, Canadian Overseas Petroleum
Lord Bellingham
Conservativedirector, ADM Energy
Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood
Crossbencher shares in Royal Dutch Shell
Lord Browne of Madingley
Crossbencher, former BP chief executivedirector, Wintershall Dea, Bahraini Oil and Gas Holding Company; advisor, NEOS GeoSolutions; chairman, L1 Energy
Lord Burns

Crossbencher, member of Industry and Regulators Committeeshares in Royal Dutch Shell
Lord Choudrey

Conservativeshares in Oil and Gas Development Company, Pakistan Oilfields Limited
Lord Clarke of NottinghamConservative, former chancellorshares in Royal Dutch Shell
Viscount CraigavonCrossbencher shares in Royal Dutch Shell
Baroness DeechCrossbenchershares in Royal Dutch Shell
Lord Dunlop
Conservative, former Scottish under secretaryshares in Royal Dutch Shell
Baroness Eccles of MoultonConservativeshares in Royal Dutch Shell, BP
Viscount EcclesConservativeshares in Royal Dutch Shell
Lord FarmerConservativeshares in Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Chesapeake Energy Corporation
Lord Flight

Conservativeshares in Indus Gas
Lord Forsyth of DrumleanConservative, former Scottish secretarydirector, Denholm Enterprise
Lord Glendonbrook
Conservativeshares in Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Chevron, Total
Lord GrabinerCrossbenchershares in Cheniere Energy
Lord Hain
Labour, former ministerdirector, DNG Energy
Lord Hayward

Conservativeshares in Royal Dutch Shell
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

Conservativeshares in Royal Dutch Shell
Lord Kerr of KinlochardCrossbencher, former diplomatshares in Royal Dutch Shell
Lord Kerslake
Crossbencheradvisory and scrutiny board member, Engie UK
Lord Levene of Portsoken

Crossbenchershares in Shell Petroleum, BP, Total
The Earl of LindsayConservative, former Scottish under-secretaryshares in Royal Dutch Shell
Lord LuptonNot affiliated shares in Royal Dutch Shell
Lord ManceCrossbenchershares in BP
Lord MarlesfordConservativeshares in BP
Lord Nash
Conservative, Cabinet Office directorshares in Royal Dutch Shell
Baroness Noakes

Conservative, member of Industry and Regulators Committeeshares in Royal Dutch Shell, BP
The Earl of Oxford and Asquith
Crossbencher controlling shares in, and director, of Fexol Group; shares in JKX Oil and Gas
Lord Patten
Conservative, former ministershares in Royal Dutch Shell
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Labour, shadow home affairs spokespersondirector, Eastsib Holding Company, RNG Joint Stock Company
Lord Rees of Ludlow
Crossbencher, Astronomer Royalshares in Royal Dutch Shell
Lord Ricketts

Crossbencherdirector, Group Engie
Lord Robertson of Port EllenLabour, former defence secretary, Nato secretary-generalshares in BP; adviser to BP; secretarial assistance from BP
Lord SassoonConservativeshares in Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron
Lord SkidelskyCrossbencherdirector, Russneft
Lord Spencer of Alresford

Conservative, party donorshares in Cluff Energy Africa, Deltic Energy, Pantheon Resources, Petrofac
Lord Sterling of PlaistowConservativeshares in Royal Dutch Shell
Lord Wasserman

Conservativeshares in ExxonMobil, Enbridge, Dominion Energy
Baroness Wolf of DulwichNot affiliated shares in Royal Dutch Shell
Source: House of Lords register of interests

The campaign group, Corporate Observatory Europe, described lords’ links with oil  as “completely unethical”, and demanded change. “These findings are absolutely shocking and show how the House of Lords is rife with conflicts of interest,” said the group’s Pascoe Sabido.

“These are supposed to be the people holding the government’s climate policies to account, and instead they have direct financial links to the fossil fuel industry. How can a peer with shares in the industry also be on the committee that tries to regulate them?”

He added: “Any ordinary person in the street would see there was a big problem, yet somehow Britain’s political elite think this is acceptable behaviour. We’re just a few days away from the UK hosting the biggest climate summit in six years, but this investigation only reinforces the image that big oil and gas has it tentacles firmly wrapped around our governments.”

The Fossil Free London group highlighted that nearly one in ten Conservative peers had links to oil and gas companies. “That goes some way to explaining why this government bends over for fossil fuel companies, providing billions in subsidies and allowing them to carry on drilling, all the while knowing that they are causing the climate crisis,” said campaigner, Robin Wells.

“There is consensus now that there can be no new investment in oil and gas if we’re to have a liveable climate. Why don’t we hear that chilling message from our lawmakers, the people we look to to get us out of this hole? Is it simply because too many of them make money from oil and gas companies?”

The environmental and human rights group, Global Witness, called for politics for be free of fossil fuels. “Our politicians are supposed to be working in the public interest but it seems that many politicians are deeply conflicted with the narrow and toxic interests of big oil and gas firms,” said the group’s Barnaby Pace.

The Ferret disclosed in September 2021 that three of the senior executives that run the UK Government’s oil and gas licensing authority have shares worth over £225,000 in the oil industry. Eight of the 13 members on the authority’s board of directors and senior management team used to work for oil and gas companies.

Greenpeace UK accused politicians of being “worryingly cosy” with the fossil fuel industry. “There’s Tory donors linked to the proposed new well at Cambo, most of the bosses at the Oil and Gas Authority have ties with industry, and the members of the House of Lords do too,” said the environmental group’s Sam Chetan-Welsh.

“How can these powerful people be trusted to seize the opportunities of the green industries of the future, when they directly benefit from propping up business as usual?”

The House of Lords stressed that members had all fully registered their interests as required by the code of conduct. “Members are also required to declare any relevant financial interests when speaking in relevant debates or taking part in committees,” said a spokesperson.

“This transparency ensures members’ financial interests are open and accountable.”

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen strongly defended his association with BP. “I make no apologies for working with, and investing in, BP, a company in the foreground of transitioning to the low carbon economy and which employs thousands of Scottish workers,” he said.

“The world, as it transitions to a low carbon future, will still need some fossil fuels to keep economies working and the increasing demand for energy satisfied. Energy companies will also still need returns from oil and gas to make the necessary investments in renewables and other low carbon alternatives.”

He added: “It is nonsensical and counterproductive to campaign against that reality.”

A spokesperson for Lord Burns said he had owned shares in Shell for many years and no additions had been made recently. Thirteen lords did not respond to requests to comment, nor did the Conservative Party.

A spokesperson for the North Sea industry body,  Oil and Gas UK, said:  “UK oil and gas companies are also the same companies behind offshore wind, tidal, hydrogen, carbon capture and other green technologies the country’s going to need to achieve net zero.”

Research by Rachel Tansey. Cover image thanks to iStock/Alexey Rezvykh.

This story was published in tandem with openDemocracy. The Ferret has received funding from the campaign group, Uplift, to investigate the oil industry, but retains complete editorial control.

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