Oil regulators with fossil fuel shares ‘getting richer’ from energy crisis

Senior staff at the UK Government’s oil industry regulator hold shares in fossil fuel firms worth nearly half a million pounds — prompting claims they are “getting richer” while millions face dangerous climate-related heatwaves and soaring energy prices. 

Three members of the board of the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) in 2021-22 had combined shares worth £428k in companies involved in the oil and gas industry.

These investments have grown in value by over £120k since March 2021, according to the most recent data. Fossil fuel firms have seen massive profits in the last year, caused by a major hike in the price of oil and gas.

The findings have provoked angry responses from green campaigners. One said it “beggars belief” that the people responsible for regulating the oil and gas industry are “raking in dividends” on shares while thousands more Britons are pushed into fuel poverty.

They argued that it was “a clear conflict of interest” for regulators to have a “huge financial stake” in the sector they oversee.  

The NSTA — which was known as the Oil and Gas Authority until March 2022 — is responsible for licensing new oil and gas projects in the North Sea. The Ferret first revealed that members of its board had shares in oil companies in September 2021. 

The authority said its conflict of interest policy means board members need to declare any financial interests which “may, or may be perceived to, influence their duties” each year. They also have to state any conflicts of interests with agenda items at the beginning of each board meeting and sit out these items.

The figures come from the regulator’s annual report which was published on 15 June. 

How can the British public trust that the regulator is unbiased when its members have such obvious ties to the oil and gas industry?

Tessa Khan, Uplift

The NSTA’s chair — former Tory energy minister, Tim Eggar — has shares worth £83,604 in MyCelx, an oil services company which he was a non-executive chair of between 2011 and 2021. These shares saw a £26,000 increase in value between March 2021 and March 2022. 

One of Eggar’s family members has shares worth £54,910 in oil giants Shell and BP. These are worth £17,790 more in 2022 than they were in 2021.

Iain Lanaghan, a non-executive director, also had shares in Shell and BP which are valued at £11,365 in 2022 compared with £7,779 in 2021. 

Another non-executive director, Frances Morris-Jones — who has now left the NSTA — had the biggest haul of oil industry shares at the time of her departure. 

Morris-Jones’ investments in firms including BP and ConocoPhillips were worth £333,145 when she left the body at the end of September last year. This was an increase in value of nearly £100k over just six months between March and September 2021.

The  annual report notes that it does not consider the shares held by its board members to be “sufficiently significant to impair their independent judgement in board discussions”. It adds that the board does not consider that “any decision within the NSTA’s powers could materially impact the value of their shareholdings”. 

All of the share values are from the end of March 2022, except those for Frances Morris-Jones which are from the end of September 2021, when she left the regulator.

NameCompany (s)Total value of shares 2021 (£)Total value of shares 2022 (£)Growth (£)
Tim EggarMyCelx57,61083,60425,994
Iain LanaghanBP, Shell7,77911,3653,586
Frances Morris-JonesBP, ConocoPhillips, Phillips 66241,502333,14591,643

The NSTA is a UK Government company with the British energy minister as its sole shareholder. It is legally responsible for both the regulation and promotion of the UK oil and gas industry.

The authority is set to hold a new licensing round — in which areas of the North Sea are auctioned off for oil and gas exploration — this autumn. The last of these, held in September 2020, saw the NSTA award licences to 65 companies across 260 areas of the UK Continental Shelf.

The body also decides which oil and gas fields can be developed. So far this year it has approved Shell’s plans to develop a controversial gas field called Jackdaw

Green groups were critical of this decision and argue that no new oil and gas projects can go ahead if climate change is to be limited to safe levels.

Read more from The Ferret about the oil and gas industry here

Tessa Khan, director of the campaign group Uplift, said it was “outrageous” that oil industry regulators “have such a clear interest in continued North Sea oil and gas expansion”. 

Khan added: “This winter we will see thousands more people pushed into fuel poverty, unable to heat their homes and possibly even having to rely on public spaces to keep warm due to soaring energy costs. 

“Meanwhile, people within the oil and gas regulator are raking in dividends from shares held in the very industry they are supposedly regulating. 

“How can the British public trust that the regulator is unbiased when its members have such obvious ties to the oil and gas industry?”

Ryan Morrison, Friends of the Earth Scotland’s just transition campaigner, said the NSTA’s recent rebrand does not “hide” the fact that it is a “fawning cheerleader” for the oil and gas industry. 

“As heat across Europe soars to new extremes and fossil fuel prices are pushing millions into poverty, it beggars belief that those appointed to regulate the oil and gas industry are getting richer off the back of these crises,” Morrison told The Ferret. 

“It is a clear conflict of interest that these individuals who are supposed to properly oversee these companies have a huge financial stake in their continuing with climate-wrecking business-as-usual.”

The NSTA told The Ferret: “In accordance with the NSTA’s conflict of interest policy, directors must declare any financial interests which may, or may be perceived to, influence their judgement in performing their duties as directors of the NSTA. 

“This is done on appointment and annually. Directors are further asked to declare any conflicts of interest at the start of each board meeting. If a director declares a conflict of interest with any agenda item, they will not participate in the discussion of that item.”

Photo Credit: iStock/amiralio

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