‘Hard to fathom’: second ex-Shell employee added to Sepa’s board

The Scottish Government has appointed a former head of North Sea exploration at oil giant Shell to the board of its main environmental watchdog.

Dr Sue Paterson has been named as one of six new board members at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) by net zero secretary, Mairi McAllan. 

Paterson worked at Shell for nearly 30 years until 2010. Between 2002 and 2003 she was responsible for Shell’s oil “exploration and appraisal activities” in the North Sea.

Sepa is responsible for regulating Shell sites in Scotland including a natural gas liquids plant at Mossmorran in Fife, where gas flaring has caused environmental and health concerns for years.

Sepa told The Ferret its new board members “bring a unique set of skills”, are bound by an “established” code of conduct, and have to declare any potential conflicts of interests.

But one prominent climate campaigner said it was “hard to fathom” how someone with “direct links to the fossil fuel industry” was suitable for a role on the board of Scotland’s “key environmental protection agency”.

Paterson now runs her own oil and gas consultancy and is also on the board of the government’s economic development agency, Scottish Enterprise.

Sepa’s board is responsible for its “overall direction and performance”. Paterson becomes its second member with ties to Shell and North Sea oil. 

Earlier this month, The Ferret revealed that the chair of its audit and risk committee, Nicola Gordon, is a director at a Norwegian North Sea drilling firm. 

Gordon also had extensive experience at Shell and held shares in the company while on the board of Sepa. 

Those revelations were met with concern by regulatory experts who said it was “unacceptable” to be putting “poachers into gamekeeping roles during a climate crisis”.

One former chief executive of Sepa questioned the Scottish Government’s selection process for the Sepa board. He said it was “interesting that highly qualified environmental specialists have been unable to join the agency board” but individuals from polluting companies have.

There is already one former member of Shell staff on Sepa’s board.

Friends of the Earth Scotland expressed concern at Paterson’s appointment. 

The group’s climate and energy campaigner, Caroline Rance, said: “Sepa must be free to call out the greenwashing of oil companies and feel empowered to protect the public from these polluters.

IIt was “hard to fathom” how a thirty year career at Shell qualified Paterson to be a board member at Sepa.

“Appointing and lauding board members with direct links to the fossil fuel industry is symptomatic of a Government which fails to see these clear conflicts of interest and the negative impacts these actors are having on environmental policy making.”

The chair of Sepa’s board, Lisa Tennant, pointed out that the Scottish Government is responsible for appointing its board. 

“Each new board member brings a unique set of skills that will complement the existing strengths and significant contributions to Sepa’s work,” Tennant said. “

“Our Board members adhere to an established code of conduct and maintain publicly available registers of interest. Registers of interest for new board members will be published in due course.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We value very highly the benefits of having different experience and points of view on our Boards and we are keen that people from all walks of life apply for public appointments.

“The Sepa code of conduct for members is clear on an individual duty to be responsible for identifying, and taking advice on, any conflicts of interest that may arise during their term of appointment.”

The Scottish Greens were asked to comment.

Cover image thanks to Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

1 comment
  1. Whilst carrying out a littoral and semi littoral survey of The Clyde Fjord during 2021; following the movement of particulates from the coal spoil on the sea bed at Hunterston Quay, I met one of the then two SEPA field workers, who had formerly worked for a Norwegian fish farm company. SEPA really think; as 99% of the politicians obviously do, that the public walk around with their heads in their transverse colons…it ain’t us!

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