Outrage in Oxford as University launches partnership with Shell

Protests from students, staff and alumni as Energy Minister Ed Davey attends opening ceremony


The protest begins!

The protest begins!

9th May 2013

Today Oxford University launched a new research partnership with Shell, and opened the Shell Geoscience Laboratory. The ceremony was attended by Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Andrew Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University and Alison Goligher, Shell’s Executive Vice-President for Unconventionals.

The partnership with the Earth Sciences Department has drawn criticism from alumni, staff and students in a letter published in today’s Guardian. There are over 75 signatories (with more continuing to come in) including prominent environmentalists Jonathon Porritt, George Monbiot and Jeremy Leggett, Emeritus Fellow of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute Brenda Boardman, and Director of the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare Rachel Stancliffe. Last night, Oxford University Students’ Union passed an emergency motion to ‘formally oppose’ the partnership.

Paula bear listening to the apology from "Shell representative" Photo by Zoe Broughton

Paula bear listening to the apology from “Shell representative” Photo by Zoe Broughton

About 50 Oxford students, alumni, staff and residents protested outside the opening ceremony (see video), supported by several national human rights and environmental groups (see below). They held their own futuristic ‘closing ceremony’ – a tongue-in-cheek piece of street theatre [video will be available soon] set in 2018 which celebrated the closure of the ill-fated and unpopular Shell-funded geosciences laboratory after 5 years of criticism. The crowd heard pologetic speeches from ‘the Vice-Chancellor’, ‘Shell’ (including a direct apology to Paula the polar bear who was among the protesters) and ‘ex-Secretary of State Ed Davey’. This was followed by various creative chants such “We’re united in defiance, get the Shell out of our science”, “Oxford Uni funding fail, Shell’s just in it for the shale” and “Oxford Uni, please dump Shell. If you don’t we’ll raise hell!”

Later today two people were dragged out of Oxford’s St Edmund Hall, where the Earth Sciences department members were having dinner with Shell and the Vice-Chancellor, to celebrate their controversial new partnership. One of them started to calmly and politely explain why the partnership is receiving so much criticism, but was dragged out by the college porters. Film below.

The concerns about this partnership are wide-ranging. Shell is seen by many as an inappropriate choice of partner for Oxford University due to its enormous contribution to climate change. The new partnership includes research on, amongst other things, the location and properties of black shale - a type of rock rich in oil and gas. Whatever the scientific merits of this work, it will be of great assistance to Shell in locating and extracting more fossil fuels at a time of climate emergency.

Shell’s research money is also being criticised as an attempt to buy legitimacy for its controversial activities globally. These include human rights abuses in the Niger Delta, highly-destructive tar sands extraction which is undermining Indigenous rights in Canada, reckless drilling plans in the Arctic, and controversial gas fracking in South Africa.

Today’s action also marked the beginning of a movement for ‘Fossil Free‘ universities, spearheaded by student network, People & Planet, calling on the higher education sector to sever ties with the fossil fuel industry. Its petition calling on Oxford University to go ‘fossil free’ was signed by nearly 500 students, alumni and others, in less than 24 hours.