DeSmog

Peers Urged to Sell Shares in Russian Fossil Fuel Companies

Over a dozen members of the House of Lords have ties to oil and gas companies active in Russia, DeSmog can reveal.
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Ukrainian protesters demand tougher sanctions on Russia from the UK government, February 24. Credit: [email protected] Royalty free editorial photo via Depositphotos.

Campaigners are calling on British peers to ditch their shares in Russian oil and gas as Vladimir Putin’s bloody invasion of Ukraine stretches into a second week.

Politicians in both Houses of the UK Parliament have been united in condemning Putin’s actions, which have created over a million refugees. Hundreds of civilians and thousands of soldiers on both sides are reported to have died in the conflict. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Putin would “never be able to cleanse the blood of Ukraine from his hands” while defence minister Baroness Goldie described the assault as “a blatantly illegal invasion – utterly shameful and completely shocking”  in the House of Lords.

However, despite widespread condemnation, DeSmog has found that a number of unelected peers sitting in the House of Lords are involved in Russian companies or those active in Russia. 

Doug Parr, policy director for Greenpeace UK, told DeSmog: “We’ve long known that the oil and gas industry has strong connections right at the top of politics and this appears to extend to the Russian industry as well.

“Fossil fuel connections should be ousted from our political system so we can get on with the urgent reconfiguration of the system we need,” he said.

‘Moral Imperative’

The EU, US and UK have all imposed sanctions on Russia affecting everything from the movement of goods to banking, insurance and sporting bans.

Companies have followed suit. Within days of the conflict breaking out, oil majors BP, Shell, Equinor and Exxon swiftly announced they would be withdrawing from all business operations in Russia, on moral and economic grounds. 

Following a conversation with Shell CEO Ben van Beurden, UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng tweeted there was a “strong moral imperative on British companies to isolate Russia”. 

The International Energy Agency has also urged Europe to reduce its reliance on Russian gas by abstaining from signing any new supply contracts with Russia’s state-owned Gazprom.

The latest register reveals Lord Glendonbrook and Lord Levene both have stakes in French oil company TotalEnergies, which is under mounting pressure to follow the suit of its fellow energy rivals. 

Conservative peer Lord Sassoon has shares in U.S. oil company Chevron, which has a 15 percent stake in the Caspian pipeline, carrying crude oil from Kazakhstan through Russia to the Black Sea. Chevron has so far signalled it will not withdraw its support for the pipeline.

Crossbench peers Lord Kerslake, former head of the civil service, and Lord Adebowale, current chair of the NHS Confederation, are both listed as scrutiny board members for Engie UK, a subsidiary of the French utility provider. Engie, which holds a long-term contract with Russian state energy firm Gazprom, said in a statement it would comply with European sanctions but would not yet exit to “continue to prioritise the security of energy supply to its clients”. 

Lord Adebowale told DeSmog he had left the Engie UK board last year, and would alter his financial interests to reflect this. Lord Kerslake clarified that he was an advisor for Engie’s newly formed energy services company Equans, and his position was on the UK arm of this “service business”.

Tory peer Lord Spencer, a major donor to the Conservative Party – who has also served as its treasurer – is listed as holding shares in Petrofac, a UK oil-services provider based in Jersey. The company, founded by major Tory donor Ayman Asfari, signed a “strategic partnership” with Russian state energy firm Gazprom last year. 

A number of members also currently have financial stakes in HSBC.  The major UK bank owns equity stakes in five of the top Russian oil and gas companies, and has been a lead manager on deals for Gazprom in recent years, according to campaign group Marketforces.

Financial Interests

Peers also have stakes in lesser-known fossil fuel companies. Former Conservative Party leader Michael Howard, who joined the Lords in 2010, lists shares in Soma Oil and Gas (now known as Coastline Exploration). He previously chaired the company, which is backed by Russian oligarch Alexander Djaparidze. 

The Lords’ register also reveals that Labour peer and the shadow justice minister Lord Ponsonby, a former petroleum engineer, sits on the board of two oil exploration companies active in Russia. 

Ponsonby chairs the board of the Eastsib Holding Group, which owns several geological exploration companies operating in the Russian Federation. Ponsonby is also a board member for RNG Joint Stock Company, an international oil and gas exploration company which is headquartered in Moscow. He was previously on the board of private Russian oil and gas company Rosneftegaz. 

Some members of the Lords have expressed their strong support for Ukraine, despite their ties to Russian interests.

Lord Ponsonby addressed the House of Lords on the crisis this week, with a plea for the Government “to ameliorate the situation of our friends and comrades in Ukraine in their hour of need’ and urged the House they should do “everything we can to support refugees”. 

Ponsonby did not respond to DeSmog’s request for comment.

‘Why Are They There?’

Reacting to DeSmog’s findings, Robert Noyes, energy researcher at campaign group Platform London, said: “Unelected members of the House of Lords have propped up Putin’s imperial war. 

“Beyond the gas that fuels the tanks, there’s a financial and political architecture that enabled it – some of these Lords helped it get built.” 

Noyes also questioned whether oil majors should be praised for exiting Russia.

“We must scrutinise why they were involved in the first place,” he said. “While some in Parliament may praise BP for pulling out of Rosneft and Russia, [these findings reveal] key figures in developing BP’s 33-year oil stakes in post-USSR Russia sit now in the upper chamber,” he said.

“To unravel crude Britannia in the decade to come, everyone knows we need to cut emissions fast. To do that, we need also to cut the ties connecting Parliament and authoritarian fossil capital around the world.”

All individuals mentioned in the article were contacted for comment prior to publication.

Phoebe Cooke headshot - credit Laura King Photography
Phoebe joined DeSmog in 2020. She is currently co-deputy editor and was previously the organisation's Senior Reporter.
Michaela
Michaela is the Lead Researcher at DeSmog, with a particular focus on agribusiness and the livestock sector.

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