Liz Truss’s chief of staff has been providing lobbying services to a wind energy company accused of “greenwashing” new North Sea oil and gas production, DeSmog can reveal.
The news comes as the government begins issuing a new round of drilling licences, in a move slammed by climate campaigners.
Cerulean, which specialises in floating wind power infrastructure and calls increased North Sea fossil fuel production “vital”, received public funding in January to back its plans to power drilling rigs with offshore wind turbines.
The company, which is working on a new oilfield with a Malaysian firm, says its plan will cut the amount of planet-warming emissions associated with the oil and gas extraction process.
Its approach dovetails with the government’s “North Sea Transition Deal”, which sees powering oil rigs with renewable energy as key to reducing the sector’s climate footprint.
But climate groups say the wind turbines will merely serve as window-dressing to justify increased fossil fuel production, since the vast majority of the industry’s emissions are released when its products are used in power stations, vehicles and buildings.
DeSmog estimates that powering the new rig with wind energy for a year would save the equivalent of 0.2 per cent of the emissions set to be produced by burning all of its oil.
The International Energy Agency warned last year that there can be no new oil and gas projects if the world is to reach net zero emissions by mid-century to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Tessa Khan, director of climate campaign group Uplift said: “Rather than help increase the percentage of our energy that comes from clean sources, oil and gas companies only seem interested in using wind to power their climate-wrecking oil projects.
“It’s ridiculous, when electrifying all the oil rigs in the North Sea would require the same amount of energy needed to power Wales. Power that should be going to homes and lowering bills is instead being used to greenwash the projects of oil and gas companies that are currently making record profits.”
Green Party Peer Natalie Bennett said: “We need fossil fuels to stay in the ground. We don’t need to attach a wind turbine to an oil rig and pretend it is a contribution to tackling the climate crisis we face.
“The suggestion that the company involved has been lobbied for by a man who is now working inside 10 Downing Street is deeply disturbing.
The Liberal Democrats’ climate spokesperson, Wera Hobhouse, said: “Even the oil and gas giants have recognised that the time of fossil fuels is over. To ‘greenwash’ its production in the veil of renewables is pathetic. It must be called out and the public made aware that fossil fuel energy is never green energy.”
According to a now-deleted page on its website, Fullbrook Strategies’ advisory board includes hedge fund manager Michael Hintze — a leading Conservative party donor, trustee of the BP-funded Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) think tank allied to Truss, and one of the few known funders of the UK’s principal climate science denial group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
A veteran political strategist, Fullbrook was appointed chief of staff by Truss after she took over as prime minister last month. Fullbrook Strategies is still active, according to Companies House, but a statement on its website says it has “currently suspended its commercial activities”. There is no suggestion that Fullbrook has lobbied for Cerulean Winds since entering Downing Street.
At the end of September, the government announced it would be bringing Fullbrook directly onto its payroll following criticism over the fact he was being paid through Fullbrook Strategies, an arrangement revealed by the Sunday Times. The Times has since reported that two more lobbyists from his firm have been working for the government on secondments.
Fullbrook Strategies, Cerulean, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy did not respond to a request for comment from DeSmog.
‘Green’ Oil Rigs
In April, Cerulean Winds’ founder Dan Jackson said there was no contradiction between the UK’s net zero target and further fossil fuel production, arguing that new North Sea drilling was “vital for our energy security and easing pressure on household bills”.
Jackson, who previously ran an oil and gas consultancy, has also spoken of the company’s ambitions to make “Scotland’s oil and gas production the cleanest in the world.”
In August, the company announced a partnership with Ping Petroleum, a Malaysian energy company, to develop a new North Sea oilfield called Avalon, expected to begin production in 2025. The project is being part-financed by French bank Société Générale, which has faced pressure from campaigners over its support for new fossil fuel developments.
Powering the rig with offshore wind power will “remove up to 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year, equivalent to taking more than 4,000 cars off the road”, Cerulean says.
This annual saving represents 0.2 percent of the expected overall emissions from burning the total 23 million barrels of oil contained in the field, according to a DeSmog calculation using emissions estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Twenty-three million barrels of oil equate to 9,890,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, using an emission factor of 0.43 tonnes of CO2 per barrel.
Last year, Cerulean’s director Mark Dixon told an industry event that electrifying the industry with offshore wind power could remove “up to 75% of all emissions across the sector”.
Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, who was business and energy secretary at the time, was present at the signing of the Avalon partnership and praised the move as a “welcome step” towards creating a greener North Sea oil and gas industry.
Kwarteng said the sector needed continued support to ensure the UK’s energy security. Experts have questioned this argument, pointing out that the majority of North Sea oil is exported because it is unsuited to UK refineries.
Official records show Cerulean met with then Energy Minister Greg Hands in June to discuss the role of floating wind energy projects in reducing emissions from oil and gas production, with excess power used to create green hydrogen.
The sector’s regulator – the North Sea Transition Authority, previously known as the Oil and Gas Authority – issued a letter of “no objection” to Ping Petroleum’s development plan in April, with a Final Investment Decision expected later this year.
In July, Cerulean announced it was also bidding for four “seabed lease sites” to develop £6 billion worth of offshore wind projects tied to oil and gas production.
Doubling Down on Fossil Fuels
The government has begun awarding more than a hundred new North Sea drilling licences and Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg has repeatedly expressed a desire to extract “every drop” of oil and gas from the basin.
That’s despite guidance from Business Department officials, who last year recommended renewable energy as the best solution to high gas prices and energy bills.
The UK government has embraced the argument that using renewable energy to power oil rigs could help reduce the sector’s emissions, a policy backed in the North Sea Transition Deal, published last year in collaboration with the industry.
Cerulean was awarded £825,692 by the government in January as part of a £60 million funding scheme to support floating offshore wind projects.
Of the 11 projects that won funding, only Cerulean’s appears to be connected to fossil fuels, with its project described as an “integrated system between the mooring, floating foundation and wind turbine for deployment at an offshore oil and gas facility in the North Sea or West of Shetland.”
Cerulean has also bid to develop offshore wind projects at four new sites, as part of a scheme administered by Crown Estate Scotland called “Innovation and Targeted Oil and Gas” (INTOG). If granted, those projects would appear to take up all the power capacity available in the current leasing round – handing the firm an effective monopoly over the offshore wind energy used by the North Sea oil and gas industry.
Last year, Cerulean’s Mark Dixon said the company had “proposed to the Scottish and UK governments a basin-wide approach, consisting of three 1GW [gigawatt] floating wind farms”.
Cerulean has said that its business model “requires no subsidies so there is no expectation on the public purse”.
Offshore Energies UK (OEUK), which represents the industry, wrote to then Chancellor Rishi Sunak in June to warn him that there was no business case for the electrification projects without government support. The letter, seen by DeSmog, says that several projects “are significantly net-present-value negative.”
Lobbying Firm Tied to Anti-Green Think Tanks
Fullbrook is a longtime associate of Australian election guru Lynton Crosby, having worked for CT Group, Crosby’s political consultancy, before he launched Fullbrook Strategies.
An archived page from Fullbrook Strategies’ website lists both Crosby and Michael Hintze, a hedge fund manager who has donated over £4m to the Conservative Party since 2002, as sitting on its advisory board.
Hintze is a trustee of the IEA, an influential think tank that supports fracking and new fossil fuel production, and has been credited with guiding Truss’s economic policy.
Hintze has also donated to the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), which rejects mainstream climate science and opposes government climate action.
At last week’s Tory party conference, the IEA’s chief operating officer and energy analyst, Andy Mayer, called for the UK’s net zero target to be scrapped.
A 2018 investigation by Greenpeace Unearthed revealed that the IEA had received funding from oil giant BP every year since 1967. BP and the IEA have declined to say whether this funding relationship continues.
Ping Petroleum, Société Générale, and Michael Hintze did not respond to a request for comment.