Fossil Free Oxford University

On 9 May 2013 Oxford University’s Earth Sciences Department launched a new partnership with Shell, one of the worst of the Big Oil companies. The opening ceremony of the Shell Geoscience Lab, part of this partnership, was presided over by Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Andrew Hamilton (VC of the University) and Alison Goligher (Executive VP for Unconventionals at Shell).

A letter published in The Guardian was signed by over 100 Oxford academics, alumni and students criticizing the partnership. Oxford University Student Union also passed an emergency motion on 8 May opposing the partnership with Royal Dutch Shell.

A deadly partnership

Shell’s core business activities and political lobbying are pushing us towards a future with a global temperature increase well in excess of 2 degrees. Oxford’s own climate scientists are warning us that we need to leave the majority of known fossil fuels in the ground, and yet this new partnership will undertake research that will help Shell to find and extract even more hydrocarbons.

Shell isn’t handing over this money out of the goodness of its heart. A look at the list of studentships offered as part of this partnership shows that whatever the scientific merits of this work, it will be of great assistance to Shell and will help the company to drill and frack for yet more fossil fuels at a time of climate emergency.

False credibility

Shell’s research money is also buying legitimacy for its unconscionable activities globally. These include human rights abuses in the Niger Delta, reckless drilling plans in the Arctic, controversial fracking in South Africa, and carbon-intensive tar sands extraction that undermines Indigenous rights in Canada.

Shell is gaining huge prestige and respect from a partnership with one of the world’s most respected higher education institutions, and at a very cheap price. Its £5.9 million contribution to the university, which is spread over 5 years, represents just 0.00035% of its global annual profits in 2012.

Drilling into the funding gap

Worryingly, the Government is endorsing this partnership, with Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey attending the launch event. The Government appears to be comfortable that its cuts to research funding are pushing our best universities into partnerships with the world’s worst companies.

Oxford student and People & Planet member, Ellen Gibson said:

“Our research institutions need the money and the will to develop new knowledge for the good of humanity as a whole, yet Ed Davey’s presence suggests that the Government is comfortable that its cuts to research funding are pushing our best universities into bed with the world’s worst companies”

Any Government that was serious about tackling climate change would ensure that our research institutions had the money they needed to develop new knowledge for the good of humanity as a whole, including research into sustainable energy sources. Instead, universities are being encouraged to form corporate partnerships where polluters get to influence the research agenda.

Saving the Earth (Sciences): Go Fossil Free

We are a group of University staff, students, and alumni, supported by local residents and environmental and human rights groups. We have come together to win our university back from Shell’s oily embrace. Here are a few things you can do to help:


“Shell has abandoned all pretense at playing a role in saving civilisation from the ruin of six degree global warming. Universities are increasingly part of the problem too. Most have become complicit seekers of funding, for short-term perceived interests, when a liveable future is at stake for the very students they educate. “

“This union of my alma mater with Shell is a potent symbol of the suicide pact we are all now part of. I have such fond memories of my time in this department. Now I am almost as ashamed of it as I am appalled by Shell’s desperate defence of a deadly status quo, despite everything climate scientists know and warn of.”

Jeremy Leggett, CEO of Solar Century and Oxford Earth Science alumnus

Find out more about:

Severing the links between UK universities and the fossil fuel industry:

Fossil Free campaign

Opposing Shell’s sponsorship of the Arts:

Shell Out Sounds

Opposing other Big Oil sponsorship of our public institutions:

Corporate sponsorship of science:

Science Unstained