Extinction Rebellion (XR) Cambridge and XR Youth Cambridge activists blockaded oilfield services company Schlumberger today, as the COP26 global climate conference in Glasgow moves its focus to energy. Protesters locked themselves to a pink boat while others climbed on top of tripod structures to block the service entrance, disrupting business-as-usual at the company, which helps fossil fuel companies find new ways to extract every last drop of oil and gas from a world gripped by climate and ecological emergency.
Schlumberger operates in 85 countries and, at its Schlumberger Gould Research Centre in Cambridge, develops new methods of extracting oil and gas, including some of the industry's most harmful technologies: Arctic exploration, deep-sea drilling, tar sands, fracking and 're-fracking'. It is one of many fossil fuel companies with deep connections to University of Cambridge – which maintains these ties despite claiming to follow clear evidence from its own scientists that global heating must be kept below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. As well as hosting Schlumberger on its West Cambridge Site, the University provides training and resources through the Schlumberger Cambridge International Scholarship, and maintains a Schlumberger Professorship of Complex Physical Systems.
Last year, the UK Government provided, with no environmental conditions, a £415 million COVID-19 bailout loan to Schlumberger – while the company laid off one-fifth of its global workforce. Government support for fossil fuel companies like Schlumberger makes a mockery of Boris Johnson's claim that the UK is a world-leader on climate action. The UK Government currently has 40 fossil fuel projects up for approval, with a new coalmine in Cumbria and the Cambo oilfield in the North Sea recently given the green light.
Schlumberger claims that it has a "long-standing culture of global social and environmental stewardship". XR Cambridge points out that this is contradicted by decades of well-documented human rights abuses and environmental destruction carried out by fossil fuel companies around the world – the very companies Schlumberger provides its services to. Schlumberger has developed technology for Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC) – a subsidiary of the oil and gas multinational Eni. NAOC is a contributor to the ongoing environmental and public health catastrophe in Ogoniland, which, according a 2017 UNEP study, may require "the world's most wide-ranging and long term oil clean-up exercise". In a 2018 letter, The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) – formed in 1990 to resist the oil industry's exploitation of Ogoniland – condemned the University of Cambridge's fossil fuel connections.
An XR Cambridge spokesperson said: "We are here today because the Government, the law, the banks, the University – all of our institutions – are betraying us. How can we expect COP26 to create positive change when the host country is on the one hand urging other countries to reduce their emissions, and on the other giving millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to Schlumberger? And let's not let the University off the hook – instead of cosying up to companies like Schlumberger, it should be following the science produced by its own academics, and condemning the fossil fuel industry at every opportunity. COP26 is a betrayal – and the actions of the UK Government and powerful institutions like the University of Cambridge show this.
What do we want?
"We want the University of Cambridge to sever ties with the fossil fuel industry and instead use its influence to help create a sustainable and socially just future." the XR spokesperson continued. "The university must condemn the destruction of ecosystems and communities carried out by the fossil fuel industry, and take action by removing Schlumberger from the West Cambridge Site. We also want the UK Government to stop the greenwash, to stop lying to us about its commitment to climate action, and to end its support for planet-killing companies like Schlumberger. Instead, the Government must set out a detailed, credible plan to halt biodiversity loss and reach zero emissions by 2025. This must support workers impacted by the transition to a green economic system. It must also take responsibility for the UK's enormous current and historical contributions to the climate crisis, instead of 'offsetting' them at the expense of Global South countries whose wealth and resources we plunder to enrich ourselves.
"The public wants action. In an opinion poll last month, up to 94% of respondents backed a carbon tax on polluting industries. In another, 65% said they wanted to stop subsiding oil and gas and support renewables and home insulation instead. Climate breakdown is not about photo ops, it's about real action. Boris Johnson, put your money where your mouth is."