OIL giant Shell is pumping £3 million into a new university centre – raising questions about the influence corporate bodies have on scientific research.
The project, a collaboration between Shell International Exploration and Heriot-Watt, aims to gain further understanding of major petroleum systems, including the UK Continental Shelf, by establishing a seismic interpretation and exploration geoscience research group.
However, while Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism Fergus Ewing has called the plans “an exciting new collaboration between the private sector and higher education”, others have voiced concerns over the growing use of corporate funding in seats of learning.
Councillor Steve Burgess, leader of the Edinburgh Greens, said corporate influence is increasingly being seen within universities as government funding diminishes.
He said: “I’d be seriously concerned if this funding means Heriot-Watt is drawn into facilitating Shell’s highly controversial prospecting for oil in the Arctic or if any work the university does into the impact of climate change were to be compromised. Scotland is a country rich in wind, wave and tidal energy: that’s where our research and development efforts could reap more long-term, less socially damaging rewards.”
However, the university defended the collaboration with Shell and approximately forty other corporate sponsors.
A spokeswoman for Heriot-Watt said: “Heriot-Watt is a leading UK engineering and physical sciences university supplying graduates to the oil and gas industry and conducting research and development post-graduate programmes. Across a five-year period we would habitually receive around £25 million in funding from about 40 different corporate sponsors, and we are pleased that Shell is one of these sponsors.
“Research and development must underpin the viability and sustainability of the industry and Heriot-Watt has an excellent reputation for its academic standards and quality of research.”
The new Shell Centre for Exploration Geoscience will be headed by renowned geoscientist Professor John Underhill, who said the investment from Shell provided an opportunity to undertake new, novel and fundamental geoscientific research at the Centre.
“The results will help further our understanding of the development, evolution and deformation of sedimentary basins and complement existing strengths within the Institute of Petroleum Engineering,” he said.
The Centre is expected to start recruiting its first intake of students within the next month.
Shell Exploration said: “This collaboration highlights our commitment to facilitate world-class research in subjects of importance in meeting the world’s energy demand.”
Are Salmond’s claims a pipe dream?
First Minister Alex Salmond has forecast that North Sea oil will fund an independent Scotland if there is a Yes vote in next year’s referendum.
Mr Salmond claims that only half of the oil available has already been extracted and that there is a further £1.5 billion of oil still beneath the sea, adding: “With Westminster having squandered the opportunities of the first half, it’s up to us to make a better job of the second half.”
However, debate continues to rage over whether these estimates are correct, with the Treasury claiming the First Minister’s figures were roughly 12 times the official figures which were provided by the Office for National Statistics.
Ed Daniels, the chairman of Shell UK recently reaffirmed the companies commitment to North Sea Oil, saying they would continue to invest roughly £2bn a year over the next ten to 20 years.