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The 2009 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Photo: ideum @Flickr

A history of fossil fuel investment at the University of Manchester

This article is a supplement to our fracking investigation ‘Are universities fuelling fracking?’

The University of Manchester holds shares in multiple oil and gas exploration companies, despite opposition from multiple politicians, environmentalists and human rights groups.

This was exposed in 2012 by the then News Editor of The Mancunion, Joe Sandler Clarke, in an article which saw him longlisted for Amnesty International’s Student Human Rights Reporter of the Year Award.

Following a Freedom of Information request, The Mancunion was able to obtain documents revealing the shares held by the university over the past six years.

The 2014 investment portfolio was already known following an earlier FOI request by Activities and Development Officer, Joel Smith. Data between the years 2009 and 2013 inclusively was then received.

The diagram below shows that there was a sharp drop in the number of shares held by the university in oil and gas between March 2011 and March 2013. A possible reason for this is the 2012 piece.

When the 2012 figures were released, his article had been live for nearly two months. It is unclear whether or not his damning exposé, which received national acclaim, influenced the university.

Of the various companies concerned, BP PLC suffered the most, with the university selling more than half of its shares in the oil and gas giant.

BP were found to be primarily responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in October 2010, the largest accidental marine oil spill in the petroleum industry’s history.

The subsequent plummet in the value of the shares may have caused the university to sell up, as well as the negative publicity generated by the disaster.

The chart to the right shows the number of shares held by the university in 2013 in the following oil and gas exploration companies: BG Group, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Tullow Oil.

Despite the drastic drop from previous years, the university still holds far more shares in BP than in any other oil and gas company.

In spite of everything, the university increased its shares in fossil fuels in 2014. This was revealed in a previous issue.

Graphics: Marcus Johns

Top and bottom graphics regard the year 2013. Graphics: Marcus Johns

Another interesting revelation was that all of the university’s shares in Cairn Energy PLC and Soco International PLC, which combined were worth over £1.75 million at their peak in 2011, were sold at some point in the following year. Again, it is possible that the article may have been partially responsible for this decision.

However, all these figures could be potentially misleading, due to share price fluctuations over time. By researching the value of one share at the end of March for each year, the total worth of the university’s shares was calculated. This can be seen in the chart below.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC is seemingly the only oil and gas company with whom the university have not significantly cut ties. Over the period 2009 – 2013, the total value of the university’s shares in Shell was consistently around the £3.5 million mark.

Shell has frequently come under fire for its human rights record and alleged environmental negligence, which has led to calls for the university to end its association with the company. However, these results clearly suggest that this has not happened.

Based on this most recent increase in oil and gas shares, the university is evidently not intending on cutting ties any time soon.

Tags: deepwater horizon, divestment, fossil free, fossil fuels, investment, University of Manchester

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