Blacklisting firm held file on oil industry academic

A secret blacklisting file opened on an academic who researched health and safety following the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster claims the offshore oil industry threatened to cut funding to his university if he “continued to cause problems”.

Investigative journalist Phil Chamberlain, writing in his Taking out  the trash blog, reveals that Professor Charles Woolfson had published extensively on safety regimes in the North Sea while he was industrial relations professor at the University of Glasgow and wrote a well-regarded book, Paying The Piper. However, having his work reported in the media led drew him to the attention of The Consulting Association, which opened a file on him in 1995. The organisation was shut down by the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2009 and its records seized. Ian Kerr, the man paid to run the Association, was later fined £5,000 for breaching data protection laws.

“This is frankly an unwelcome surprise,” Prof Woolfson said in an interview with Chamberlain. “There is a clear intent to do me professional harm. This organisation and the industry obviously felt sufficiently threatened by critical academic research on safety to put me on a blacklist.” Six months after the file was opened on Woolfson, reports: “Funding from oil industry to Glasgow University may be cut if above activities continue, or there may be a reduction in his activities to prevent this happening.”

Jake Molloy from RMT’s offshore branch told Chamberlain “it is appalling that anybody should be targeted because they are talking about health and safety.” But he added: “I am aware of an incident where a journalist from a global journal became aware that a major oil company had contacted his employer and they were considering pulling all their adverts because of what he was writing. This is the nature of the business you are dealing with. The oil and gas industry is renowned for putting pressure on anybody who challenges or questions them.”