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Cambridge fossil fuel rebrands see ‘BP Institute’ replaced with ‘IEEF’ and ‘Schlumberger’ with ‘SLB’

Two Cambridge institutions closely associated with the fossil fuel industry have been rebranded, just as a United Nations report finds there is “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place” – with catastrophic implications for future life on Earth.

SLB, formerly Schlumberger
SLB, formerly Schlumberger

The University of Cambridge has renamed the BP Institute as the Institute for Energy and Environmental Flows, or IEEF. The proposition was first identified in July.

This decision has been made “to better reflect the scope of the institute’s research and its focus on energy transition”.

A spokesperson for the facility, which critics had said associated the university with fossil fuel entities, says that “by changing its name the institute hopes to prevent misunderstandings about its research work, promote further interdisciplinary collaboration, and facilitate more diverse fundraising”.

Professor Andy Woods, director of the IEEF, said: “The researchers in the institute are working to develop the scientific and technical solutions we need to support the energy transition, from enabling superfast battery charging systems and improving the performance of wind turbines, to the decarbonisation of heating systems and improving the efficiency and safety of carbon storage techniques.

“This name change reflects the breadth of research carried out at the IEEF.”

The Schlumberger Cambridge Research Centre on the West Cambridge site. Picture: Keith Heppell
The Schlumberger Cambridge Research Centre on the West Cambridge site. Picture: Keith Heppell

The IEEF will continue to receive funding from BP for projects that address shared goals related to the energy transition.

And Schlumberger, the 100-year-old oil field drilling giant – the subject of numerous protests in Cambridge in the last two years – has been renamed SLB, with a new name, colour scheme and logo that underscores its ambitions for a lower-carbon future, the company said on Monday.

The rebranding is not a shift away from fossil fuels, chief executive officer Olivier Le Peuch said in an interview. But it is a nod to how the renamed SLB can apply its skills to develop lower carbon businesses, many of which received a financial boost from the Inflation Reduction Act in the US. Schlumberger was also granted a £150m loans through the Bank of England and the UK Treasury’s covid corporate financing facility (CCFF) scheme.

Environmental commentators in Cambridge suggested that a change in name doesn’t necessarily involve a change of direction.

Jason Scott-Warren, the Professor of Early Modern Literature and Culture at the University of Cambridge and and active environmental campaigner, said: “We’re living in a great age of greenwash, in which research into renewables is being used as a cover for ever-expanding oil and gas operations. Hence the new name of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Flows, which sugar-coats the University’s ongoing complicity with fossil fuel interests.

Prof Jason Scott-Warren
Prof Jason Scott-Warren

He added: “There’s a comparable evasion in the rebranding of the University’s favourite oilfield services provider, Schlumberger, as SLB; the company claims to be going green while it remains as dirty as ever. The University needs to get out of bed with the oil majors and start choosing its research priorities for itself.”

A spokesperson for XR Cambridge said: “The fact that the CEO of Schlumberger/SLB has said that ‘the rebranding is not a shift away from fossil fuels’ says it all.

“Schlumberger are, and will remain, the world’s largest oilfield services provider and, just because the operating emissions of their oil and gas extraction technologies are moving to net zero, that doesn’t mean that the endless oil and gas they help extract from the ground won’t get burnt, contributing to catastrophic climate breakdown. Schlumberger’s sustainability claims are based on at best fantasy and at worst lies. The truth is we cannot keep burning fossil fuels, if we want a liveable planet.”

Prof Andy Neely, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Business Relations at the University of Cambridge
Prof Andy Neely, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Business Relations at the University of Cambridge

Even if humanity reaches its 2030 targets in full, a rise in global heating of around 2.5C is inevitable and condemns the world to catastrophic climate breakdown, according to the UN’s climate agency. However, Professor Andy Neely, senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Enterprise and Business Relations) at the University of Cambridge, says that the world cannot change course without disruption to the global economy.

Prof Neely said: “Presently, the world’s energy system is dominated by fossil fuels and, while an energy transition is urgent, it is not possible at the pace and scale required without the current industry’s involvement and willingness to transition.

“Working with carefully chosen partners from the energy sector on energy transition projects is necessary to develop replacements at a scale that can generate the energy the world needs without a sudden disruption to the global economy that would plunge billions of people into darkness and disrupt vital networks of trade and humanitarian support.”

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