Opinion: Women on top!

UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd
UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd
Opinion by Energy Voice

I don’t know how many of you have noticed, but women are taking over at the top of the energy hierarchy in the UK.

Whilst I’m still waiting for a female to topple various of the male-dominated fiefdoms that still rule in the boardrooms of oil majors and independents active on the UK Continental Shelf, five key trade, regulatory and government positions are now held by women.

They are Amber Rudd … newly appointed energy secretary, Susan MacKenzie (HSE), Maria McCaffery (RenewableUK), Dr Nina Skorupska (Renewable Energy Association) and Deirdre Michie (OGUK).

This could do more than anything that has ever gone before to finally get some balance into the boardrooms and executives of the UK energy industry … both upstream oil & gas and power generation.

The shift should be welcomed. A bit less testosterone in the UK energy sector ought to be good for us all.

The latest appointee to a position of power is Amber Rudd, one of the lesser known Tory names. In case you missed it, she has just been made secretary of state for the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Rudd is a former investment banker who had previously served as an under-secretary at DECC. She replaces Ed Davey and is the first woman to hold the energy brief in UK government.

Of course, we don’t yet know whether this Thatcherite should be feared. She is described as being a strong believer in business and markets as drivers of change, rather than regulation and government intervention. Oh dear!

She is also regarded as having green credentials and so you might think that this could prove problematic for the North Sea oil & gas industry. But she is also pro-shale.

Because she’s a Thatcherite, Rudd can probably be relied upon to push ahead with Tory pledges to slash subsidies for onshore wind farms; but she had better not compromise community projects; they’re incredibly important, if a tad inconvenient for the big power utilities and the Cameron Administration.

However, she said just days ago that the Tories would continue with a plan to support creating renewable energy jobs and to protect the environment.

But, she warned that this would be achieved by reducing the costs of green energy and helping innovation. I’m not sure how this particular circle will be squared using that approach.

There is one thing that Rudd must never forget. We, the Great British Public, or at least some of us voted her into the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament to serve; not to lord over us.

That means that I for one will not be bowing and scraping when she sweeps into Aberdeen with her entourage some time whenever.

Let me turn to that other newcomer … the North Sea’s very own Deirdre Michie, who has just taken over the reins of Oil & Gas UK from Malcolm Webb, who has just retired.

As OGUK’s second only CEO, I have high expectations of Michie. I suppose we’ve rubbed shoulders quite often over the past 20 years or so during her long and usefully varied career at Shell.

She comes across as strong, capable and consensual and is going to need to apply all of those qualities as she evolves this powerful trade association through what is undoubtedly a period of considerable and dangerous change for the North Sea.

I believe that Michie is capable of establishing and sustaining the kind of relationship with Andy Samuel, CEO of the still brand new Oil & Gas Authority, that will be conducive to success and that she is well able to look politicians in the eye.

Now, very briefly to the other three ladies, each of whom is well established in their respective roles.

First, Susan MacKenzie, whom I confess that admire greatly but who I can imagine scares a fair proportion of senior and middle management in the North Sea because she brooks no nonsense.

I’m not saying that prior HSE Offshore Safety Division leaders weren’t tough enough, but MacKenzie did cause a stir in 2013 when she was appointed head of the HSE’s then newly formed Energy

Division with responsibility for oil and gas (on and offshore), major hazard pipelines and mines.

She wasn’t in that role for long as MacKenzie was appointed as HSE’s director of the HSE’s Hazardous Installations Directorate a year ago, becoming responsible for the regulation of the UK’s non-nuclear major hazards sectors: offshore oil and gas; onshore chemicals and petrochemicals, pipelines; explosives; mines and biological agents.

MacKenzie, with almost 25 HSE years under her belt, is highly intelligent, wonderfully direct and grounded. So beware any North Sea bosses who think they can get away with a repeat of the planned non-maintenance programmes that characterised the late 1990s downturn and which has cost the industry dear ever since.

Finally, and very briefly, McCaffery and Skorupska, both of whom are highly influential in the world of renewables.

Skorupska matches MacKenzie in that she has a 25-year track record in energy, including with RWE and GL DNV before becoming CEO of REA in 2013 since when she has worked hard to raise the association’s profile in an industry where RenewableUK dominates … McCaffery’s world.

Last but not least, McCaffery has logged almost a decade in renewables and is definitely a force to be reckoned with. A chemist by discipline, she spent a significant part of her early life in business support, including on the international trade front.

So there you have it; five women who have most definitely reached the top in the world of energy. You don’t have to like them to recognise their achievements or future potential.

I wonder what might happen if they were gathered together in the same room.

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