Tullow Oil paid UCD €2m to run courses in Africa, South America

Oil company funded a number of academic posts at UCD as part of five-year agreement

University College Dublin (UCD) agreed to run educational courses for regulatory officials in African and South American countries where Tullow Oil operates, as part of a previous €2 million agreement with the company.

The oil company funded a number of academic posts in the south Dublin university as part of a five-year agreement, which ended in 2017.

Under the deal, Tullow Oil agreed to provide funding for UCD to hire one professor and two lecturers in the area of petroleum geoscience.

UCD agreed to deliver “short courses” to officials working in regulatory bodies in countries where Tullow Oil drills, according to the terms of the agreement seen by The Irish Times.


The courses focused on the “professional development of academics or technical professionals employed by the state, state-related entities, or regulatory bodies in the oil and gas industry”.

The courses took place in a number of African countries, such as Ethiopia and Kenya, as well as Suriname, a small coastal South American country where the company operates.

Regulatory officials and academics who attended the courses were to receive “no financial contribution” for attending, the agreement outlined. Attendees would also be responsible for their own transportation and any other associated costs, it stated.

The courses generally took place over two-three days, and were often promoted with titles such as “Introduction to Oil and Gas”.

The €2 million in funding to UCD was paid in instalments each year by Tullow Oil, following confirmation the required number of courses had taken place the previous year.

Aidan Heavey, who founded Tullow Oil and stepped down as chairman of the company in 2018, had a number of links to UCD. Mr Heavey was a commerce graduate of the university and previously sat on its Smurfit Graduate Business School’s advisory board.

Freedom of Information Act

A copy of the agreement was released to Green Party councillor for Blackrock Séafra Ó Faoláin, following a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

In a 2013 report, Tullow Oil outlined the courses run by UCD were designed “to address key geosciences knowledge gaps in countries in which we operate”.

The company, which was founded in Tullow, Co Carlow, has its headquarters in London. Last year it shut its Dublin office as part of a cost-saving effort amid a global restructuring.

A spokesman for Tullow Oil said its sponsorship of industry research and legacy agreement with UCD had been “actively promoted” by the company at the time.

“Under many of its contracts ,Tullow is contractually required to supply training in the countries in which it works, which is unsurprising given this is still a relatively new industry for many of these countries,” he said.

“Such training is fully transparent and is listed in the ‘payments to governments’ disclosures of its annual report as ‘training allowances’,” the spokesman said.

Cllr Ó Faoláin said he would have concerns about potential conflict of interests in Tullow Oil funding training for regulators. “What I want to know is how much influence Tullow Oil was having on people who would end up acting as regulators of their company,” he said.

UCD should clarify the details of any funding it had received from similar industry groups, as it was “unconscionable” for a university to be “furthering the interests of the oil and gas industry”, he said.

Dr Katinka C van Cranenburgh, an expert in corporate social responsibility, said oil companies would often invest in training civil society groups, or regulators, in countries where they drill. "The Norwegian government has invested in local regulatory capacity building in various African countries," she said.

UCD did not respond to requests for comment on its past partnership with Tullow Oil.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times