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Fraying ties? Networks, territory and transformation in the UK oil sector

An oil rig platform at night

Research Team

The project is a collaboration between Durham University, the London School of Economics and Political Science, Vrije Universiteit-Amsterdam, Platform London and the Royal Geographical Society – Institute of British Geographers. The research team are experienced social science researchers with expertise in the international political economy of oil.

Professor Gavin Bridge (Lead Researcher - Geography Department)

Dr Alexander Dodge (Post Doctoral Research Associate)

Dr William Otchere-Darko (Post Doctoral Research Associate)

Dr Tiago Alves-Teixeira (Post Doctoral Research Associate)

The project will undertake the first systematic analysis of the evolution and ongoing transformation of the UK’s strategic position in global oil production networks. Findings from the project will foster greater understanding of the trajectories and consequences of transformation in the UK oil sector at a key moment in its evolution.

The Fraying Ties project is a three-year programme of research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation. It explores the scale and significance of an ongoing transformation in the UK’s position within global oil and gas networks. 


International oil firms have embedded parts of their global operations in the UK for over a century. Some of these global firms produce oil in the UK, while others refine and sell it here. Some have their headquarters in the UK, or seek access to scientific skills or finance for their projects. The diversity and longevity of these different ties between global oil firms and national territory mean assumptions are often made about their stability and permanence.

The way the UK is 'plugged into' global oil and gas networks is changing, in the context of an historic shift in oil demand away from Europe and towards Asia, declining oil and gas production in the North Sea, and growing action to accelerate low carbon transition. International firms with deep roots in the UK are shedding historically significant assets. At the same time, a diverse group of new firms – without the range or depth of ties to the UK as long-established firms – are entering the UK seeking resources, finance, product markets and expertise. These new firms insert the UK into the global political economy of oil and gas in new ways, and their growing role is re-working relationships and practices that have tied international firms to the UK for decades. The scale, trajectories and consequences of the ongoing transformation are important but not well understood.

Project Aims

Fraying Ties examines the evolving role of the UK for international oil and gas firms, and the range and strength of ties between companies and the territory of the UK. Our aim is to generate new knowledge about the changing role of territorial assets (natural resources, access to capital, product markets, expertise) in the UK for international oil firms, and about the diversity, depth and durability of ties between global firms and UK assets.

We use social science methods and an innovative research design to explore change at three levels: in asset-firm relations, institutions and networks, and political-economic practices and norms. By focusing on the oil sector, we aim to advance understanding about the 'coupling' processes that connect national and global economies. We will share our findings with the international research community and researcher users in civil society, government and industry.