The fossil fuels giant behind controversial plans to open up an oil field in the North Sea has been accused of holding “insidious power” after it was revealed bosses have held more than a dozen lobbying meetings with MSPs.

The Scottish Government has been urged to speak out on the Rosebank development after the company behind the scheme, Norwegian oil giant Equinor, met five times with Scottish ministers.

But on Wednesday, First Minister Humza Yousaf refused to speak out against the development or call on the UK Government to refuse permission for the project.

On Thursday, the First Minister's spokesperson repeatedly refused to say whether Mr Yousaf has a view on whether Rosebank should go ahead or any view on expanding the North Sea oil and gas sector.

New data compiled by Friends of the Earth Scotland shows that from the 2021 election until end of 2022, Equinor has met 13 times with MSPs including five times with Scottish Government Ministers.

Read more: Yousaf warns against shutting down North Sea oil and gas sector

Kate Forbes, her time as SNP finance sectary, incredibly met with Equinor bosses at the COP6 climate conference at the SEC in Glasgow. 

Former net zero and energy secretary Michael Matheson met with the company twice, while former first minister Nicola Sturgeon and former just transition minister Richard Lochhead also met with the fossil fuels giant.

Lobbying records also show that oil lobby group Offshore Energies UK, who represent Equinor UK Limited and other oil and gas giants, met with members of the Scottish Parliament at least 36 times over the last two years.

The Scottish Government has repeatedly declined to officially state its opposition to Equinor’s plans to develop the 500m barrels of oil in Rosebank, despite Nicola Sturgeon speaking out against the much smaller Cambo oil field in 2021.

None of the MSPs lobbied have called for the project to be stopped or signed the motion of opposition lodged by Labour MSP Monica Lennon.

Read more: SNP ministers urged to commit to fully clean energy system

Speaking in Glasgow yesterday, the First Minister refused to oppose the Rosebank development.

Asked about the project, he said: “The decision on Rosebank - one for the UK Government, of course - should take into account a number of different factors.

"We know we can't just turn off the taps tomorrow."

Records show that prior to announcing its formal application to develop the Rosebank field in August 2022, Equinor pursued meetings with eight MSPs in the North East and Shetland to lobby politicians to back the project.

Oil and gas licences remain reserved to the UK Government, but opposition from the Scottish Government would likely send a clear message to the industry about future developments in the North Sea.

Oil extraction from Rosebank was also discussed at the 2022 cross-party Group on oil and gas, chaired by fossil fuels industry group Offshore Energies UK, and attended by six MSPs.

Read more: SNP's just transition chief blows hole in independence economic case

In the first three months of 2023, Equinor posted £9.5bn pre-tax profits, alongside £62bn of pre-tax profits in 2022.

Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, Freya Aitchison, said: “This research highlights the insidious power that Equinor and other fossil fuel companies have over decision-making processes in Scotland.

“The scale and reach of the Equinor lobbying operation designed to influence the Scottish Government should be extremely alarming to anyone who takes the climate crisis seriously.

“For decades, the fossil fuel industry has denied and delayed the need for real climate action, and it is clear that it has significant means to continue doing so.

“Companies like Equinor have too much vested interest in continuing business as usual and cannot be trusted to play a meaningful part in a transition away from fossil fuels.”

She added: “99% of Equinor’s output is fossil fuels and the company is planning for the expansion of oil and gas drilling across the world, with the Rosebank project as well as others in Canada, Argentina and Norway.

“We know that in order to stay within agreed climate limits we can have no new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, yet Equinor is deliberately ignoring the science and trying to persuade politicians to let it continue profiting from new extraction.

“There can be no place for the fossil fuel industry in decision-making around climate change – just as tobacco companies were banned from public health decision-making spaces, fossil fuel companies such as Equinor need to be denied access to power and influence in order for real change to happen.

“To avoid catastrophic climate breakdown, and do our fair share globally, we must phase out oil and gas in this decade. First Minister Humza Yousaf has the chance to chart a new path away from fossil fuels without the industry trying to call the shots.

"If his Government is serious about tackling the climate crisis and delivering a just transition, it must cut ties with the fossil fuel industry and ban them from lobbying.”