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Oil and gas are costing us the earth

ScotE3 will have a stall at the Scottish Trades Union Congress in Aberdeen for 25th – 27th April. We’ve produced a leaflet for the delegates. The text is reproduced here.

Fuel Poverty

Everyone knows that we are in a cost-of-living crisis.  Most of us in Scotland rely on natural gas for cooking and heating and North Sea gas is a guided missile sent into every home in the country which will drive thousands of new people into poverty and will kill the most vulnerable.  Oil and gas producers are making mega profits and demanding money with menaces.  They’ve unilaterally torn up the social contract that they operate under and have weaponised gas.  The 54% increase on 1st April will be followed by another steep rise later this year.  

Before this happened around a quarter of Scots lived in fuel poverty.  As a result of the price rises, hundreds of thousands more will be dragged into a position where they are forced to make impossible choices between food and heating.  The response from the Tories has been derisory. Their so-called Energy Security Plan does nothing to tackle immediate hardship and doubles down on the most expensive energy options for the longer term – nuclear, oil and gas, hydrogen for heating and carbon capture and storage.

Business as usual

There is a simple reason why the Tories have made these choices.  In the face of the climate and cost of living crises they’ve chosen to protect the interests of big oil.  It’s not just that they won’t tax the enormous profits that are being made from North Sea Oil and Gas – it’s that they are following the logic of the oil industry’s ‘North Sea Transition Deal’.  

A phony deal

The Deal aims to continue the exploitation of North Sea oil and gas up to and beyond 2050.  It talks about a net-zero oil and gas basin where the greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas would be captured and stored.  This is not going to happen, certainly not in the next few decades, and the consequence will be that the UK will fail to meet its contribution to restricting global temperature rises.  

Maintaining profits – wasting resources

Following the ‘Transition Deal’ drives high-cost energy options at every step and leaves working people to pay the price.   Under the UK government plan, most of the electricity produced by the new nuclear power stations will be required to produce the hydrogen for domestic heating.  Using electricity to produce hydrogen for domestic heating at large scale is hugely inefficient.  Moreover, nuclear produces much more carbon emissions over its lifecycle than wind or solar.

http://www.pixabay.com CC0

The alternative

There is an alternative.  Electricity produced by wind and solar is already much cheaper than that produced by nuclear, oil and gas and the costs of renewables continue to fall.  The money the Tories want to spend on new nuclear is enough to retrofit most homes across the UK – creating jobs, improving health and well-being, and cutting energy demand.  Moreover, an economy based on renewables results in many more jobs than the fossil fuel and nuclear options.

A challenge for the trade union movement

Right now, industry, unions and both the Westminster and Holyrood governments are signed up to the North Sea Transition deal.  It’s time for a decisive shift in policy.  Just transition, indeed arguably any transition that restricts temperature rises to 1.5 degrees, is incompatible with the ‘North Sea Transition Deal’.  

A new policy for the union movement

Tackling the cost-of-living crisis and the climate crisis means breaking the partnership with big oil that is inherent in the Transition Deal and campaigning for an end to the development of new North Sea oil and gas and the rapid planned phase out of existing fields.  Large-scale investment in renewables and a massive programme of retrofitting would result in lower energy prices and reduced carbon emissions.   A serious plan would include support for the oil and gas work force while they transition to new jobs and ramping up options for reskilling, education and training in the new industries.

No more subsidies

The oil and gas industry has been subsidised heavily over the lifetime of the North Sea.  The subsidies must stop.  Working people are suffering because what they pay for energy fuels super profits for big oil and goes into the pockets of the richest in society whose wealth grows as hedge funds speculate on the oil market.  There’s plenty 

of money to pay for an energy transition.

Among the components of a new policy for the workers movement should be: 

Massive investment in wind, solar and tidal energy.

Large-scale expansion of energy storage options.

No more North Sea development. 

Taking the North Sea into public ownership and beginning a planned phase out of production.

Support for oil and gas workers to transition to new jobs.

Regulate energy prices to consumers and tax big oil and the rich to end the cost-of-living crisis.

COP26 gave us a glimpse of the potential power when the workers movement and the climate movement come together.  Together we can win.

About ScotE3

Check out our website at https://scote3.net The resources page includes short briefings designed to be used in the workplace and created under an open license so that you can modify and adapt them providing you acknowledge ScotE3 as the original source of the material.  We are keen to produce more briefings and we’d welcome suggestions for new briefings and updates to existing ones. We can also provide speakers for trade union branch meetings and discussions. 

Come along to our stall and have a chat.

Why workers and climate activists should reject the ‘British energy security strategy’

Yesterday (6th April) the UK Government announced a new ‘British Energy Security Strategy’.  The shape of the strategy isn’t a surprise with many of the elements being trailed in recent weeks.  Put simply the strategy is a disaster.  It’s a recipe for failing to meet UK greenhouse gas emission targets and ignores the recommendations of the IPCC report that was published earlier in the week (4th April).

This post is a first response, and we will share more detailed analysis in the weeks to come.  

The government’s press release notes that the strategy involves an ‘ambitious, quicker expansion of nuclear, wind, solar, hydrogen, oil and gas, including delivering the equivalent to one nuclear reactor a year instead of one a decade.’  

Note the ‘expansion of oil and gas’.  The aim will be to accelerate the approval of new oil and gas fields in the North Sea and west of Shetland.  Essentially, it’s a doubling down on the oil industries so called ‘North Sea Transition Deal’.  The aim of the deal is to make the North Sea a ‘net-zero’ oil and gas basin by 2050 – but this can only happen if carbon capture and storage can be developed and introduced at large scale, which is as yet uncertain.  

Hydrogen is part of the oil industry strategy – the aim of the transition deal is for hydrogen to replace North Sea gas in domestic and commercial heating systems – these currently account for more than 20% of UK greenhouse gas emissions.  The strategy talks about hydrogen supplying around 10% of energy needs.  What it doesn’t say is that producing hydrogen by splitting methane or water is an enormously inefficient process and so a very significant proportion of all the new electricity produced from nuclear, wind, solar and oil and gas will be needed to produce the hydrogen!

After a period of equivocating on nuclear power it’s now back at the centre of the strategy.   No figures are given, but if we extrapolate from the cost of the current Hinkley C project the proposed developments will cost around £150 billion.  The government refers to nuclear as clean and safe.  It is neither.  This blog has looked at the arguments about nuclear elsewhere.  It’s a hugely expensive form of energy, high risk with long construction times and a history of cost overruns and serious and unresolved problems with radioactive waste.   

The new strategy says nothing about reducing energy demand through insulating new buildings and retrofitting existing housing stock.  Retrofitting the majority of UK housing is estimated to cost around £160 billion – this is roughly what the new nuclear programme will cost.  So, it seems like their plan is to construct large scale nuclear plants whose output will then provide the energy that is lost through the walls and roofs of homes, office and factories.

The supposed rationale for the new strategy is energy security.  Currently working people are paying the price for the super profits being earned by the oil and gas sector.  Led by that sector the strategy opts for a future of high energy prices – continuing oil and gas and new nuclear.  Renewable costs continue to decrease, nuclear energy costs continue to rise.  Currently renewable electricity is 6 times cheaper than gas and the gap is even bigger between the cost of renewables and the cost of nuclear.   

Wind turbines near Carberry – image Pete Cannell CC0

It will be interesting to hear the response from the Scottish Government.  Until now Holyrood has been firmly signed up the North Sea Transition Deal and the oil industry agenda, but it has had a firm position of no new nuclear.  Similarly, it is now crunch time for the trade unions who have advocated just transition while endorsing the Transition Deal Strategy.  The argument at root has been over jobs.  It has been the case for a long time now that large-scale investment in renewables creates far more jobs than the same investment in nuclear.  Yesterday’s strategy announcement means in effect no transition and no justice.  There is an ever more urgent need for the workers movement and the climate movement to work together in opposition to the new strategy (really just the old strategy with more investment in false solutions).  Less than 24 hours after its release the strategy has been widely criticised but we will need to do more than oppose this latest attempt at preserving an unacceptable status quo and reject the North Sea transition deal in its entirety.

An open letter to the climate movement 

In the wake of COP26 in Glasgow, ScotE3 (employment, energy, and environment) have been reassessing our focus.  

At the centre of our discussion has been North Sea oil and gas, UK’s major contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions. and the imperative “that business as usual” must end and must end soon.  

This conviction hasn’t been shifted by Russia’s attack on Ukraine.  Possibly Putin sees the writing on the wall for oil and gas, the basis of his economic power.  He has certainly gone for the breadbasket of Europe, and a country with rich reserves of mineral resources, and in doing so reminded the world that nuclear power is not an alternative to oil and gas.

If we think we’ve identified what is to be done on our patch here in the UK, we’ve also been trying to identify the forces that can achieve it.  

It’s not the Government.  They are fully behind the oil and gas industry, and the North Sea Transition Deal struck with the industry and designed to perpetuate it. If they are to play a progressive role at all, they will have to be dragged on side screaming and kicking. They do know the transition is inevitable, but they can’t break habits of several lifetimes, and can only imagine doing what the North Sea oil and gas industry allows them to imagine, and that results in policies that protect the power of big oil, invests in false solutions and cuts to emissions are too little and too late.

Despite the increasing number of trade unionists who recognise the importance of climate action the major unions are still signed up to the partnership with the oil and gas industry through the North Sea Transition Deal.

The North Sea oil and gas workers are another story altogether.  Dormant for 30 years since the Piper Alpha disaster where the North Sea oil and gas industry killed 167 men, they are between a rock and a hard place.  They produce the gas that’s being used to loot as well as heat the homes of the poor, and that drives climate change. But they are also subject to the whims of an oil and gas market that periodically throws thousands of them out of work, dictates wage cuts, imposes punitive work schedules, and will dump them again as the transition takes place – just as the coal miners were dumped before them.  If the transition is going to be “just” to North Sea oil and gas workers, they’re going to have to demand the training and jobs in a sustainable alternative. We think they need to be invited to the debate.

The climate movement, unique amongst the players here, is energetic and imaginative and has made massive inroads into popular consciousness.  These predominantly young people have transformed the debate, and by direct action have laid out the shocking implications of climate change that the science has been exploring now for many years. It is getting progressively more impossible to say that you just didn’t know.  Over the past few years, the focus of the climate movement has turned towards the North Sea oil and gas industry.  Its current trajectory will take it into more and more direct conflict with that industry. The climate movement and the oil workers have a common enemy.  

Now, as gas prices go sky high it looks very likely that masses of people are about to be drawn into open conflict with the oil and gas industry and the Government.  Here in the UK it is widely predicted that hundreds of thousands of families will be driven into poverty for the first time. Leaving the vulnerable and poorest in the cold, or hungry, or both.  There has been no increase in the cost of producing North Sea gas.  There is no shortage of North Sea gas. The oil and gas producers are profiteering from the rise in prices as are the hedge funds and the super-rich who drive the crazy casino style operation of the spot market for hydrocarbons. 

Many people will have no option but to not pay the increases.  The rest of us will have to decide whether we sit in our expensively warmed homes and watch them freeze.  Either that or we’ll have to be part of a struggle that the poor can’t avoid.  Is this the moment the struggles of climate movement meet up with the struggle of masses of people?  

Some things which we think are worth campaigning for are:

  • establish a publicly funded and democratically accountable Scottish Climate   Service to coordinate, fund and drive forward the transition
  • cease exploration and development of new oil and gas fields in the North Sea
  • initiate a phased close-down of oil and gas production, to be completed by 2032
  • provide free training and retraining for workers displaced as oil and gas activity is run down
  • guarantee employment in new climate jobs for oil and gas workers
  • regulate the renewables industry on and around the North Sea to ensure that wages and conditions are protected
  • North Sea oil and gas workers must face no more redundancies
  • As the industry is wound down, workers must be furloughed until they are retrained and re-employed

We know this list is incomplete and we don’t have all the answers.  We almost certainly haven’t even asked all the relevant questions.  We believe that working out the demands that we fight for is a job for oil and gas workers and the climate movement together. 

We’re inviting the climate movement to join us in this discussion. There needs to be the widest cooperation if we’re going to constantly update the strategy that’ll take this existential struggle forward.  We do have ideas.  We need them to be challenged, amended, scrapped – whatever.

Action

We’d love it if your organisation could discuss this letter at whatever levels, local groups and/or national organisation that you think appropriate.

Whatever your response we’d like to publish your reactions to this letter on the Scot.E3 blog https://scote3.net

We plan to hold a conference in the autumn of 2022 on how we can play our part in the struggle to shut down the North Sea and replace it with zero carbon energy systems.  We invite you to join the conference planning group.

We are holding a workshop on the North Sea at the Global Climate Jobs Network’s International conference taking place from 3-5th June and we invite you to join us in working out the plan for the workshop. 

[The text above is version 1.1 (updated 6th April 2022, it’s work in progress – we expect to make changes in the light of feedback]

Global Climate Jobs Conference 2022

Call for INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE:  

Climate Jobs, Climate Crisis and Green New Deals 

What, Where & When 

The Global Climate Jobs Network is organising an online international conference Friday June 3 to Sunday June 5, 2022. This will be online to make it easy for activists and organisations to participate from all over the world. 

Themes 

The theme is Climate Jobs, Climate Crisis and Green New Deals. But we are open to sessions on related topics linked to community, union and other climate justice struggles. If you are not sure if your topic would fit, send it anyway and we can chat it over. 

Who 

Our Global Climate Jobs Network will be coordinating the conference. But we want organisations to propose and present your own sessions. 

We are looking for sessions from different organisations, from national unions to local branches, from international networks to national campaigns. From environmental and climate justice community campaigns to local Fridays for the Future groups, student unions, social movements, feminist and LGBT groups, faith groups, farmers and fisherfolk organisations and Green New Deal campaigns and from groups of scientists and engineers. 

We especially want to provide a platform for those fighting for climate justice now and we particularly want to hear about the struggles of the peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America. 

How 

You can run a session based on your own organisation or you can put forward speakers and we will link them up with speakers from other organisations on similar themes or from the same country. 

We also want to encourage artistic sessions using, music, film, and anything that tells your story and makes the event more like an online festival of resistance, ideas and solidarity. 

You can propose sessions in any language, and you can propose two sessions in different languages. 

We will timetable all the sessions and try to arrange them so you can follow different themes. 

Sessions will last 75 minutes. We suggest no more than three speakers, and at least half of the time is taken up by contributions from the audience and in breakout groups. If you have three speakers, please have at least one be a woman. If you cannot find an appropriate woman speaker, please write to us and we will try to put you in touch with someone. 

What’s Next 

To propose a session or a speaker, to ask a question or talk to someone on the organising committee, please write to: Climatejobs2022@aol.com  

Sponsoring Groups (list in formation):

Global Climate Jobs Network 

Climaximo (Portugal)  

ScotE3 (Employment, Energy and Environment – trade union and environmental activists in Scotland) 

Review of African Political Economy  

AIDC (Alternative Information and Development Centre – South Africa) 

Million Climate Jobs Campaign (South Africa)  

Pittsburgh Green New Deal (USA) 

SENTRO (Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa – labour federation in Philippines) 

Skills, training and transition

Cutting green house gas emissions requires an army of new workers.  Those workers need opportunities for training or (in the case of workers currently employed on North Sea oil and gas) retraining.  But the jobs aren’t there – in fact the number of jobs in renewables is declining and the training is not happening.  Pete Cannell digs into why this is the case and lays the blame firmly on strategies for transition that are concerned with maintaining profit and the preservation of the oil companies.

To be able to work offshore on oil and gas platforms or on offshore wind installations you need industry certification.  Qualifications and certification for the Energy industry is controlled by an organisation called OPITO and courses are run by private sector trainers.  Prices are high; the basic offshore skills course comes in at around £800.

In 2021 Platform and Friends of the Earth (Scotland) (FOE(S)) conducted a survey of oil and gas workers.  One of the key messages from the survey was that if workers wish to shift to offshore wind, their oil and gas certificates are not recognised, and they have to pay for almost identical training that is validated for offshore renewables.  This is a scandal, and its important that it has been publicised by FOE(S), Platform and others.  They are campaigning for an Offshore Passport which would apply across both sectors and reduce costs to the workforce.

Bringing costs down for workers and making it easier to transition to renewables is welcome, but it’s not enough. There is an urgent need for the campaign to be widened.   

To meet the target of restricting average global temperature rises to 1.5C there is a pressing need to start the phase out of North Sea oil and gas production and develop renewable substitutes.  North Sea Oil and Gas needs to stay in the ground.  

Elgin Franklin Image CC0 Public Domain

As activity on the North Sea runs down there needs to be a commensurate increase of activity in renewables – particularly wind and solar, home insulation and building a resilient smart grid to ensure reliable distribution of renewable electricity.  All this new activity should mean new jobs.  Right now, that’s just not happening.  The Office of National Statistics reports that in Scotland between 2016 and 2020 jobs in renewable energy dropped by 14% to 20,500.  Across the UK, between 2014 and 2020 the fall was 28,000 – ‘the steepest declines were in factories producing energy-efficient products, onshore wind, and solar energy’.

The decline in jobs is a direct result of the lack of coherent planning by governments at Westminster and Holyrood and their reliance on the oil and gas industry led North Sea Transition deal (published in 2021). While it sometimes looks as if governments don’t know what they’re doing, the Transition deal underpins every new policy initiative. In brief the deal means that climate action relies on the market and the private sector, that there will continuing extraction of oil and gas beyond 2050 and that we must hope that technological fixes are able to sequester some of the resulting green house gas emissions.  

Offshore workers already have some of the skills that are central to the transition to a renewable economy.  But as we’ve seen the energy sector skills body puts expensive barriers in the way of workers trying to make the transition.  Other crucial jobs, for example in retrofitting (making existing houses more energy efficient), heat pump installation and district heating require new skills and retraining.  But OPITO, the energy sector skills body (originally established by a Tory Government in 1991 along with a raft of other sector skills councils) is driven by the oil and gas industry and fully committed to the North Sea Transition deal.  So, the skills training they offer supports an oil and gas industry perspective on how things should change, and their model of outsourced training paid for by the workers fits with the big oil and gas’s desire for an atomised workforce that pays for its own training.   It’s worth looking at OPITO’s website, this is an industry body that does the industry’s bidding.  

Bringing greenhouse gas emissions down to zero and building a new sustainable economy is critical to all our futures.  Supporting North Sea Oil and Gas workers through the transition that this entails is both morally and practically essential.  To avoid repeating the chaos and misery that afflicted coalfield communities when the pits closed, oil and gas workers who wish to should have the opportunity to apply their existing skills and retrain for the new economy.  OPITO is not set up to support this, but the Further Education system is.  The network of colleges across Scotland used to be at the centre of skills training and could be again.  

Without a serious, planned, and large-scale programme for training and retraining there is no chance of a just transition, or a transition that takes place in time to avoid global temperature rises well in excess of 1.5oC.  Currently the lack of such a programme is a barrier to action.  In Edinburgh, for example, there is a campaign led by the Edinburgh Trades Union Council for retrofitting the housing stock. Edinburgh City Council insists that such a programme would need to be outsourced to private contractors and that a shortage of skilled workers would mean that only a few houses could be insulated.  

The construction firms are not going to train more because the industry operates with layer upon layer of subcontractors.   Moreover, there is strong evidence that even where firms can provide trained workers the level of training is inadequate and heat pumps are installed incorrectly and then fail to work properly.The introduction of sector skills councils in the UK, of which OPITO has emerged as one of the largest and most powerful, was part of the neo-liberal restructuring of the British economy.  Collective organisation was anathema to the architects of the system – thus the focus on individuals paying for their own skills development. That needs to stop.  And the new system, supported by the colleges, needs workers and workers organisations at the centre, high standards, enough time training for skills to be properly developed, together with jobs that provide decent pay and conditio

Offshore training

Friends of the Earth Scotland and Platform are launching a campaign for an Offshore Training Passport.

Here’s their rationale for the campaign:

What’s the issue?

  • Offshore oil and gas workers regularly pay thousands of pounds from their own pocket for their training and safety qualifications. Despite huge overlap, workers need to go through separate training for the oil and gas industry and the wind industry.
  • A Just Transition must include creating clear pathways for workers in high-carbon industries to bring their skills and experience into renewables.
  • The duplication of training is a major barrier to workers being able to bring their skills and experience from fossil fuels into renewable energy.

How can we fix it?

An Offshore Training Passport scheme would standardise training accreditation across the offshore oil and gas and offshore renewables industries where possible, reducing costs for workers by reducing the need for duplication of certificates and allowing workers to shift more easily between oil and gas and renewables.

A Just Transition must be shaped by the workers and communities who will be affected as we move from fossil fuels to renewables – the offshore workforce wants training barriers removed.

When surveyed, 94% of offshore workers supported an Offshore Training Passport

To find out how to support the campaign download the campaign toolkit which includes sample letters that can be sent to MSPs and MPs and material for social media.