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]

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.

More on hydrogen, heating and the North Sea

The UK and Scottish governments both remain fully behind the North Sea Transition Deal, which envisages production of oil and gas continuing up to 2050 and beyond.  Hydrogen – initial produced from natural gas – is key to the strategy, and the assumption is that hydrogen will replace direct use of natural gas for home cooking and heating, the source of around 23% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.  Hydrogen produced from gas is usually called ‘blue hydrogen’ and while burning hydrogen involves no emissions, the production of blue hydrogen involves the emission of large amounts of carbon dioxide.  

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

The case against the strategy is growing apace.  Back in August 2021 Chris Jackson, the chair of the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (UKHFCA) resigned just days before the publication of the Westminster government’s hydrogen strategy.  He stated: 

“I believe passionately that I would be betraying future generations by remaining silent on that fact that blue hydrogen is at best an expensive distraction, and at worst a lock-in for continued fossil fuel use that guarantees we will fail to meet our decarbonisation goals.”

Last week we posted on the findings of research by the Imperial College Energy Futures Lab comparing hydrogen and heat pumps for domestic heating.  The report recommended that hydrogen will be important in decarbonising some specific industrial and transport processes but should not be used for domestic heating. Now MPs on the Westminster Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee have come to the same conclusion.  The committee’s report slates the government for the lack of clarity in phasing out domestic gas boilers.  It argues that hydrogen is not a practical or sustainable solution. And it condemns the lack of urgency shown by the government in organising for and supporting viable alternatives such as heat pumps and district schemes.

We should be clear that despite the evidence to contrary the hydrogen-based strategy for home heating – while driven by the oil and gas industry – remains the policy option preferred by Westminster, Holyrood and some of the major unions.  Now’s the time for climate activists in workplaces to insist that unions need to rethink and for of all us to get behind a campaign to phase out North Sea Oil and Gas and end all the attempts to pretend that a net zero oil and gas basin (the purported aim of the North Sea Transition Deal)  is possible.

Check out the Scot.E3 briefing for more on this topic.

Time to phase out North Sea Oil and Gas

Retired oil worker and XR Scotland activist Neil Rothnie responds to the recently published XR strategy for 2022.  Neil argues that the strategy is weakened by not making specific reference to the North Sea when North Sea Oil and Gas remains at the heart of both the UK and Scottish governments energy strategies. 

Begin a planned rundown of North Sea oil and gas production without delay.

That’s a real ‘demand’ and is directed at the UK oil industry and the UK and Scottish Governments.

North Sea oil and gas is a major contributor to the greenhouse gases that are the UK’s contribution to global heating.

 So why does the Extinction Rebellion UK Strategy 2022, on the fossil economy, make no mention of North Sea oil and gas?  

The new 2022 strategy document talks instead about End(ing) The Fossil Fuel Economy in general, and specifically demands No New Fossil Fuel Investment,   No New Fossil Fuel Licences,  and an End (to) Fossil Fuel Subsidies Now.  

But – End the Fossil Fuel Economy – is not a demand.  It’s a slogan!  And the three specific demands could be met in full today without making a jot of difference to the climate catastrophe that’s unfolding.  

Because without one more penny being invested in the North Sea, without one more licence issued, and without a penny more in public subsidy, everything is already in place to ensure that North Sea oil and gas fields will, unless someone puts a stop to it, produce more than the UK’s share of global greenhouse gases that will heat the atmosphere to way over +1.5 degrees, and trigger the irreversible climate change that leads, according to the science as I understand it, to mass extinctions of life forms on the planet.

A similar scenario is set to be repeated all over the world.  In Norway, the Gulf of Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the China’s coalfields, etc etc.  So, it’s a global problem that has to be addressed in each locality.  

In the UK, we have a responsibility to begin to choke back North Sea oil and gas production.  In the US the responsibility to end fracking and wind down hydrocarbon production from the Gulf of Mexico falls, in the main, to Americans.  In Russia to Russians . .  .

We must have the confidence that the peoples in each and every other fossil production zone will act at least as decisively as we will.  We can talk to them and encourage them, but above all we need to lead by example.  The main enemy is at home.  It’s our responsibility to fight our corner.

And the biggest support we can give to the masses of people in the global south who face climate chaos earlier and harder than us, is to end North Sea oil and gas production.

One massive implication of “disappearing” North Sea Oil and Gas from a UK strategy for fossil fuels is that you also “disappear” the North Sea oil and gas workers and their rights and their responsibilities.

Oil & gas production is going to go.  Sooner rather than later if the climate and our grandchildren are to have a chance. Oil workers must not be shafted like the coal miners were before them.

If you are an oil and gas worker. a climate activist, a trade unionist – if you live in a community that hosts the industry and the workers – or if you’re young and fearful for your future, put your name to our demands*.

  • No more redundancies of oil and gas workers.
  • Workers whose jobs are threatened as the oil industry is wound down, must be furloughed until they are retrained and re-employed.
  • North Sea wind jobs must be made to pay North Sea wage rates.

*These three demands are still in draft but will form part of a new Scot.E3 campaign in 2022.

Fossil fuel systems and how to change them

Simon Pirani is the author of ‘Burning Up – A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption’* – Simon recently spoke on Fossil Fuel Systems at one of. series of events discussion issues around ecosocialism. The video of his introduction provides a very clear and comprehensive account of how fossil fuel systems are embedded in modern capitalist economies and of the challenges of breaking from an economic system based on these fuels.

Simon blogs at the People and Nature website which carries lots of articles that will be of interest to followers of Scot.E3.

* we have a small number of copies of Simon’s book available at the reduced price of £11 (postage extra) – email triple.e.scot@gmail.com if you’d be interested in a copy.

Don’t let CCS dominate the climate action agenda in Scotland

Part of the coalition deal between the Scottish Greens and the SNP was the allocation of £500 million to support the creation of new sustainable jobs. There are indications that all of this funding may now go to CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage projects). One time chair of the Wood Group, Sir Ian Wood is a strong advocate of CCS and has been vocal in his criticism of the Westminster government’s failure to fund the Acorn CCS project in Scotland. The Wood Group lobbies and argues for CCS. Their website asserts that ‘If we are to achieve a net-zero world, carbon capture and storage infrastructure is a necessity and needs to scale up rapidly.’ Scot.E3 believes that CCS is a central plank of Oil and Gas UK’s strategy to continue the policy of maximum economic extraction of oil and gas from the North Sea. Choosing to spend the £500 million on CCS would constitute big step down a road that the Oil Industry wishes to travel and a setback for the campaign for a rapid just transition away from fossil fuels. There are many other projects that could be funded.

We are pleased to publish this post that has been submitted to the site. The author has asked to remain anonymous.

One of the SNP’s proposed solutions to climate change is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). This is very dangerous in our mission to decarbonise Scotland’s economy and provide other countries with the tools to do the same. On the face of it CCS may seem like another tool in the box to reduce carbon emissions, and that might be right if it weren’t for the very strong vested interests. 

There are very strong arguments that CCS can’t work for technical reasons – such as the inability to actually avoid the carbon being stored leaking. There are also strong economic reasons it can’t work – wind and solar are already cheaper than fossil fuels in most markets, with plenty of scope for further reduction. Adding an additional cost to the production of fossil fuel energy makes it even less competitive. 

Image Pete Cannell – View from Cromarty – CCO

So why are fossil fuel interests so keen on CCS?

There are two reasons why CCS is favoured by fossil fuel executives who want to portray themselves as concerned about climate change. The first is that it allows them to continue extraction of the oil and gas that their company’s valuations are based on. The second is that it distracts from other clean technologies that will actually decarbonise energy, such as renewables and storage. It does this by ‘crowding out’ renewables investment.

So CCS will do two things, even if it isn’t viable. It will allow more drilling for fossil fuels and it will divert investment from renewables and storage.  

The argument put forward by Oil and Gas UK is that CCS means we can continue to drill in Scottish waters and that those resources can be made ‘carbon neutral’ through CCS. 

The danger particularly comes because the UK Government has chosen not to support the Scottish CCS project. This has created an opportunity for the vested fossil fuel interests in Scotland to argue that the Scottish Government should use the money set aside for a worker-led just transition from oil and gas jobs should be diverted to supporting CCS. The £500m negotiated by the Greens as part of the coalition deal for clean jobs to replace oil and gas is now at risk from a dead-end technology that exists mainly to prevent the end of fossil fuel drilling. 

This illustrates exactly how CCS will crowd out renewables investment, but worse it will rob workers of the jobs that they need in truly clean industries. 

The fossil fuel industry tried the same approach with fracking in the last decade. We urgently need a campaign to persuade politicians who have fallen for the CCS lies and greenwash that this is another wrong turn. At the moment, that means SNP ministers and backbenchers.

END

There are other posts relevant to CCS on this site:

Video on carbon capture

Briefing on BECCS

Articles here and here

Offshore – film trailer

Platform has released the trailer for Offshore, an independent documentary about working in offshore oil and gas and renewable energy. The film explores what the coming energy transition means for workers and communities around the UK North Sea. 

Offshore looks at how communities and regions have been impacted by past industrial decline, the risks workers face in an increasingly precarious industry, and how they can organise for the future. 


The climate crisis means we must rethink our energy systems: where we get energy from, how it’s produced and who benefits from it. We must answer the questions of what to do next – and how to organise for a just transition – together. 

You can check out the website, sign up for a community screening and download the trailer via this link.


Crude Britannia

On the 20th September 2021 we cohosted with Lighthouse Books a discussion on the recently published book ‘Crude Britannia – how oil shaped a nation’. The discussion was introduced by Terry Macalister one of the books authors. This is the video of Terry’s introduction.

For anyone after a copy of the book, you can order Crude Britannia from the Lighthouse website & get 15% off using the code SCOT-E-THREE

Watershed – the turning point for North Sea Oil and the just transition

Today saw the publication of an important new report from Friends of the Earth Scotland and Oil Change International

Key messages from the report include:

  • Since declaring a climate emergency in 2019, the UK’s developed oil and gas reserves have increased by 800 million barrels of oil and gas, bringing UK developed reserves to 6.55 billion barrels.
  • UK law and Scottish Government policy of Maximising Economic Recovery, which requires every last drop to be drilled from the North Sea, would triple UK emissions from oil and gas
  • To limit warming to the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5ºC no new oil & gas fields, including Cambo, can be licensed or developed and North Sea production must be wound down in the next decade
  • In line with equity, the UK – as a wealthy nation with high historic emissions and low economic dependence on oil revenues – should phase out of oil and gas faster than countries for which it would be much harder. Not all of the 6.55 billion barrels in currently producing or under developed reserves can be extracted – some will have to close early, before fully extracting their reserves.
  • Every delay damages the prospects of a well-planned and just transition for workers and communities currently reliant on the industry.

We plan to publish a more detailed review of the report and if you would like to contribute your thoughts on the issues that it raises please do get in touch.