Save St Fitticks – defeat the oilogarchy

This post is a report of the Scot.E3 public meeting held on 24th October 2022. It includes videos from the meeting and links to resources and further information about the St Fitticks Campaign. Please share widely.

The meeting began with a contribution from Ishbel Shand from the Save St Fitticks Campaign

You can read a written version of Ishbel’s contribution here

Pete Cannell followed up with a short contribution on the North Sea oil and gas industry

The two speakers were followed by a wide ranging discussion which is summarised in the following account:

At the ScotE3 public meeting on 24th October “St.Fittick’s Park – Defeat the Oilogarchy” Ishbel Shand, on behalf of the Save St.Fittick’s Park campaign in Aberdeen, reminded us that nearly a century ago Antonio Gramsci, writing from a fascist prison cell, said “The old world is dying, the new is struggling to be born. We live in a time of monsters.”  You can watch the whole of Ishbel’s speech about the history and current significance of St.Fittick’s Park on the YouTube link above. It’s a compelling story not to be missed.

Pete Cannell spoke next, on behalf of ScotE3. He emphasised in particular the catastrophic nature of the North Sea Transition Deal, agreed in March last year and flouted as the first agreement “between the government of a G7 country and its oil and gas production community”. Almost unbelievably this Deal has been signed up to by the Scottish Government and by the Unions which represent the oil and gas workers. More oil and gas, nuclear, and hydrogen for heating. This is a disaster for the climate – particularly in terms of investment. It’s what underpins the Cost of Living Crisis because energy prices would inevitably remain high – much higher than would be the case with renewable sources of energy. It would also be a disaster for jobs – preserving the status quo for jobs is the worst-case scenario, defying any chance of a just transition. You can watch Pete’s presentation on the second YouTube link.

We had hoped for a speaker from Climate Camp, who sited their annual camp this year in St.Fittick’s Park and illegally occupied the site of the old fishing and boat-building village of Torry, destroyed to make way for oil and gas industrialisation. Unfortunately no-one from Climate Campaign was available for this meeting, but their name was on the lips of many participants as a model of how to respect local communities rather than impose on them.

The bulk of the meeting was given to general discussion. Many good points were made, including:

  • The oil and gas industry has never brought anything positive to the Torry community
  • There is a parallel between the threatened industrialisation of St.Fittick’s with the Bo’ness road in Grangemouth, which physically divides the local community and threatens the health of that community with air pollution from traffic congestion.
  • There is also a parallel with the Buckie community’s fight to save the Slochy Wloods
  • The potential power of communities is huge when they come together to fight – for example the success last year, at enormous personal costs, of the Ujaama indigenous communities in securing land rights in Tanznia.
  • There is a fundamental democratic deficit which in general communities face.
  • There’s not just one unaccountable Goliath faced by the David of the Torry community but four –  One North East, oil tycoon Ian Wood’s company which will control the development of an “Energy Transition Zone”; Aberdeen Harbour; Ironside Farrar, the environmental consultants tasked with drawing up a “master plan”; and Aberdeen City Council and its Local Development Plan.
  • Artists/musicians recently performed 45 minutes of songs and poetry at the new Arts Centre in Banchory
  • Films, short and long, have been made about St. Fittick’s.
  • University students are giving St. Fittick’s magnificent support
  • Those of us who don’t live in Aberdeen need to extend the Local actions of the Torry Community to National actions and solidarity across Scotland, through spreading the word far and wide about the threat to St. Fittick’s.
  • We all need too to take opportunities to spread the St. Fittick’s story internationally.
  • There’s a need for more radical change than just fighting for “renewables” – a term which can conceal negative elements – for example the jackets for off-shore turbines are plastic and the blades are steel.
  • The Cost of Living Crisis is fundamental in that it has the potential to mobilize nearly everyone.
  • The Scotland-wide COP 27 mobilisation is at 12noon on Saturday 12th November in Edinburgh. People from Aberdeen wanting to join this rally were encouraged to accept hospitality from those members of ScotE3 based in Edinburgh.

Yes, this is a time of monsters, but it’s also a time of jewels. St. Fittick’s Park itself is a jewel, as is the current response of the campaign to the threat of industrialising the Park. 

The chair ended the meeting with this quote from Ishbel, which emphasises the often-neglected but fundamental significance of the Nature Crisis in all our current struggles:

We can choose to continue with the old dying world of exploitation of people and nature for short-term financial gain. Or we can choose to repair and nurture our damaged environment and learn to live within the constraints that nature imposes.  

Links for further reading/information:      

Some background information on ETZ – click here

A trailer for a film by Martina Camatta

Some films by Robert Aitken can be accessed via this link

The film about Old Torry is particularly moving.  The Aberdeen Social Centre have a complete collection of issues of the “Aberdeen People’s Press” from the period..  One Old Torry resident, with a compulsory purchase order on her home, laments that the same Council that wouldn’t allow her to put in new windows because of the historic importance of her house are now going to bull-doze it, because Shell want the land.

A link to Mike Downham’s post on St Fitticks on this site

North Sea Oil and Gas and the Cost of Living

Report of a public meeting called by ScotE3 on 12th September

The conversation at this meeting between about 40 people from widely differing backgrounds was both extremely valuable and extremely lively. It’s clear that a lot of people have got their blood up.

The meeting was kicked off by contributions from Neil Rothnie, who has spent much of his life as a North Sea offshore worker, and from Pete Cannell, a founder member of ScotE3. You can watch the video of their talks on YouTube

Three climate activists – Quan Nguyen (Climate Camp), Zareen Islam (Muslim Women’s Association of Edinburgh), and Phoebe Hayman (Just Stop Oil) – were then asked to react to Neil and Pete’s contributions. You can watch the video of their reactions here

Here are some of the points that Neil and Pete made in their introduction

  • The meeting has been called ostensibly about the cost-of-living crisis and North Sea oil and gas, but if we’re not talking about climate change, we’re not really talking about the real world.
  • The oil companies operating on the North Sea have a plan to explore for, and produce, every single barrel of oil and gas that exists there.  It’s called Maximising Economic Recovery. It’s written into law and has been since way before COP26.  And if it’s the oil industry plan for the North Sea, it’s the oil industry plan everywhere.   The deal to expedite Maximum Economic Recovery – called the ‘North Sea Transition Deal’ is signed up to by Scottish and UK governments and unions.
  • Almost all the gas used for heating in the UK comes from the British and Norwegian sectors of the North Sea and comes ashore via pipelines.
  • Only a very small amount of gas used in the UK ever came from Russia – it came by tanker – and was primarily used for plastic and other industrial processes not for heating.
  • The huge hike in gas prices came before the war in Ukraine.  Gas and oil prices have been highly volatile for many decades.  Not long ago the price dipped below zero for a short period.  
  • Liz Truss has confirmed the enormity of the cost-of-living crisis, driven largely by North Sea gas here in the UK, in spectacular fashion by throwing £130 billion at it. Money she’s going to borrow in our name and make us pay back. 
  • The fantasy is she’s going to grow the economy to pay for this.  The madness is she thinks she’s going to do it by being cheerleader for the oil and gas industry on the North Sea and by fracking for shale gas in England. 
  • The reality either way is that is she is going to try and make the people pay.
  • Truss treats the global market price for gas as if it is God given.  The price bears no relation to how much gas costs to produce.  It’s set by speculation (by hedge funds) betting on what the price might be at some point in the future.
  • There’s been no significant increase in the cost of gas production on the North Sea.
  • The finances of the poorest, the most vulnerable, those with special needs, are stretched to the limit by the price hikes that are already in place and would have been wrecked immediately by the October rise had it gone ahead as planned.  The Truss decision to freeze energy bills for the next two years is not some sort of act of charity or generosity, but an admission that to proceed with the planned rises in retail energy prices till they met the wholesale energy price levels that profiteering by the gas producers and electricity generators and the market speculators have engineered, is just not acceptable.  The people after years of austerity and real wages reductions, just could not, and would not, shoulder this burden.  
  • The £130 billion package, even if the plan is that we eventually pay for it somehow in energy bills over the next 10 years, is a kind of a victory.  At the very least it gives us the breathing space to begin to build a response in the communities.  But that is still urgent.
  • Had the October cap rise gone ahead it is likely that catastrophic levels of poverty would have been the result and that local communities would have been faced with a couple of immediate challenges. How the most vulnerable were to keep warm? How they were to stay fed?  These challenges have been at best delayed for many people but are still present for many already on prepayment meters and are likely to be unable to heat homes effectively or afford inflated food prices this winter.  
  • The people of Pakistani heritage living in Govanhill and Pollokshields have watched as their families, friends and erstwhile neighbours in about a third of the districts and 12% of the land surface of Pakistan are devastated by floods which even the Government of Pakistan, recognises are a direct result of global warming driven by fossil fuel burning.  Fossil fuel burning specifically not by most of the victims.
  • While trying to raise aid for the victims in Pakistan, this part of our community is facing their own fossil fuel induced crisis, a cost-of-living crisis that threatens to drive them into cold and hunger and which is driven by profiteering on North Sea gas. 
  • The extraction of megaprofits from the North Sea is driving the current cost of living crisis.  Longer-term Truss’s ‘payback plan’ and the government’s plans for Nuclear, Hydrogen for heat and fracking will ensure a high-cost energy future and continue to trash the environment.
  • A sustainable future requires breaking the power of the big energy companies on the North Sea, and through democratic public control phasing down production, ending the subsidies and shifting all that investment into renewables.
  • When they shout – It’s the war in Ukraine.  We’ve got to shout it’s profiteering on North Sea gas.

You can watch a full video of the introductory talks here

And here is an attempt at summarising the general discussion which followed:

Actions we can take immediately

  • Most people don’t understand what’s happening. We need to get out into the streets with leaflets and speak to people – which is the key strategy of Just Stop Oil.
  • We should speak more about our ideas, and less about ‘theirs’.
  • A good talking point is the recent worst flooding ever in Pakistan. At the same moment when Pakistani families living in Scotland were watching their relatives dying on the news, many of these families, for example on the south side in Glasgow, are facing the impossibility this winter of both keeping warm and having enough to eat. Both these disasters are a direct result of the world continuing to burn fossil fuels as its main source of energy.
  • We need to keep expressing our solidarity with the people of the global south who are enduring the worst effects of global heating.
  • The power of the big North Sea oil and gas companies, through lobbying, bribery and their control of the media, is huge. This is a war we’re fighting, not a battle.
  • Beware these companies as they begin to invest in renewables. If we allow ourselves to be fooled by this they will make sure that renewables are developed in a way which is most profitable for them instead of prioritising public benefit.
  • We need to fight for state ownership of not only distribution of energy but also its production. 
  • The processing plant at Mossmorran must be shut down.
  • One participant suggested that we should get into the Labour and LibDem parties and make the politicians listen to what we have to say.
  • We should organise for COP27 (to be held in November at Sharm El Sheik, Egypt).
  • At the same time as addressing the big political picture, we need to provide support for the many people in our communities who will be in desperate need this winter – for example by setting up ‘Warm Banks’, as communities in North Edinburgh are planning towards.

Workers and Unions

  • The unions need to come together with the workers, demanding with a single voice no more fossil fuel extraction and just transition for the workers.
  • There will be no pay and no jobs on a dead planet
  • We should go to picket lines to express solidarity and not be afraid to speak about the big picture, whatever immediate demands the strikers are making. For example whatever RMT workers immediate demands, they are the people who will be running the electric trains to get people out of their cars.
  • On October 1st we should be on the streets to support the BT group workers and their Communication Workers Union
  • We should particularly express solidarity with the current wave of wild-cat strikes by the North Sea offshore workers, especially in view of their Unions’ criticisms of their strike action. The work conditions of these workers are appalling,

Our rulers

  • Do not care about us
  • Are under the control of the big oil and gas companies
  • Deserve our anger

Hopeful considerations

  • Working together: one participant talked about ‘joining the dots’ – another suggested a good way of doing this is by supporting RMT pickets and making sure that climate and supporting public transport is part of the agenda; critical to make the links between organised workers and communities – the Edinburgh Trade Unions in Communities initiative is a good example.  It was noted that the anti-fracking campaign went well because of solidarity across Scotland and England. So, the theme across these is about connecting, working together for greater impact.
  • There are now the beginnings of widespread collective action
  • The North Sea is at an end-game stage, with reducing quantities of oil and gas to extract, and the prospect of rising costs of extraction.
  • Two years ago, Platform ran a questionnaire for offshore workers which showed many hadn’t even heard about just transition, but that most would gladly move to jobs in renewables if they were given the opportunity.
  • One participant pointed out that when fundamental daily needs like warmth and food are being denied to large numbers of people, history tells us that revolution is likely. Other civilisations have fallen in similar circumstances.

Upcoming meetings

A number of events were mentioned during the discussion go to our Events page for details.

Briefing 16: oil and gas are costing us the earth

Here’s the text of out latest briefing on climate, oil and gas and the cost of living. You can download it here.

Cost of Living

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.  

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 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 – the North Sea Transition Deal

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’ is a partnership between the UK and Scottish governments and the unions.  It 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

Moreover, the ‘Transition Deal’ drives high-cost energy options at every step and leaves working people to pay the price.   The latest UK government energy strategy aligns entirely with the ‘Deal’. Most of the electricity produced by 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.

Torness CC-BY-SA-4.0 Image by NH2501

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.  

An economy based on renewables results in many more jobs than the fossil fuel and nuclear options.

A challenge for the trade union movement

It’s time for a decisive shift in policy and end to partnership with the oil industry.  Just transition, indeed arguably any transition that restricts temperature rises to 1.5 degrees, is incompatible with the ‘North Sea Transition Deal’.  Sticking with the ‘Deal’ is a disaster for the planet and undermines the ability of the workers movement and the climate movement to build the power we need to win over climate and the cost of living.

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 phased 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.

Oil, gas and the cost of living

This post by Neil Rothnie was written as a letter to the Herald newspaper but the Herald declined to publish it

It’s North Sea gas price increases that are largely responsible for the cost of living crisis,  making energy bills unpayable for growing numbers of people. 

90% of the gas we use in our homes comes from the North Sea.  Wholesale gas prices  were soaring well before Russia invaded Ukraine.  So far Ukraine and Russia have  collaborated to keep most Russian gas flowing to Europe and finance both sides in this  war.  There have been no power outages or gas shortages in the UK or Europe. 

North Sea gas price increases have not been caused by rising costs of production.  There  have been no wage increases for oil and gas workers, and no new pipelines or gas  platforms built.   

So what are the sky high gas prices all about?  Supply and demand?  Prices pushed up  by a global shortage?  China, Japan and India, where it is claimed that there are gas  shortages, can’t access North Sea gas however much they’d be prepared to pay for  it.   There are not the facilities in Europe to liquify North Sea gas and there is not a fleet of  empty LNG tankers waiting to transport it to Asia.   

The oil companies either sell North Sea gas to us at prices people can afford or they drive  consumers into cold and hunger.  The choice they have made is clear.  Profits of Shell, BP  and Total in the first 3 months of this year are colossal – £7.5, £5 and £4 billion  respectively. 

Ordinary people can’t and won’t go on indefinitely paying for oil company  profiteering.  We can’t just live with the gas and electricity disconnections that are the  inevitable result of unaffordable bills.  Already Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion are  justifiably on the streets engaged in civil disobedience aimed at the oil and gas industry.  Far more widespread civil disobedience is surely inevitable as people respond to cold and  hunger.  Remember the Poll Tax?   

Manipulating gas markets to impoverish your customers can’t in any way be described as  a “windfall”.  It’s an unprovoked and deadly attack by an industry whose time has passed,  and a one-off tax won’t cut the mustard.  

The plan to slash civil service jobs to free up the cash to meet the cost of living crisis is a  perverse response.  The industry needs to be taken out of the hands of our own  oligarchs.   The oil and gas that will have to be produced in the short term, needs to  finance the transition that will allow us to stay warm in our homes, and the planet to stay  cool enough to remain habitable. We need a plan to insulate our homes properly, and  massively expand wind and solar generation to heat and light our homes in a way that  doesn’t feed the climate crisis. 

This is the opposite of the current oil industry/Government plan to Maximise Economic  Recovery of North Sea oil and gas, ie, to produce and burn every barrel of hydrocarbon  they can turn a profit on – business as usual.

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.

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