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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d be interested in a copy.
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.
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.
There are other posts relevant to CCS on this site:
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.
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.
Neil Rothnie – ex oil worker and one time editor of the OILC newsletter Blowout spoke to a conference of people involved in the creative industries in Aberdeen on Saturday 4th September. He talked about the North Sea, climate jobs and just transition. We publish his contribution in full here.
I’ve been asked to speak because a large part of my life has revolved around struggle in the oil and gas industry. I spent my working life offshore, mostly on the North Sea, latterly in the Norwegian sector. On the whole I enjoyed my working life. I miss it a bit. But mainly the Norwegian bit.
In my early days in the industry, I was active in the Aberdeen Branch of the National Union of Seamen. And during the strikes and occupations led by the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee, in the wake of the Piper Alpha disaster, I founded and produced Blowout. At that time a “nasty scurrilous” tabloid that aspired to giving oil workers a voice.
I became the Secretary of the OILC branch of RMT after OILC “merged with” the Rail Maritime and Transport union, and I briefly represented RMT’s oil worker members on the executive of that union. I remain a member of the Norwegian union, Industri Energi.
I was inspired to join the struggle against climate change by Extinction Rebellion. I’m also active with ScotE3, campaigning for jobs and a just transition (the three Es in ScotE3 are employment, energy and environment). I’m speaking for neither of these organisations. I’m sure a lot of what I say here would get agreement from many, but not all, of the supporters of these two organisations.
As I understand climate science, it is fossil fuels that are very largely the source of the greenhouse gasses that are heating the environment and causing climate change and threatening the existence of much of life on the planet. For fossil fuel read oil & gas, at least for the purposes of this meeting.
So, I find myself back in a fight with the oil industry. In the wake of the Piper Alpha disaster, I struggled alongside the very best, and most conscious of the offshore workforce, many of whom were lifelong trade union members. Today I struggle alongside the very best, and most conscious of the youth, organised in Extinction Rebellion and in other civil society organisations, and with other old guys in ScotE3.
It’s a lifetime of work in the industry, and recent activity as a climate activist that informs my understanding of a “just transition”. Global heating and climate change is not the fault of oil and gas workers, and it isn’t/wasn’t the fault of the coal miners either.
That’s the good news.
This thought consoles me just before I try and get to sleep while trying to imagine my grandchildren having long, happy and fulfilled lives, sharing a planet teeming with life.
The bad news is that blameworthy or not, oil and gas workers are going to have to stop being oil and gas workers. Sooner rather than later if they share my concern for their own grandchildren. The solution it would seem is a “just transition”. I think we should have a look at the two parts of this “just transition” construct.
The transition! It’s already underway. And insofar as I understand the science, there’s no going back.
One possible outcome is that we’re going to complete that transition to a sustainable habitable world powered by renewable energy and a planet where we’ve stopped the practice of dumping greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere.
The alternative is that we’re going to transition to a largely uninhabitable world where the earth’s delicate ecological balance is disrupted, and enormous forces of nature are released, eventually taking humanity and the rest of life on the planet into a premature and manmade fifth mass extinction.
Transition, it seems to me, is not a choice. It’s begun. We’re in the process. We WILL transition to a planet beyond fossil fuel burning.
Mind you there’s a possibility that there just might not be people there to see it. But if we and lot of the rest of life on this planet are going to survive oil and gas is going to have to go and soon.
But what about the “just” bit of a “just transition”? Does “just” mean “fair”? I only ask because it renders my next question into English.
Fair to whom? Do we mean fair to our grandchildren and to their grandchildren? Those who are going to inherit the planet in whatever state we’re going to leave it? Do we mean fair to those who have spent their lives with little access to the fossil fuel energy that’s destabilising the planet? The very same people who are often at the sharp end of climate change? Do we mean fair to all other life forms on the planet? Or, as it’s usually understood in our corner of the globe, do we mean fair to the workers who currently produce and process the fossil fuels that have kept the lights on in the Global North? In the sense that oil and gas workers, and the communities in which they live, should not be dumped, as were the miners before them, when the UK transitioned from coal to gas in the 1980s and 90s?
Surely, we mean “fair” in all of the above senses of the word. But with, I think, an important qualification. “The transition” is primary.
Whether it is to be just or not, is entirely subordinate. No transition to renewables and the fairness or otherwise, really won’t matter a shit.
None of this means that I don’t think it matters what happens to oil and gas workers and the communities in which they live. But I think we should be clear that oil and gas workers and their families are not some sort of special case. The future for their grandchildren and their grandchildren’s grandchildren will ultimately be bound up with the future of ALL of our grandchildren.
There’s no special case, no “business as usual” scenario for the North Sea, where the transition doesn’t happen, and where oil and gas workers just keep on keeping on, producing fossil fuels. And the fairness or otherwise of the “transition” for oil and gas workers is going to be determined in some part by the stand taken by the workforce and their families and communities.
From the standpoint of a roughneck, or a scaffolder, or a caterer on an oil rig on the North Sea, this “business as usual” might well look, pretty damned attractive if you’re hanging on to even a precarious “ad hoc” job, and the alternative is a wage thousands of pounds a year less, and that’s if you could actually get a job ashore or in offshore renewables. In the same circumstances what would your initial reaction be? You’d have a bit more of the “business as usual” too, at least till you could plan your exit.
But what has “business as usual” really meant for offshore workers in the UK sector. Relatively good money! That’s true. But it’s been falling real wages and diminishing job security and major layoffs after successive oil price shocks going right back to 1986. You can have spent your whole working life on the North Sea and still be liable to arbitrary dismissal (I can explain the NRB later if anyone here is not familiar with it). And for many, work schedules in the UK sector are as ball bustlingly bad as ever. The boom days were pretty much over by the time Occidental killed 167 workers when they allowed Piper Alpha to blow up.
There are a lot of very good reasons for workers to get off the North Sea and into an industry with a future. The problem is how,and where, because the Government and the industry, are hanging on, as if to dear life, to a hydrocarbon future. Where is the clear plan to run down the industry and retrain and redeploy the workers in renewables, using the skills that they already have? And where is the plan for learning to live with the amount of renewable energy that we can reasonably expect to produce in the crucial near future? Which is what a Government and an industry would be doing if they gave a fuck for the workers, or the planet for that matter. .
And then there’s the offshore wind industry, driven by profit. They’ll have studied carefully how the oil companies have tackled decommissioning. They too would rather pay wage rates that might well allow a decent standard of living in Manilla, but certainly doesn’t cut it in Aberdeen or Middlesbrough or Burntisland. The workers who used to produce wind towers in Campeltown could tell you all about this. What we have instead of a plan for a just transition, is a deal between the Government and the industry to further support hydrocarbon production, to continue with “business as usual” on the North Sea, subsidised to the hilt by taxpayers’ money.
The end of oil and gas globally must look like the end of the world to the fossil fuel industry, the bankers who finance it, the traders who parasitise it and the politicians. Hopefully it’ll only be the end of a rotten and corrupt system.
The Government parrots the industry formula about oil and gas production being necessary “for decades to come”. They call their plan for the North Sea “maximising economic recovery”. Producing every barrel that they can turn a profit on. This perverse version of “business as usual” has been written into the UK’s statute books.
And it begs the question of whether our Government, hosts of COP26, self-anointed global leaders in the fight against climate change,are giving the nod here to maximising economic recovery of ALL oil and gas?
I shouldn’t think Vlad the poisoner or the Crown Prince murderer need much encouragement to follow suite.
Central to the UK plan is one mitigation measure. It’s an expensive, energy guzzling technology that has been stalling for the last three decades, and which would require a 1000 fold increase in capacity worldwide to begin to address the situation. It’s called carbon capture and storage (CCS) and it’s linked to so called “blue” hydrogen production. CCS at scale is not even up and running in one single location in UK. It’s pretty much only commercially viable as a tool for producing even more oil and gas mainly in the States, and only then when oil and gas prices are high. CCS is beloved of the oil industry and the Government, but is “disappeared” by the media in much the same way as the North Sea itself is largely disappeared in public debate about global heating.
And the questions that never get asked?
Who’s going to pick up the bill for producing the hydrogen from natural gas and then capture and store this polluting waste product. The oil and gas industry itself? Not very likely! They don’t even pay for the oil. And they’re not going to pay to clean up much of their old hardware on the North Sea when its useful life is over.
The taxpayer is going to have the privilege of paying for a vast amount of the decommissioning of redundant platforms.
The polluter pays? Huh!
Putting the cost of hydrogen and carbon capture on top of the cost of production of oil and gas sounds very much like the kind of squeeze on profits that periodic oil price collapses have repeatedly given us. And the oil and gas workers know what happens every time the oil price falls and profits are squeezed. Investment dries up and the workers get dumped, and if they’re lucky, rehired at lower rates down the line.
If hydrogen and carbon capture and storage is a serious solution to global heating, then we need to know how much more fossil fuels will have to be produced to fuel this energy hungry process and how much carbon will be captured and stored and by whom on what timescale and at what cost, to whom. We need urgently to open a conversation with those, and I’m thinking here of the hugely respected climate scientist Myles Allen, who sees the transition led by the oil industry. Which sounds a lot to me like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.
Although it’s not the oil workers’ responsibility alone to change this situation, they are first in the firing line, and what they do is going to be decisive in deciding whether the transition is going to be fair or “just” from their point of view. They can swallow the plan of Government and industry for continued exploration and development of new oil and gas fields. They might gamble that the industry will see them out and fuck the consequences for their grandchildren and the planet. They might opt for the “business as usual” option that gives them periodic job crashes and diminishing wages and conditions, and very likely future disasters and loss of life, and leaves them negotiating their escape from the industry alone as individuals. Certainly, the last time any significant section of oil and gas workers took up a struggle was over three decades ago after Occidental dispatched 167 workers on Piper Alpha.
Back then the official trade union movement completely failed to step up to the challenge. They were utterly useless, and it took the rank-and-file Offshore Industry Liaison Committee to try and ensure that Piper Alpha would never be repeated. But a quarter of a century later, French oil giant Total did exactly that. They presided over a complete breakdown of safety offshore, endangering the lives of the 267 men on Elgin and the Rowan Viking in 2012. Only luck stopped Total blowing up the Elgin complex with all hands onboard.
The Blowout publication never reported on the Elgin Blowout. That edition coincided with the 25th anniversary of Piper and would have seriously challenged the “never again” and the “we’ve learned our lesson” mantras.
So, who can predict what lies ahead, and what the workforce might, or might not do? We’ll no doubt get the measure of the offshore unions’ commitment to fighting climate change when we hear what their response to the proposed new Cambo oilfield West of Shetland will be.
Yesterday’s Just Transition Coalition Conference featuring the trade unions gave us a bit of a clue. The unions kept quiet on the issue.
But not one section of society alone is going to turn the climate crisis around. And the offshore worker is no more to blame than anyone else for the crisis, and no more responsible for solving it.
But if the oil and gas workers are to play a part in securing a just transition for themselves and their communities, they’ll certainly need all the support they can get.
The environmental movement have the responsibility for making sure that oil and gas workers have access to the science and an understanding of the role that fossil fuels play in global heating.
Creatives also have a role, maybe even some sort of responsibility here. And indeed this exhibition and related events suggests that this community is awake to oil and gas and its colossal implications locally, and for the planet. Maybe here in Aberdeen we’ve seen an end to an era, when for almost two decades, BP could sponsor the Grays’ School of Art degree show, drink their champagne in their own cosy enclosure, and with their own invited guests.
While BP were basking in the glow of appreciation from academia and creating a warm and fuzzy image in Aberdeen, they were breaking all the rules on the Deepwater Horizon where they killed 11 men, and in the process trashed the Gulf of Mexico with the world’s worst oil spill? I’m guessing BP’s paltry sponsorship money didn’t stretch to getting that years photography class from Garthdee over to Louisiana’s beaches. Not that that would have appreciably added to their 65 billion dollar costs that included a 4 billion dollar criminal penalty.
Andy Kennedy, old friend and neighbour, and one time tutor at Gray’s and known to a few of you here today, told me
Artists are encouraged to practice thinking, questioning, observing and reacting. It’s what they do.
Artists are supposed to upset the apple cart, knock on doors and ask for change
He said a lot of nice things about artists but these are the only bits I understood.Ah! Some of you do know him I see.
Maybe from here on in we’re likely to see, reflected in the degree show, a much more critical appreciation of the industry that’s dominated Aberdeen for the last 5 decades. Maybe that’s not how it works.
But at least creatives should be checking what is being funded by Oil and Gas, what if any hidden strings are attached, and ask themselves just what are the BPs and Shells of this world getting out of sponsorship of the arts.
We all, including the workers, will have to work out where we stand in this existential crisis. Nobody on this side of the fence is forcing the workers into a corner. It’s the climate crisis itself that’s doing that to all of us.
So, who knows whether the transition is going to be just? The brightest light in this gloom are the youth inspired by Greta Thunberg. They include the sons and daughters of oil workers, and they now find themselves on the front line of struggle. It’s their future that’s at stake. They are more likely than anyone to speak truth to the workers and to the industry.
The climate movement, armed by climate science, has a responsibility not to shy away from the very difficult questions posed by the transition for the industry workforce. The workers need to know the facts about climate change and fossil fuels. The workers and their communities will themselves have to come to terms with what continued hydrocarbon production means.
Maybe climate activists in Aberdeen and the North East bolstered by the creatives might consider opening their doors for a couple of days during the COP to activists who will be in Scotland from all over the global south.
Maybe together we can challenge Shell, Siccar Point, and the Oil and Gas Authority in Aberdeen, and let them know what we think of their Cambo plans.
Maybe together we can get out to the heliports and into the city and open up a conversation with the oil workers about what would be a “just transition” for everyone, and how that might be achieved.
Maybe we can set the tone for a global conversation about the future of hydrocarbons.
Speaking on behalf of the UK Government last week Alok Sharma said that the world is “dangerously close” to running out of time to stop a climate catastrophe. Sharma would have already seen the now published IPCC report which makes it abundantly clear that this is the case. Politicians use ‘we’ and ‘the world’ as if lack of action is a responsibility that we all share equally. He went on to state that “We can’t afford to wait two years, five years, 10 years – this is the moment …” But in March 2021 the UK government signed up to a North Sea Transition Deal, designed by the oil and gas sector that essentially puts off the action we need for another three decades. Opening a new oilfield is part of the plan and despite his rhetoric Sharma is right behind it. This is why the campaign to stop the Cambo field is so important. Pete Cannell explores the political importance of the campaign in this post. A version of the post was published previously on the rs21 website.
On Monday 19th July twelve climate activists blocked the entrance to the UK Government hub in Edinburgh, demanding that plans to give the green light for a new oilfield west of Shetland be scrapped. Later in the day they were joined by another 200 ‘Stop Cambo’ protestors.
Shell and Siccar Point Energy are asking the UK Government for permission to develop the Cambo oil field. Production is scheduled to start in 2025 and in phase 1 the two companies expect to extract 150 million barrels of oil – the emissions equivalent of 16 coal-fired power plants running for a year. In total the new field contains the equivalent 800 million barrels of oil.
With the United Nations Climate talks, COP 26, due to start in just over 3 months’ time the Stop Cambo campaign is shining a harsh light on what passes for UK climate policy. Throughout the year Westminster has been ramping up announcements on ‘Net Zero’ climate initiatives. We’ll see many more in the run up to the COP. You might think that developing a new, deep water, oil field would fit uncomfortably with all of this. And indeed, some critics are calling out Boris Johnson for hypocrisy. But the truth is that giving the green light for a new oil field is no aberration or hypocritical deviation from otherwise well-intentioned policies. On the contrary it’s a core part of UK and Scottish government policy that aims at maximum economic extraction of hydrocarbons from the North Sea. And as such it provides a critical lens through which all this year’s announcements should be viewed.
The blueprint behind Tory plans is not hard to find. It was released earlier this year without a fanfare. On the 21st of March, Oil and Gas UK published the North Sea Transition Deal, a plan for continuing exploitation of North Sea Oil and Gas to 2050 and beyond. The deal is a tripartite arrangement between the big oil and gas companies and the UK and Scottish governments. It maps out a plan to continue extracting oil and gas from the North Sea. The idea is that at some point in the future carbon capture and carbon offsetting will allow the government to claim that they have achieved Net Zero. In this world Net Zero doesn’t mean the end of oil and gas production. The theory is that the carbon contained in the oil and gas extracted from the North Sea is either trapped in underground storage or compensated for by carbon retention measures elsewhere.
The whole concept of Net Zero as developed in the Transition Deal is deeply flawed. For a start, UK and Scottish emissions reduction targets don’t include the carbon extracted from the North Sea. These greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to users of the products that derive from the oil and gas. So, Oil and Gas UK can talk blithely about a zero carbon North Sea oil sector because it takes no responsibility for end use. But even if you accept the bizarre logic of extracting hydrocarbons while taking no responsibility for a large part of the emissions you produce, the core technology that underpins carbon capture is speculative and untested. Currently, there is nowhere in the world where carbon capture and storage operate at large scale. And even if it can be made to work at large scale there will be many more years of greenhouse gas emissions before it has a serious impact.
Alongside continuing use of fossil fuels and carbon capture the North Sea Transition Deal also reserves a key role for hydrogen in transport and in domestic heating. Some of the hydrogen will be ‘blue’ produced from hydrocarbons, some ‘green’ the result of electrolysis of water. Without carbon capture ‘blue’ hydrogen is a major source of carbon emissions. ‘Green’ hydrogen, produced using electricity generated from renewables, is carbon free but immensely inefficient, requiring a huge ramping up of electricity production from wind, tidal and solar power. There’s certainly a place for green hydrogen in a renewable energy mix but only where direct use of electricity is impractical. From any other perspective except that of an oil and gas company direct use of renewably generated electricity makes obvious sense.
The Sea Change report, published in May 2019, shows how continuing production of North Sea oil and gas is incompatible with meeting the UK’s climate targets, let alone meeting the UK’s historical responsibility to the global south as one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases over the last two centuries. The report also shows how a planned, and rapid, shut down of North Sea operations could maximise employment opportunities in renewable energy.
It was striking that all the speakers at the Stop Cambo rally highlighted the need for workers to be at the centre of the transition away from oil and gas. Just Transition has become the common sense of climate activists in Scotland. And climate is finally on the agenda of the trade union movement. At the Scottish Trades Union Congress in April three of the composited motions focused on the issue. But there is a real challenge here. The STUC motions proposed by Unite, GMB, Prospect and the RMT tail the business-as-usual agenda that is driven by Oil and Gas UK and supported by Westminster and Holyrood – support for continuing extraction of oil and gas, carbon capture and a hydrogen economy. There’s a need for a sharp debate. The politics and practice of transition can’t be ducked by either climate activists or workers.
Even if the untested technologies on which Oil and Gas UK’s strategy is based work, Net Zero will not mean no net emissions, but simply shift responsibility for emissions elsewhere, often to the global south. And business-as-usual also means a continuing drive for profit maximisation, low wages, and precarious employment. Just Transition is not possible on the back of the North Sea Transition deal.
For Just Transition to become more than a slogan, we need to win workers to the need for mass working class action over climate. At this moment in our history class and climate are deeply intermeshed. Fighting for a future for our children and grandchildren with a transition strategy that provides a real chance of avoiding a climate catastrophe goes hand in hand with winning decent jobs and conditions, fighting racism and gender oppression and building workers’ power. The need is obvious, but the politics of how to make it happen is critical and requires a break with the union/employer partnership approach which underlies existing trade union policy.
Cambo is just one more piece in the jigsaw of the fossil fuel economy that needs to be dismantled. However, the decision to go ahead or not is politically important. Boris Johnson wants to milk the UK’s hosting of COP26 for all its worth. It will be embarrassing if developing new oil and gas fields is foregrounded in news from the COP, and that may mean a decision is postponed until 2022. Not because the UK is out of line with the other industrialised nations participating in the COP. Relying on carbon capture and other techno fixes is in line with the thinking that has informed the COP process over the years. A public outcry over Cambo in the run up to COP26 can help blow away the mist of greenwashing that will be generated around the Glasgow talks and help to push the climate and union movements in the direction of a radical worker led strategy for system change not climate change.
Both the UK and Scottish governments remain committed to continuing extraction of North Sea Oil and Gas. Carbon emission from the burning of these fuels are more than five times those of the whole Scottish economy. Yet these emissions are not included in Scottish or UK targets for emissions reduction. The assumption is that other countries will cut usage and the market will then drive down demand or, and more often, that we can carry on producing willy nilly but consumers will find ways of capturing the carbon. Both of these events are deferred into the future and exploration and development of new fields continues. The Sea Change report shows how these plans are incompatible with a zero carbon economy and with a just transition.
Thanks to Friends of the Earth Scotland for these notes on the latest development west of Shetland.
Oil giant Shell and Siccar Point Energy are seeking permission from the UK Government to develop the Cambo oil field, West of Shetland, just months ahead of COP26. In the first phase, due to start in 2025, the companies expect to extract 150 million barrels of oil – the emissions equivalent of 16 coal-fired power plants running for a year. They anticipate operating the Cambo field, which contains 800 million boe, until 2050, by which time Britain has pledged to be net carbon neutral.
The Cambo Field is the second largest oil and gas development waiting for approval and once up and running is set to be the fifth largest producer in the North Sea. If approved, Cambo Field will be the first UK project to get the green light since the International Energy Agency Net Zero report calling for no new investment in oil and gas starting this year and the Shell ruling mandating the company to slash carbon emissions 45% by 2030.
The UK Government is currently expected to give its final approval on the project over the next six to eight weeks. Moving forward with the Cambo Field contradicts the findings of the IEA’s net zero report and is incompatible with limiting warming to the Paris Agreement target of 1.5C.
The climate impacts of opening the Cambo Oil field would be devastating. In the first phase alone, developers want to extract 150million barrels of oil; the emissions from which are equivalent to running a coal-fired power station for 16 years. The field is expected to operate until 2050 – the point by which your government has committed to reaching net zero emissions. And this is just the beginning. Cambo Field is only one of many oil and gas projects waiting for government approval that have the potential to extract 1.7 billions barrels of oil.
Approving the Cambo field will be a massive failure of UK climate leadership and threatens to undermine the success of the crucial UN climate talks. In just a few months, the eyes of the world will turn to the UK as the hosts of the UN climate talks in Glasgow. Approving the Cambo field will send a clear message that this government is not serious about climate action and not willing to do its part to phase out support for oil and gas. If the UK keeps extracting oil and gas, how can it expect other countries to do anything different?
The International Energy Agency has stated that to meet the 1.5°C target in the Paris Agreement, there should be no more new investment in oil, gas, or coal. Further, the recent UK Climate Change Committee assessment clearly laid out that current UK policies are far from delivering the UK’s climate goals. The amount of oil and gas in already operating fields in the UK will exceed our share of emissions in relation to the Paris climate goals. The world cannot afford to open new fossil fuel frontiers. This starts with rejecting the Cambo Field.
If Boris Johnson is serious about being a climate leader, he must reject Cambo, all new fossil fuel developments and support a just transition for oil and gas workers and impacted communities. It’s time to end the UK government’s support for maximising the economic recovery of oil & gas and commit instead to a rapid and fair energy transition. With the right policy support, the UK could create three jobs in clean energy for every oil & gas job at risk. We need a clear, credible plan to wind down production and deliver a just transition that is driven by oil and gas workers, their unions and affected communities.
The Cambo Field will bring few jobs, little tax and a potentially huge clean up bill for the public purse. Contracts for construction and installation have been awarded to overseas firms, meaning the bulk of jobs will be outside of the UK. As part of a global oil market 80% of UK crude is currently exported, and so this field would not contribute significantly to UK energy security. Siccar Point Energy, who owns the majority stake in the proposed field, paid no net tax between 2015 and 2019, instead receiving £41mn from the government to cover decommissioning costs. Meanwhile, the complexity of the field and high cost of operating in the West of Shetland makes the project high risk, with similar projects suffering from large cost overruns that have driven producers to bankruptcy.
One of the key issues we heard from oil and gas workers in Offshore was the high cost of training, borne by workers as more and more are forced into short-term contracts, posed a barrier to moving easily between similar offshore jobs in renewables as well as oil and gas.
This new survey shows that these workers are paying an average of over £1,800 a year in training costs, and among more results that:
97% are concerned about the UK’s offshore energy industry training costs
74.5% are employed ad-hoc as contractors
65% said their employer contributed 0% to their training costs including safety and first aid training in the past two years, which is up from 45% before 2015
94% of respondents said they would support an offshore passport, which licences accredited workers to work offshore in any sector through a cross-industry minimum training requirement.