Oil and Gas Profits Fuel UK Worker Demands for Just Energy Future

UK North Sea oil platform ©Julian/AdobeStock
UK North Sea oil platform ©Julian/AdobeStock

 When Scott Agnew worked on deep sea oil and gas tankers and cargo boats in the 1980s, he used to count whales and dolphins for conservationists' surveys on his voyages around the world.

Based in Dundee, Scotland, many of his jobs over the years have been for the offshore fossil fuel industry, including on drillships and ships supplying oil rigs.

"I've always had my eye on the environment," said Agnew, 55. "Over the last few years, personally I just thought more and more it's time to move away from (fossil fuels)."

Agnew is among more than 1,000 offshore oil and gas workers who have backed a campaign launched on Monday urging the British government to plan a "just transition" that shifts the economy to green energy while protecting workers and their communities.

It comprises ten demands developed with workers by nonprofit groups Platform and Friends of the Earth Scotland. 

The asks include involving workers in planning, establishing a higher minimum wage across all activities in British waters, and a permanent tax on energy firms' "excess" profits.

Oil and gas companies have raked in record profits as energy prices spiked following Russia's invasion of Ukraine a year ago, leading to calls for higher taxes on the sector as consumers struggled to pay rocketing electricity and gas bills.

Meanwhile, BP is rowing back on its plans to cut oil and gas output and slowing targeted reductions in its planet-heating carbon emissions by 2030. Last week, Shell's CEO told the Times newspaper it was reviewing goals to decrease oil production.

Meanwhile, offshore workers across the RMT, GMB and Unite trade unions are considering industrial action over pay and conditions. Unite announced on Friday that nearly 50 workers at BP's North Sea installations have backed strike action.

Gabrielle Jeliazkov, a campaigner at Platform, said workers are angry at firms for "profiteering" during a cost-of-living crisis and at the UK government for failing to regulate the offshore industry and plan for the transition to renewables.

She said workers want more of the benefits from offshore fossil fuel production to go to the public, citing Norway's majority stake in oil company Equinor which has helped finance social protection through its sovereign wealth fund.

"How are we creating an energy system that services the communities and people who require energy, the workers who work in it, and the planet?" asked Jeliazkov, who co-authored the demands based on six workshops and a survey of more than 1,000 offshore workers.

Globally, some 31.7 million energy workers were employed in fossil fuels in 2022, making up about 44% of the sector's workforce, according to the International Energy Agency.

The clean energy transition is expected to have a big impact on communities that currently rely on fossil fuel jobs - as in the 1980s when de-industrialisation led to long-term high unemployment in parts of Britain, the United States and elsewhere.

"(Offshore workers) all have living memory of what de-industrialization looks like in the UK, and how poorly it's been managed in the past," Jeliazkov said.

Another major concern for workers is immediate: training programs and certificates for working offshore are not transferable between the fossil-fuel and renewables sectors, as they are run by different standards bodies.

"Everybody's looking after their own little fiefdom, and it's stopping people in the oil and gas industry transferring to offshore wind and other renewable projects," said Agnew. 

Many of the courses are effectively the same - such as one in firefighting he completed for 950 pounds ($1,138) - and should be recognized across industries with a training "passport", he added.

"If you turn up at an offshore station, an oil rig, a ship, and there's a fire going, the fire doesn't actually stop and ask you what certificate you have before you can fight it," he said.

GLOBAL PROBLEM

David Waskow from the World Resources Institute (WRI), a U.S.-based think-tank, said long-term planning should start now to support the transition away from oil and gas, especially in developing countries that depend heavily on industry revenues, such as Nigeria and Colombia. 

"There has been a lot of attention to coal and comparatively little to transitions - especially just transition questions - in the oil and gas space," said Waskow, who directs WRI's International Climate Initiative.

A recent WRI report he co-authored said oil and gas employment has an outsized influence on local government resources and communities in middle-income developing countries - which produce about half of the world's supply.

The researchers pointed to the need to diversify economies and support workers who would be hit by a shift to clean energy.

That will require dedicated funding for a "just transition" from domestic and international sources, including multinational oil firms that have benefited from extracting fossil fuels in those middle-income nations, the WRI report said.

Back in Scotland, Scott Agnew worries that communities in the northeast which rely on North Sea oil and gas, such as Aberdeen, will be left behind without the right support.

"It's about time heads were smacked together and people were told to sit down and get it worked out," he said.

"If they don't, there's not going to be a just transition."


($1 = 0.8344 pounds)


(The Thomson Reuters Foundation - Reporting by Jack Graham; additional reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Megan Rowling. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit https://www.context.news/)

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