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Offshore: Oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition

By Gabrielle Jeliazkov, Platform, Ryan Morrison, and Mel Evans - Platform, Friends of the Earth Scotland (FoES), Greenpeace, September 29, 2020

‘Offshore’ reveals the results of a survey of 1,383 oil and gas workers in the UK Continental Shelf. Amidst Covid-19, oil market volatility and a looming energy transition, the results and eight case studies demonstrate the dissatisfaction with precarity of work, an appetite to move into alternative industries and the policy proposals to make it happen.

Key survey results include:

  • 43% have been furloughed or made redundant since March
  • 91% of respondents had never heard of the term ‘just transition’
  • 81% would consider leaving the oil and gas industry to work in another sector
  • Given the option of retraining to work elsewhere in the energy sector, more than half would be interested in renewables and offshore wind

Based on the findings of the survey, the authors make recommendations to improve working conditions in the oil and gas sector, address barriers to entry and conditions within the renewables industry and ensure workers are able to help determine policy for the energy transition,

A well-managed energy transformation can meet UK climate commitments while protecting livelihoods and economic wellbeing – provided that the right environmental and social policies are adopted and that the affected workers, trade unions and communities are able to guide policies.

Energy systems help to shape our economic and political structures. As we inevitably change our energy system in the face of climate change, our economic and politics system must change too. An energy future grounded in democracy can create the potential for more just outcomes across society.

Read the text (PDF).

North Sea workers ready to switch to renewables, survey shows

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, September 29, 2020

Most UK oil workers would consider switching to another industry – and, if given the option to retrain, more than half would choose to work on renewable energy, a survey published today shows.

The survey blasts a hole in the argument by trade union leaders that every last drop of oil must be produced, supposedly to preserve jobs. Actually, workers are ready to move away from fossil fuel production – as long as they can work and their families don’t suffer.

The 1383 offshore workers who responded to the survey crave job security, above all. Nearly half of them had been laid off or furloughed since oil prices crashed in March.

Many complained about precarious employment and the contract labour now rife on the North Sea.

The survey, Offshore: oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition, was put together by Platform London, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Greenpeace.

The survey’s authors seem to be the first people who have actually asked workers what they think.

The Scottish government has a comfortably-funded Just Transition Commission, including trade union chiefs, that recently ran a consultation on its interim report.

But it was campaign groups, working with activists on the ground, who bothered to talk to offshore workers.

The survey, distributed via social media and targeted advertising, garnered 1546 responses. The results excluded replies by 163 people who work in midstream or downstream industries, and are focused on the 1383 respondents who work upstream. That’s a representative sample: about 4.5% of the workforce.

One of the survey’s most sobering results is that, when asked if they had heard of a “just transition”, a staggering 91% of survey respondents said no. (The term “just transition”, nowadays used and misused by politicians, was coined by trade union militants in the 1990s to define the need to fight for social justice during the switch away from fossil fuel burning and other ecologically ruinous practices.)

Sea Change: Climate Emergency, Jobs and Managing the Phase-Out of UK Oil and Gas Extraction

By Greg Muttitt, Anna Markova, and Matthew Crighton - Oil Change International, Platform, and Friends of the Earth Scotland, May 2019

This new report released by Oil Change International, Platform and Friends of the Earth Scotland shows that a well-managed energy transformation based on Just Transition principles can meet UK climate commitments while protecting livelihoods and economic well-being, provided that the right policies are adopted, and that the affected workers, trade unions and communities are able to effectively guide these policies.

This report examines the future of UK offshore oil and gas extraction in relation to climate change and employment. It finds that:

  • The UK’s 5.7 billion barrels of oil and gas in already-operating oil and gas fields will exceed the UK’s share in relation to Paris climate goals – whereas industry and government aim to extract 20 billion barrels;
  • Recent subsidies for oil and gas extraction will add twice as much carbon to the atmosphere as the phase-out of coal power saves;
  • Given the right policies, job creation in clean energy industries will exceed affected oil and gas jobs more than threefold.

In light of these findings, the UK and Scottish Governments face a choice between two pathways that stay within the Paris climate limits:

  1. Deferred collapse: continue to pursue maximum extraction by subsidising companies and encouraging them to shed workers, until worsening climate impacts force rapid action to cut emissions globally; the UK oil industry collapses, pushing many workers out of work in a short space of time. Or:
  2. Managed transition: stop approving and licensing new oil and gas projects, begin a phase-out of extraction and a Just Transition for workers and communities, negotiated with trade unions and local leaders, and in line with climate change goals, while building quality jobs in a clean energy economy.

The report recommends that the UK and Scottish Governments:

  • Stop issuing licenses and permits for new oil and gas exploration and development, and revoke undeveloped licenses;
  • Rapidly phase out all subsidies for oil and gas extraction, including tax breaks, and redirect them to fund a Just Transition;
  • Enable rapid building of the clean energy industry through fiscal and policy support to at least the extent they have provided to the oil industry, including inward investment in affected regions and communities;
  • Open formal consultations with trade unions to develop and implement a Just Transition strategy for oil-dependent regions and communities.

Read the text (PDF).

The Sky's Limit: Why Denmark Must Phase Out North Sea Oil and Gas Extraction

By Bronwen Tucker, et. al. - Oil Change International, September 2019

Over the past thirty years, Denmark has positioned itself as a global climate leader through its policies to support wind power, district heating, and energy efficiency, amongst other actions.5Building on this, in June 2019, the newly elected Danish government committed to a new climate target of reducing emissions 70 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, surpassing its previous goal of 40 percent by 2020.

However, Denmark’s plans to expand North Sea oil and fossil gas extraction undermine this record of climate action. This is because the potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in the world’s currently operatingfields and mines would already fully exhaust and exceed carbon budgets consistent with the Paris goals. Simply put, we cannot afford to bring new extraction online — in Denmark or anywhere else.

This report applies these stark global carbon budget limits to the outlook for oil and gas production in Denmark. We find that Denmark’s plans to allow new North Sea oil and gas projects in the 2020s and 2030s would undermine its aspirations of climate leadership. The carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning Danish-produced oil and gas would be substantial, overtaking Denmark’s total expected domestic CO2 emissions from energy by mid-2025 (see Figure 1, with details on the domestic reduction curves in Section 1). In other words, if current plans to expand North Sea extraction are left unaddressed, Denmark will either (a) meet its domestic emissions targetsbut export oil and gas with associated emissions that overshadow this domestic progress, or (b) fail to meet its emissions targets and continue to consume more oil and gas domestically than is Paris-aligned.

Source: Oil Change International analysis based on data from Rystad UCube, Danish Energy Agency, and 92 Group.8There is a cumulative 665 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 associated with Danish oil and gas between 2019 and 2050. Of these potential CO2 emissions, 401 Mt of CO2 would come from new projects yet to be developed that would peak between the mid-2020s and mid-2030s. This means over 60 percent of anticipated emissions related to Denmark’s oil and gas extraction in the coming decades are not yet committed — the projects they are associated with will either require new licenses from the Danish government or final investment decisions (and final government approval) to be developed.

Read the report (PDF).

Banking on Climate Change: Fossil Fuel Finance Report 2020

By Alison Kirsch, et. al. - Rainforest Action Network, et. al., January 2019

Financial companies are increasingly being recognized — by their clients, shareholders, regulators, and the general public — as climate actors, with a responsibility to mitigate their climate impact. For the banks highlighted in this report, the last year has brought a groundswell of activism demanding banks cut their fossil fuel financing, at the same time that increasingly extreme weather events have further underscored the urgency of the climate crisis.

This report maps out case studies where bank financing for fossil fuels has real impact on communities — from a planned coal mine expansion in Poland, to fracking in Argentina, to LNG terminals proposed for South Texas. Short essays throughout highlight additional key topics, such as the need for banks to measure and phase out their climate impact (not just risk) and what Paris alignment means for banks. Traditional Indigenous knowledge is presented as an alternative paradigm for a world increasingly beset with climate chaos. November’s U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, on the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the landmark Paris climate agreement, will be a crucial deadline for banks to align their policies and practices with a 1.5° Celsius world in which human rights are fully respected. The urgency of that task is underlined by this report’s findings that major global banks’ fossil financing has increased each year since Paris, and that even the best future-facing policies leave huge gaps.

Read the report (PDF).

Gov. Jerry Brown Already Expanded Offshore Oil Drilling in State Waters

By Dan Bacher - CounterPunch, January 8, 2018

California Governor Jerry Brown today joined Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Washington Governor Jay Inslee in condemning Trump’s plan to expand oil and gas drilling in federal waters – at the same time that California regulators under Brown have expanded offshore oil drilling by 17 percent in state waters.

“This political decision to open the magnificent and beautiful Pacific Coast waters to oil and gas drilling flies in the face of decades of strong opposition on the part of Oregon, Washington and California – from Republicans and Democrats alike,” the governors proclaimed in a joint statement.

“They’ve chosen to forget the utter devastation of past offshore oil spills to wildlife and to the fishing, recreation and tourism industries in our states. They’ve chosen to ignore the science that tells us our climate is changing and we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. But we won’t forget history or ignore science,” they said.

“For more than 30 years, our shared coastline has been protected from further federal drilling and we’ll do whatever it takes to stop this reckless, short-sighted action,” they concluded.

Brown also issued a personal statement blasting Trump, pledging “resistance” to Trump’s plan to expand offshore oil drilling.

“Donald Trump has absolutely chosen the wrong course. He’s wrong on the facts. America’s economy is boosted by following the Paris Agreement. He’s wrong on the science. Totally wrong. California will resist this misguided and insane course of action. Trump is AWOL but California is on the field, ready for battle,” Brown claimed.

Those are nice words condemning Trump’s plan to open new offshore oil drilling leases on both coasts. However, what the Governor’s Office press release and most media neglected to mention is that Brown’s oil and gas regulators approved permits for 238 new offshore wells between 2012 and 2016 in existing leases within three nautical miles of shore, according to Liza Tucker, consumer advocate for Consumer Watchdog.

What Did the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Moratorium Mean for the Workforce?

By Joseph E. Aldy - Common Resources, August 22, 2014

On April 20, 2010, the Transocean Deepwater Horizon suffered a catastrophic blowout while drilling in a BP lease in the Gulf of Mexico’s Macondo Prospect. This accident resulted in the largest oil spill in US history and an unprecedented spill response effort. Due to the ongoing spill and concerns about the safety of offshore oil drilling, the US Department of the Interior suspended offshore deep water oil and gas drilling operations on May 27, 2010, in what became known as the offshore drilling moratorium. The media portrayed the impacts of these events on local employment, with images of closed fisheries, idle rigs, as well as boats skimming oil and workers cleaning oiled beaches.

In a new RFF discussion paper, “The Labor Market Impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Moratorium,” I estimate and examine the net impact of the oil spill, the drilling moratorium, and spill response on employment and wages in the Gulf Coast. The spill and moratorium represented unexpected events in the region, and the resulting economic impacts varied within and among the Gulf states. Coastal counties and parishes were expected to bear the vast majority of the burden of these two events, while inland areas were expected to be largely unaffected. The moratorium was expected to affect Louisiana—with significant support of the offshore drilling industry—but not, for example, Florida, which had no active drilling off of its coastline. Beyond the economic impacts, the timing and magnitude of the spill response varied across the states over the course of the spill as well.

Despite predictions of major job losses in Louisiana resulting from these events, I find that the most oil-intensive parishes in Louisiana experienced a net increase in employment and wages. In contrast, Gulf Coast Florida counties south of the Panhandle experienced a decline in employment. Analysis of the number of business establishments, worker migration, accommodations industry employment and wages, sales tax data, and commercial air arrivals likewise show positive economic activity impacts in the oil-intensive coastal parishes of Louisiana and reduced economic activity along the non-Panhandle Florida Gulf Coast. The billions of dollars of spill response and clean-up mobilized over the course of the spring and summer of 2010 positively impacted economic activity, similar to the effect of fiscal stimulus. The geographic variation in labor market impacts reflects the focus of spill response efforts in Louisiana and the absence of oil and thus spill response along the Gulf coast of Florida south of the Panhandle.

Read the report (PDF).

Untapped Wealth: Offshore Wind Can Deliver Cleaner, More Affordable Energy and More Jobs Than Offshore Oil

By staff - Oceana, September 2010

In Oceana’s report Untapped Wealth: Offshore Wind Can Deliver Cleaner, More Affordable Energy and More Jobs Than Offshore Oil, our comprehensive analysis shows that focusing our investments on clean energy like offshore wind would be cost effective, more beneficial to job creation, and better for the environment and ocean in a variety of ways than offshore oil and gas exploration and development.

On the Atlantic coast, an area targeted for expansion of oil and gas activities, offshore wind can generate nearly 30% more electricity than offshore oil and gas resources combined. In addition, wind development would cost about $36 billion less than offshore oil and gas production combined, while creating about three times as many jobs per dollar invested than fossil fuel production.

Based on conservative assumptions for offshore wind and generous assumptions for offshore oil and natural gas, this study found that by investing in offshore wind on the East Coast, rather than offshore oil and gas, Americans would get more energy for less money while protecting our oceans.

Read the report (PDF).

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