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energy workers

Surveys of oil and gas workers show their willingness to retrain and move to clean energy jobs

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, December 9, 2021

International recruitment firm Brunel International and Oilandgasjobsearch.com released the latest version of their annual survey on November 30, showing key employment trends such as recruitment challenges, compensation, energy transition, job engagement, and retention in the global energy sector. Energy Outlook Report 2021-2022 is summarized with key highlights here , including that more than half of the oil and gas workers surveyed want to work in the renewable energy sector – a sentiment stronger amongst workers ages 25 – 29 years old. The survey also highlights a high degree of “job volatility” in the wider energy and extraction sector, with 44% of workers in oil and gas, 42% each in mining, power, and renewables, and 39% in nuclear saying they were looking for a career change in the next five years. The full survey is available for download here.

Although not as widely reported, a Canadian survey in the summer of 2021 showed a similar appetite for career change. Iron and Earth, the Canadian organization of fossil fuel workers whose mission is “to empower fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers to build and implement climate solutions” , commissioned Abacus Data to conduct a survey of 300 Canadians working in the oil, gas or coal industry. The survey report probed general attitudes to a net zero economy, but more particularly asked about attitudes and motivations to skills training and retraining, with breakdowns by age, gender, Indigenous/minority status, and region. The top level finding: 69% of all the workers surveyed were very interested or somewhat interested in “making a career switch to, or expanding your work involvement in, a job in the net-zero economy”. These findings are consistent with an anecdotal report “Workers Pick Job Stability Over Higher Wages as Oil Rig Operator Scrambles for Crews” (The Energy Mix, Sept. 14), which reports on the recruitment difficulties of the oil and gas industry. The article quotes the head of the Canadian Association of Energy Contractors, who speaks of shift in the industry, “citing the premium many younger workers place on work-life balance, along with the federal government’s talk about just transition legislation.”

That same Canadian Association of Energy Contractors released their industry forecast for 2022 in November. It reports that drilling activity for oil and gas wells has “bounced back” from an all-time low in June 2020, and “total jobs in 2021 were up 54 per cent year-over-year from 2020, with an increase of 9,734 jobs. In 2022, CAOEC expects another increase of approximately 7,280 total jobs to 34,925, a 26 per cent increase year-over-year.” However, clearly oil and gas workers are right to be concerned about job stability, as the CAOEC continues: “In comparison to 2014, we anticipate total jobs will still be a loss of 56 per cent from the peak of 78,793 total jobs in 2014.”

Some oil and gas workers worry about a 'just transition.' Others think it won't come in their working lives

By staff - CBC Radio, November 9, 2021

Kirk Olsen says transitioning away from fossil fuels "is probably a good thing," but as an oil and gas worker, the uncertainty around how that will happen makes him nervous.

"If there was a sure thing around the corner and you knew, I'm just going to slide into this other job, everything's going to be great ... it would make a guy feel a lot better," said Olsen, a heavy equipment mechanic working on the Coastal GasLink pipeline project in Kitimat, B.C.

Olsen has worked on and off in the sector for 12 years. Four years ago, he started his own company supplying and maintaining machinery. He works 20 days on-site, then has 10 days off to travel home to Campbell River, B.C., almost 1,000 kilometres away — a sacrifice he says he's willing to make to provide for his young family.

For him, a "just transition" means the federal government provides training in a new field and makes a commitment that wages won't drop.

Until he has that clarity, Olsen feels "like you worked so hard for something and then it kind of gets taken away," as he told CBC Radio's What on Earth. "I guess that's life, but it's no less frustrating."

(TUED Working Paper #14) Beyond Disruption: How Reclaimed Utilities Can Help Cities Meet Their Climate Goals

By Sean Sweeney and John Treat - Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, November 3, 2021

In TUED Working Paper 14, Beyond Disruption: How Reclaimed Utilities Can Help Cities Meet Their Climate Goals, Sean Sweeney and John Treat showcase how the energy transition that was promised has yet to come to fruition. They argue specifically the arguments around cities leading the transition have not been fully accurate and provide a sober analysis of where we stand.

As Sweeney and Treat argue, “the incumbent energy companies will not be dis­rupted out of existence; rather, they will remain dominant as market players and, under the current neoliberal framework, they will help perpetuate an energy for profit regime. If this is not changed, then cities will not be able to reach their energy and decarbonization targets. There is a need, therefore, to develop an alternative approach, one that goes beyond disruption (in a politi­cal sense).”

Through the piece they outline an “alternative approach that is offered shifts attention away from disruption of the incumbent companies toward the need to focus efforts on reclaiming these companies to public ownership.”

This Working Paper, released during COP 26 in Glasgow provides a clear-eyed analysis of the challenges ahead but also highlights an alternative public-goods approach to overcoming the worst of the crisis. Download the PDF here.

Read the text (PDF).

Britain’s oil and gas workers want a green transition – but the industry doesn’t

By Erik Dalhuijsen - The Guardian, October 23, 2021

I’ve worked in oil for decades, and seen what happens when jobs dry up with no plan B. Now industry leaders must face reality too.

Moving to a green energy system and a zero-emissions society without leaving people behind is an enormous challenge. Many oil and gas workers are actually ready for the change, but the oil and gas industry itself is slowing the process, holding back real progress.

Having worked in the oil industry in Aberdeen and abroad for decades, what I have seen feels like the industry applying all of its power to self-preservation, in the face of the immutable truths that fossil fuels will one day run out and that we must keep what of them remains in the ground.

Oil and gas workers need alternatives and fast. I have seen what happens in communities where oil and gas jobs dry up with no plan B in place. When the price of oil crashed in 2014, thousands of people in the region lost their job. I know former colleagues who used to work on multimillion-pound projects and are now unemployed or working in shops on the minimum wage.

I know that moving from oil and gas to renewables is possible. My skills helped me understand and troubleshoot the emissions models that underpin sustainable development plans. My skills allowed me to evaluate and optimise integrated renewable supply systems, and also decarbonise sewage treatment processes. Many people in the oil industry – including those who work offshore – have even more skills that can be transferred into the renewable energy sector, such as working on offshore wind farms.

But it still feels like the industry is refusing to adapt, all the while pretending to be leaders in “energy transition”. In the hope of selling more gas, the industry is pushing dirty (blue) hydrogen based on the yet-untested promise that carbon capture and storage will be able to remove any emissions at scale.

Learning About a Just Transition

Leeds trades unionists: zero-carbon homes can help tackle climate change

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, September 2, 2020

Leeds Trades Union Council has issued a call for large-scale investment to insulate homes and install electric heat pumps, to cut carbon emissions and help tackle global warming.

Such a drive to retrofit and electrify homes would be an alternative to a multi-billion-pound scheme, supported by oil and gas companies, to turn the gas network over to hydrogen.

That scheme, Northern Gas Networks’ H21 project, could tie up billions of pounds of

government money in risky carbon capture and storage technology, which is not proven to work at the scale required – but would help to prolong the oil and gas industry’s life by decades.

This is a test for social and labour movements all over the UK.

The demand for retrofitting and electrification should be taken up, and fossil-fuel-linked technofixes rejected. Otherwise, talk of “climate and ecological emergency” is empty words.

“Our most important and urgent action is to halt the flow of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere”, says a draft document that the Leeds TUC published last week. “This means radical changes to the way we use energy for work, travel and to heat our homes.”

In setting out a plan for Leeds, the TUC there hopes to “offer a model that will be taken up by other towns, cities and regions”, where it can form the basis for collaboration between local authorities, and a focus for trade unions and community campaigners.

Facing Fossil Fuels’ Future: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers in Canada’s Energy and Labour Transitions

By Teika Newton and Jamie Kirkpatrick - Climate Action Network and BlueGreen Canada, September 2021

Canada has a climate plan but it does not lay out a plan for the future of oil and gas extraction that aligns with the goal to limit global warming to 1.5°C, leaving workers and communities with an uncertain future. The Canada Energy Regulator warns that the future of oil sands extraction, which makes up 62 percent of Canada’s oil output, is uncertain due to the projected drop in the future oil demand as the global pace of decarbonization increases.

Meanwhile, a study backed by the UN Environment Programme further states that global oil and gas output would have to decline by over one third by 2030 and over one half by 2040 to achieve the goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C. In early 2021, the International Energy Agency, one of the world’s foremost authorities on global energy forecasting, published a landmark report, Net Zero by 2050, in which the agency declared that oil and gas output should be constrained to existing operations in order to meet the 1.5°C temperature goals articulated in the Paris Agreement. Constraining Canadian oil and gas output to existing fields approximates a similar rate of phaseout to that proposed by the UNEP-backed report.

he Canadian oil and gas industry, including upstream activities, pipelines, and services, provides approximately 405,000 jobs - 167,000 direct jobs and 238,000 jobs across supply chains. In response to oil price crises, industry’s solution to protect profits has historically been to slash jobs while maintaining output. As a result the number of jobs per barrel of output has already fallen by 20% since 2000.

While oil and gas jobs have significantly better compensation and training provisions than most sectors in the economy, these jobs are also somewhat more precarious and have higher health and safety risks. Union density is higher but is also falling at a more rapid rate than in oth-er industries.8 Finally, automation is projected to threaten between 33%-53% of Canadian oil and gas jobs by 2040.

Read the text (PDF).

‘Everyone Wants a Good Job’: The Texas Unions Fighting for a Green New Deal

By Dharna Noor - Gizmodo, August 18, 2021

The myth that climate action kills jobs is dying. Study after study shows that serious environmental policy spurs job creation. Most recently, a July report found that meeting the Paris Agreement’s goals could create 8 million positions globally by 2050.

Organized labor still opposes some environmental policies, though, particularly building trade unions looking to protect their members’ jobs in the fossil fuel industry. The sector isn’t a great employer, with oil and gas companies slashing thousands of non-unionized workers in recent years. But by and large, jobs in coal, oil, and gas pay more than those in clean power and are more frequently unionized.

But labor and climate organizers are aiming to ease fossil fuel workers’ concerns, with an increasing push to make sure the climate jobs of the future are unionized and pay as well as their fossil fuel counterparts. They’re also putting the need to protect workers at the forefront rather than treating labor as an afterthought. The growing climate-labor movement could be the key to making sure decarbonization actually happens in a speedy and fair manner, and it’s making inroads in some surprising places.

Uranium City: What happened to the miners?

By Paul Filteau - Mining Watch Canada, July 14, 2021

In June of 1981, a company executive from Eldorado had flown in to Uranium City, Saskatchewan to announce closure of the Beaverlodge Mine, the main employer. It was completely unexpected. It was a tight knit and prosperous community. The 3000 residents were stunned!

In February, 1983, I flew in a small bush plane to Uranium City. Regular air service to the community had discontinued. En route, we dropped down flying over expansive sand dunes south of Lake Athabaska, then across the frozen lake. Normally, the pilot would tip his wings, a “hello” to dog teams crossing the lake; however, this time there were none. As the plane descended, children could be seen jumping in the water from a dock. The melting ice had receded from the shoreline. It was the first time “El Nino” had come this far inland. Indeed, at 59 degrees north latitude hen temperatures often plunged to 40 below, the sudden winter warming was a new phenomenon.

When I met with them, representatives of the two hundred or so citizens that remained were bushed, desperate and out of money. No-one had ever anticipated having to wait for the ice to refreeze in the middle of winter. Transport trucks sat loaded with their possessions and the drivers hoping to get back over to Fort Chipewyan at the west end of the lake. They never did.

There was work for miners who had relocated to Saskatoon or Prince Albert and would fly back north to work at uranium mines near Key, Cluff or Rabbit Lakes. Many originally came from Northern Ontario and returned to their home communities. One had to wonder why the Saskatchewan Government closed down Uranium City. It had been a well-serviced town for the families, both indigenous and non-native alike. Instead, they were forced to depart without furniture, homes or businesses. Despite the cost, a few managed to barge their possessions out in the spring.

For others who chose to remain in the north, it was a different story. Many of the indigenous people had already returned to their ancestral communities, most to Fond du Lac or Stony Rapids and Wollaston Lake. Unfortunately, these communities were struggling with problems of their own. There was neither the housing nor water or power infrastructure to accommodate their existing populations, let alone a flood of new families. Their children were born and had grown up in Uranium City. Most did not speak Dene.

Meanwhile in Uranium City, the remaining people - some non-native but mostly Metis, others Dene and a few Cree - were reluctant to move to Prince Albert or Saskatoon where they experienced discrimination. Despite the restaurant, store and the few remaining services that would soon be shutting down, about 75 residents decided they would try and hold on. Today about 50 of them are still living there. Disturbingly, about the same as the number of former uranium mines abandoned in the area.

Unfortunately, the plight of former mining communities, the hazards of associated radioactive mine waste and and the health of an older generation of miners and their families have been largely forgotten. If you search in Google under Gordon Edwards, you can see in a video where he talks about the dangers uranium mining for Mining Watch Canada.

Recently, I asked Janice Martell, heading up the McIntyre Powder Project, if she had been able to locate any miners from Uranium City. I thought the aluminum dust had been blown into miners' lungs until the mine closure in 1981. Many of them were only in their twenties. She replied, “It is sadly not surprising to see how many deaths are related to uranium mining. The few miners and families that I speak to who were from Uranium City all tell me that everyone they know from the mining days is dead. Several of the Elliot Lake guys said the same thing -'all of my friends are gone.' ”

The bogus claim of the industry was that aluminum dust protected the miners' lungs from silicosis. In reality, the aluminum deposited in nerve ganglia leading to a syndrome of diseases, cancers, early dementia and death. Their lungs blackened with aluminum dust confused compensation claims to save the companies and the compensation boards money. The miners in miserable health, many in poverty, died prematurely.

Clock ticking on benefits deadline for uranium workers

By Kathy Helms - Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment, July 10, 2021

CHURCHROCK – Larry King, president of Churchrock Chapter and a former uranium worker, doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in the melting Arctic of receiving federal benefits afforded sick Navajos who worked in the uranium industry before 1971. King isn’t the only one.

Linda Evers of Milan, co-founder of the Post-’71 Uranium Workers Committee, and the group’s members also can forget about help with their medical bills unless Congress changes qualifications for the 1990 program.

This weekend, the first day dawned in the countdown to July 10, 2022, when, according to statute, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Trust Fund “terminates,” along with the authority of the U.S. Attorney General to administer the law, according to the Department of Justice.

When the sun sets on this program, former uranium workers and downwinders will be unable to apply for benefits.

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, “RECA,” provides compassionate payments to workers for certain cancers and diseases resulting from exposure to radiation during the build-up to the Cold War. It also compensates individuals who became ill following exposure to radioactive fallout from nuclear testing in Nevada.

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