Alberta oil and gas voices calling for innovation while Newfoundland’s Hibernia workers face layoffs on June 12

Alberta’s Minister of  Energy, Sonya Savage outraged many Canadians with her comments on May 25  that the Covid-19 pandemic offers a “great time to build pipelines” because of the lack of protestors , and construction on the TransMountain pipeline began in Kamloops B.C.  on June 2.  Yet,  Max Fawcett, former editor of Oil and Gas magazine writes in a CBC Opinion piece, “Alberta could be fighting its last pipeline battle”   (May 27), stating:

“It will be difficult for a government that prides itself on its willingness to fight for one vision of the oil and gas industry to adapt to this rapidly changing landscape…..It will be tempting for it to continue railing against the federal government, environmental activists, and all of its other enemies, foreign and domestic. And if Biden wins the White House, and follows through on his pledge to cancel Keystone XL’s presidential permit, that temptation may prove overwhelming.

But the ground has shifted under the Government of Alberta’s feet, just as it has for all of us, due to COVID-19.

The sooner it comes to terms with that, and helps the rest of Alberta do the same, the better.”

Fawcett also criticized the Alberta government of Jason Kenney in  “Still waiting for Alberta to get the memo on climate-conscious investing”,   commenting  on the implications of the Norway’s Government Pension Fund decision to divest from Canadian oil and gas companies  because of their excessive climate impacts. Fawcett  calls for Alberta to tell a “more honest story”.

Notably, voices from Canada’s oil sands industry “Establishment” are also speaking out and signalling a shift in attitude.   On June 1, as part of the  Climate Knights Planning for a Green Recovery series, Mark Little, the CEO of Suncor Energy and Laura Kilcrease, CEO of the government agency Alberta Innovates  wrote an OpEd titled, “Canada’s oil sands are best positioned to lead the energy transformation”.  Hearkening back to the 1970’s in Canada and citing a 2019 BNP Parabas report on the declining future of oil , they acknowledge the inevitable coming transition with this:

“While Canadian oil and gas will remain a significant part of the global energy mix for some time, we have to take advantage of new opportunities that offer attractive growth prospects. The temporary economic lockdown triggered by the 2020 pandemic is giving us a glimpse into a not-too-distant future where the transformation of our energy system could disrupt demand on a similar scale. Disruption breeds opportunity and forward-looking companies and countries will need to step up and lead.

Now is the time to take a big step forward. As the history of the oil sands reveals, disruption and transformation are nothing new for Albertans and we’re optimistic that the Canadian energy industry is up to the challenge and best positioned to invest in and lead energy transformation.”

Industry response to the joint OpEd appears in “Suncor, Alberta Innovates op-ed a game-changer as oil and gas industry finally embraces energy transition” appeared  in EnergiMedia (June 2).  noting “ ….. it cannot be a coincidence that the same day the op-ed was published, Alberta finance minister Travis Toews told Postmedia that the Alberta government is preparing an economic recovery plan that will focus on diversifying “various industry sectors that we know have a great future in the province, certainly energy and agriculture as you would expect.”

Layoffs in June as Newfoundland’s Hibernia and offshore oil industry in crisis 

offshore rigOn June 3, CBC reported “Hibernia layoffs about to begin ‘with heavy hearts,’ drilling company says” , summarizing the announcement by Hibernia Management Development Corporation (HMDC) that it will suspend drilling operations starting June 12, as a cost-cutting measure in response to a collapse in oil prices.  The 18-month suspension of drilling  had already been announced in April , even before the negative impacts on demand by the COVID-19 pandemic.   The total number of layoffs may approach 600 members of  Unifor Local 2121 , which represents workers at  the Hibernia offshore installation and also at the affected Terra Nova FPSO vessel.  According to Article 32 of the current collective agreement  , six months’ written notice was required “In the event of platform closure, partial platform closure, technological change or restructuring, which will involve permanent reduction of regular rotation employees….”

These developments are the latest in a series of setbacks which constitute a crisis for the oil and gas industry in Newfoundland, summarized in  in “How a pandemic and production war thrashed one of N.L.’s 4 producing oil fields” (May 20) . The political lobbying for federal funds is described in “N.L. oil industry, former premier, rally behind MP Seamus O’Regan in quest for federal help”  (May 14)  and a Canadian Press article “N.L. warns of exodus of oil and gas industry without more federal help”  (May 26).

On June 4, the provincial government of Newfoundland announced  a “New Regional Assessment Process Protects the Environment and Shortens Timelines for Exploration Drilling Program Approval”  which  reverses a 2010 decision and places authority for exploration approval back with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB), rather than the federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA). Calling the drilling of offshore exploration wells a “low impact activity”, the press release promises a faster approval process which “allows the province to become more globally competitive while maintaining a strong and effective environmental regulatory regime.”   This comes a week after the government-appointed  Wilderness and Ecological Reserves Advisory Council released their long-delayed report, A Home for Nature   which proposes  32 protected areas and a framework for ecological protection on land and offshore.

Scotland’s Just Transition Commission releases interim report and recommendations

offshore wind Beothuk Installation Newfoundland.jpgOn February 27 , the Scottish Just Transition Commission released its Interim Report , emphasizing the urgency for the Scottish Government to begin planning for transition immediately, and offering some positive examples of initiatives underway.  The Commission  calls for a government commitment to develop a Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan- specifically, an “assessment of workforces most likely to be affected by the transition (including those indirectly affected through supply chains), and the most immediate and pressing skills requirements needed to support the net-zero transition”.  The Commission’s interim recommendations also include:  a call to “Place equity at the heart of the Climate Change Plan update”; ensure that there is transition support for the Agriculture sector; establish a Citizens Assembly on climate change, operating independently of the Scottish Government; promote Scotland’s approach to just transition at COP 26 meetings in Glasgow in 2020; expand on the success of energy efficiency initiatives with funding support; begin planning for low-carbon infrastructure, noting that future government infrastructure investment should avoid locking in emissions and inequality; place the climate emergency at the heart of spending decisions; and improve modelling and research to help understand the transition.

Perhaps most controversial is the final recommendation:

“The oil and gas industry currently provides and supports a large number of high quality jobs meaning any transition for the sector and its supply chain in the decades ahead will need to be carefully managed. Strategies such as Roadmap 2035 from Oil and Gas UK have begun to set out the role industry believe they can play in a net-zero economy.    … To further support the deployment of CCUS and hydrogen, Government should consider supporting a programme of focussed research in collaboration with industry, with the aim of delivering a reduction in the costs of deploying these energy solutions in a way that secures a just transition for workers and stakeholders. “

The  Scottish Just Transition Commission  was launched in  September 2018, chaired by Professor  Jim Skea, and including two unionists amongst its membership: Richard Hardy, the National Secretary for Scotland and Ireland at labour union Prospect , and Dave Moxham, Deputy General Secretary of the Scottish Trade Union Congress .  The Commission has issued a Call for Evidence in 2020, with a final report and recommendations expected in 2021.  In the meantime, the Commission states that 2020 will be used to “consider a range of cross-cutting themes such as finance, skills and technology innovation”, and have commissioned a report on international just transition experiences.  The Interim Report also references several existing reports, including one commissioned by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust: The State of the Coalfields 2019: Economic and social conditions in the former coalfields of England, Scotland and Wales (July 2019), published by the  Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at She­eld Hallam University, in Sheffield.

Reaction is summed up by Friends of the Earth Scotland in its favourable statement, “Time to move beyond rhetoric on just transition, say Unions and environmentalists”. Reaction from the Scottish Trade Unions Congress is here ; Prospect’s reaction is here .  

Australian unions support offshore wind development as a means for Just Transition

Putting the ‘Justice’ in ‘Just Transition’: Tackling inequality in the new renewable economy  is a report released on November 7, co-written by the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Electrical Trades Union, the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council and the Victorian Trades Hall Council . This is the latest development  in a union campaign to promote Australia’s offshore wind industry  , focusing on the Star of the South project, Australia’s first proposed offshore wind farm.  The report calls Australia offshore wind campaignfor government policies to support the emerging industry and to make the Star of the South “ the best possible example of a just transition” by diversifying the job opportunities for workers and communities currently reliant on coal, oil and gas.

Specifically, the new report recommends:

  • the Commonwealth establish an energy transition authority to work with states and regions, develop a stand-alone Offshore Renewables Act, and create an agency responsible for facilitating the development of offshore renewable energy in Commonwealth waters;
  • the development of offshore and onshore renewable energy master plans that incorporate assessments of supply chains, procurement and infrastructure;
  • ensuring renewable energy financing, targets, contracts, licensing and approvals require the maximising of local jobs, including planning for direct redeployment of workers from fossil fuel industries;
  • the Victorian Government establish a just transition group to ensure a well-planned energy transition with the best possible social outcomes by formally consulting with relevant stakeholders including trade unions, employers and communities;
  • maximising the social benefit of the Star of the South project by requiring local design, manufacturing, and construction;
  • funding of appropriate training and retraining through local TAFEs, along with minimum apprentice ratios; and
  • maximising the number of jobs available by ensuring good rosters and reasonable hours of work.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) represents seafarers supplying the offshore oil and gas industry, as well as workers in Newcastle’s coal terminals, and port and tug workers in coal export ports in New South Wales and Queensland.  The MUA is  part of the Offshore Alliance ,which works to organise workers and improve conditions in the offshore oil and gas industry. The MUA position on renewable energy and a discussion of the Just Transition campaign are available here ; the MUA maintains a petition here .

Are there lessons for Newfoundland in a Just Transition strategy for the U.K. Offshore oil industry?

sea-change-cover-212x300Sea Change: Climate Emergency, Jobs and Managing the Phase-Out of UK Oil and Gas Extraction was released on May 15 by Oil Change International, in partnership with Platform and Friends of the Earth Scotland.  The press release summary is here . The report examines the offshore oil and gas industry in the U.K., with special attention to the transition for workers and communities currently dependent on oil  – making it highly relevant to Canadians, especially Newfoundlanders.   Sea Change argues that  with the right transition policies, clean industries could create more than three jobs for every North Sea oil job at risk, which can enable an “equivalent job guarantee” for every oil worker.

The report contrasts two pathways available for the U.K. and Scotland to stay within Paris climate limits:   1. Deferred collapse, in which the countries “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: in which countries “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.”

To achieve the clearly superior “managed transition” pathway, the report recommends that the U.K. 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.

offshore oil rigOffshore Oil and Gas in Newfoundland: In Newfoundland, the importance of the offshore oil industry is evidenced by the fact that a  snap election was called shortly after the province reached agreement with the federal government on royalty payments on April 1.  The two governments announced agreement on  a “renewed Atlantic Accord”  – including the “Hibernia Dividend Backed Annuity”, valued at $2.5 billion for the province, according to a CBC report . This is new money that comes from Ottawa’s 8.5 per cent stake in the Hibernia offshore project, and will be paid out in annual installments over 38 years. According to the Q1 2019 Company Benefits Report ,   Hibernia operations employ 1,458 workers, of which 90.8% are Newfoundlanders.

The federal and provincial governments are also closely intertwined in a new consultation process which was launched for the Regional Assessment of Offshore Oil and Gas Exploratory Drilling East of Newfoundland and Labrador  in April, along with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board. The provincial Minister is quoted in the federal press release:  “Our government is committed to working collaboratively with our federal partners to ensure responsible development of our oil and gas industry. The Regional Assessment is an important step towards exempting routine, low impact activities, such as exploration wells, where potential impacts and standard mitigations are well known, from federal assessment. This is another step we are taking to achieve the vision we set out in Advance 2030 to benefit all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.”

The Advance 2030 document, released in 2018, is subtitled:  A Plan for growth in the  Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industry, and is based on the government’s commitment “to resource development as a key economic driver and to positioning the industry for continued growth.”   In releasing the Advance 2030 report, the government announced some long-term targets, including the direct employment of at least 7,500 people in operations, drilling of over 100 new exploration wells by 2030, and doubling oil production by 2030.  That same Liberal government was returned to power as a minority government on May 16, and compiles news of oil and gas development  here .

 

Newfoundland and Labrador announces its “lax tax” on carbon

offshore oil rigA “ Made-in-Newfoundland and Labrador Approach to Carbon Pricing” was announced and  described in a press release on October 23 , with a carbon tax rate of $20 tonne starting on January 1, 2019.  The details are many, as published here . Exemptions are granted for consumers (e.g. for home heating fuel) , and for industry – specifically “for agriculture, fishing, forestry, offshore and mineral exploration, and methane gases from venting and fugitive emissions in the oil and gas sector.”  These exemptions make sense in light of the province’s Oil and Gas  growth strategy announced in February 2018,  Advance 2030 , which aims for 100 new exploration wells to be drilled by 2030.

Despite the weakness of the provincial plan, it has been accepted by the federal government – thus, Newfoundland will avoid the stricter regime which would have been imposed by the federal backstop plan in 2019.  For a brief overview: “Why the lax tax? Finance minister says Muskrat burden played role in carbon pricing” (CBC) . In depth analysis appears in  “Newfoundland’s carbon tax gives ‘free pass’ to offshore oil industry” in The Narwhal.   (Nov. 9)