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 .

 

U.K. Offshore wind energy investment promises jobs, but the example of Scottish workers leads unions to protest

offshore wind Beothuk Installation Newfoundland.jpgOn March 7,  the government of the United Kingdom announced a new Offshore Wind Sector Deal  which aspires to provide 30% of the U.K.’s electricity by 2030 and, according to the article in The Guardian, also promises that  jobs in offshore wind will triple to 27,000 by 2030.  The detailed  government press release  further states that the deal will increase the number of women in the industry, continue efforts by educational institutions to develop a sector-wide curriculum to facilitate skills transfer, prompt new targets for apprenticeships, and create an “Offshore Energy Passport”, recognised outside of the UK, so that workers will be able “to work seamlessly across different offshore sectors.” Unite the union reacted with this statement , which included a warning that the Energy Passport “should not  be used to attack workers’ terms and conditions of employment, nor compromise health and safety regulations.”

In the same statement, Unite also called for a ‘level playing field’ for Scotland so that it can secure large-scale manufacturing contracts for its own offshore renewables sector. The  concern follows the award of  £2.8 billion in contracts for turbine manufacture to companies in Spain, Belgium and the United Arab Emirates, rather than to the BiFab yards in Fife, Scotland. As reported in “Union fury as £2.8 billion wind turbine contract goes overseas”  in the Greener Jobs Alliance newsletter (March/April), the GMB and Unite unions are calling on the Scotland’s Prime Minister and the Scottish Parliament to intervene, stating: “The Scottish Government and the public have a stake in BiFab and with it our renewables manufacturing future. We owe it to our communities to tackle the spaghetti bowl of vested interest groups that’s dominating our renewables sector and to fight for Scotland’s share’.

 

Updated: What are the prospects for a Just Transition in U.K. communities?

desmog_uk_blue_logoOn October 30, DeSmog UK  began a new series of reporting titled  Just Transition, from Fossil Fuels to Environmental Justice , which it describes as “a comprehensive exploration of the UK‘s prospects for a just transition towards a sustainable future and environmental justice.”  The first installment, Part One: Kingdom of Coal  profiles Fife, Scotland: the history of its coal mine closures around 2002, and the transition to its current situation as the site of a gas extraction facility run by Shell and an ethylene production plant operated by ExxonMobil. The report states that the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) has issued fines and final warning letters to both Shell and Exxon for the flaring conducted at the two sites; a SEPA investigation into the flaring is underway, with a report scheduled for November 2018.  Finally, Kingdom of Coal discusses the  prospects for a just transition for Fife to a renewable energy industry,  in the  context of the Just Transition principles proposed by the Friends of the Earth Scotland. The impending Brexit  threatens funding from the European Investment Bank (which was used to build  the Beatrice Wind Farm in the Moray Firth), and “wider economic insecurity makes longer-term investments, such as hiring more apprentices, growing the workforce and investing in new machines and premises, increasingly challenging.”

Update: Part 2 of the series, City of Oil  appeared on November 7 and profiles Aberdeen Scotland.  Employment there centres on the harbour and the specialist tasks associated with the North Sea offshore oil and gas industry  – decommissioning oil platforms at the end of their life, laying sub-sea cables, servicing and maintaining offshore drilling platforms – and representing the new economy, the offshore wind turbines of  the Vattenfall installation.  Through interviews, the report describes the workplace issues of the workers on ships under flags of convenience in the North Sea , changes to shift schedules for oil rig workers, and  a growing problem of poverty.

Just Transition, from Fossil Fuels to Environmental Justice is described by DeSmog UK as : “This powerful new series starts from the basis of understanding that current lifestyles are dependent on oil and plastic, and that we are all to some degree complicit and integrated into the present system. It looks at how the UK can achieve the immediate, transformative and radical changes to the economy and society necessary to address the climate crisis. And it addresses this transformation through the perspectives of the communities that will be most affected.”