The commitments made by the Scottish and UK Governments to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 and 2050, respectively, present unique opportunities and challenges for the UK oil and gas industry.

There is a clear opportunity to harness the expertise, skills and infrastructure which have been developed by the industry over decades to support the achievement of these targets. Inevitably, however, there are significant challenges in realising meaningful synergies between oil and gas and other industries.

The oil and gas industry is currently in the throes of its third major downturn in 13 years – with the price of Brent crude oil per barrel having fallen by 87% from January to April 2020. Although prices have re-stabilised and, today, Brent crude oil is trading in the low $40.00s per barrel, significant job losses within the industry have been unavoidable.

This potentially creates an impetus for highly experienced and skilled workers to transition into alternative industries, such as renewables. However, the extent to which this is being realised has been the subject of debate in recent media reports.

On Tuesday 29th September, Platform, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Greenpeace issued a joint report in which they published their findings from a survey of 1,383 oil and gas workers in the UKCS on industry conditions and the energy transition.

The report found that 81% of those interviewed would be interested in working in other sectors, including renewables and offshore wind. However, despite the appetite and willingness to transition into alternative industries, the report states that there are various barriers preventing this transition, such as a lack of opportunities and prohibitive costs of retraining.

The report also suggests that there has been a lack of engagement with offshore workers on policy making in relation to the delivery of a “just transition” (the shifting of the economy towards net-zero in a way that secures workers’ rights).

In its response to the report, OGUK – the leading representative body for the UK’s offshore oil and gas industry – has cited the significant engagement work that was undertaken in shaping the Roadmap 2035 (the industry blueprint for moving to net zero and low-carbon energy sources). As part of that process, more than 5,000 conversations took place with workers, public bodies and trade unions across the UK.

OGUK has also pointed to the many projects that have been supported by its member companies for years across the full energy spectrum – including in renewables – and to the investment which its vision is already attracting, such as the Dolphyn project – the “world’s first” offshore floating facility to produce green hydrogen which will be located off the coast of Aberdeen.

In its statement, OGUK has repeated calls to campaign groups to meaningfully engage with the sector to ensure a fair and positive transition.

The oil and gas industry is facing extremely challenging times, but if there is anything that our long history of working closely with clients in the industry has taught us, it is that the industry is resilient, adaptable and solutions focussed. There is no doubt that it has a significant part to play in the energy transition.

Many upstream oil and gas companies have already invested significantly in other energy sectors (including renewables) and projects that seek to reduce emissions which creates a positive opportunity for those looking to transition into the green energy field.

There are many similarities between the skills required for oil and gas jobs and those required for the renewables sector, especially in new clean energy technologies such as carbon capture and storage. Companies should seek to identify where skills are transferable and plan how to utilise the skillsets within their existing workforces in order to retain and develop valuable employees.

At Burness Paull, our lawyers are working closely with clients in all sectors to navigate the challenges and opportunities which the energy transition creates.  If you’d like to discuss what this means to your business, we’d love to hear from you so please get in touch with one of the team.