Most workers in the UK’s offshore oil and gas sector would take a chance to leave a fossil fuels industry they believe is "drawing to a close", with renewables a favoured option for more than half, a survey found.

Four in five of 1,400 employees polled – nearly 5% of the UK offshore oil and gas workforce – said they would consider leaving the industry, with 51% prepared to take a job in clean energy sectors such as offshore wind.

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A 43-year-old worker who wished to remain anonymous told the survey: “I’d like to see the renewables industry ... become something we can be proud of and have it pick up some of the slack of the decline of oil and gas.”

Environmental groups Platform, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Greenpeace UK – which jointly commissioned the study – called on the UK and Scottish governments to "sit down with workers" to use their "experiences and ideas" to steer Covid-19 recovery packages and "shape policy together" to help sectors and workers make the transition from an industry beset by widespread low morale.

'Knowledge and experience'

The groups pointed out that that the workforce holds vast amounts of knowledge and experience, but were critical that no public body has yet attempted a broad consultation about their livelihoods and the future of the energy industry.

Gabrielle Jeliazkov, just transition lead campaigner for Platform, said: “These workers are the backbone of our energy sector but have faced years of job insecurity amid volatile oil markets, lax regulation and now the global pandemic.

“If the UK government is serious about levelling up and transitioning to renewable energy, workers’ voices must be at the centre of that transition process. The government must ensure oil and gas workers are supported into secure and sustainable jobs.”

The survey questioned workers asked about their working conditions, the effects of Covid-19, the oil price crisis and alternative employment.

The UK government last year became the first G7 country to commit to decarbonising its economy and energy systems by the middle of the decade. Scotland has pledged to to reaching that point five years earlier in 2045.

According to the findings, the top priority for workers currently is job security, with 43% of the respondents saying they had been either made redundant or furloughed since March.

Given the option of retraining to work elsewhere in the energy sector, 51% said they would be interested in renewables and offshore wind.

The groups said that since launching in 2018, the Scottish Government’s Just Transition Commission “has prioritised private businesses, industry representatives and regional enterprises”.

The survey said it was concerning that 91% of the survey respondents had not heard of the term “Just Transition”.

The North Sea Transition Deal being drawn up by UK energy ministers with the oil and gas industry “has no vehicle for consulting oil and gas workers”, they argued.

'Attempt to sow division'

However, trade body Oil & Gas UK hit back at the report, calling it “an attempt to sow division won’t help deliver what our energy communities badly need”.

Responding to the report, Mike Tholen, sustainability director of trade association Oil & Gas UK, said: “While this report confirms how much people working in our industry care about securing a fair transition, we’re also not aware of any approach from the report authors for feedback from the wider workforce and the industry on their findings.

“If we had been asked, we could have shared the outcome of the 5000 conversations with workers, public bodies and trade unions from across the UK, which informed Roadmap 2035: industry’s blueprint for net zero, throughout 2019.

“At a time when all industries are navigating unprecedented financial pressures, it is disappointing that this report also paints a misleading picture to suit a particular agenda. A huge proportion of companies in our industry have been supporting projects across the full energy spectrum including in renewables for years."

This article first appeared in Recharge's sister publication Upstream