Illustration; Source: Offshore Energies UK (OEUK)

UK politicians see collaboration with oil & gas sector as key to reaching net-zero

The UK’s representative body for the offshore energy industry, Offshore Energies UK (OEUK), has commissioned YouGov to gauge Westminster MPs’ feelings towards the oil and gas industry. The results show that the majority of MPs believe the UK can achieve its net-zero goals by collaborating with the oil and gas industry.

Illustration; Source: Offshore Energies UK (OEUK)

Based on the survey’s findings, all political parties need to engage with the oil and gas industry to secure the strong pipeline of talent and skills needed to reach its legally-binding climate targets. Almost half (45 per cent) of politicians surveyed claim the UK has the people and skills needed to deliver cleaner energy sources through the development of technologies including wind, solar, hydrogen, and carbon capture.

Alix Thom, OEUK Workforce and Skills manager, commented: “It’s great to see that there is an awareness across MPs of the important role our industry will play in meeting our net-zero targets. We have the necessary knowledge and expertise, which we have honed over decades of work in the North Sea, and these skills will be needed to overcome the inevitable challenges that will come as we expand into cleaner technologies.

“In fact, many of our members are already developing cleaner energy projects, playing an important role in the expansion to wind, hydrogen and carbon capture. It is vital that we cultivate a strong national talent pipeline, which will enable the younger generation to contribute towards the production of wind, hydrogen, carbon capture, usage and storage, as well as oil and gas that will be required in the years to come. To achieve this shift, we need support from politicians from all parties to highlight the importance and benefits of a career in energy.”

In line with this, recent research indicates that over 90 per cent of the UK’s oil and gas professionals have medium to high skills transferability, which means the industry has a strong and skilled workforce well positioned to work in adjacent energy sectors.

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This is further hammered home by around three-quarters (73 per cent) of MPs, who believe the UK’s net zero goals can only be achieved through collaboration with the oil and gas sector, which currently provides 75 per cent of the nation’s energy, contributes nearly £26.5 billion (over $33 billion) GVA to the economy and supports more than 200,000 jobs across the country.

Prof. Nick Schofield from the University of Aberdeen’s Department of Geology and Geophysics, remarked: “As the name suggests, the energy transition is exactly that, a transition. It is acknowledged that oil and gas will play a major role in the energy mix of the UK and globally to 2050 and beyond, forming an essential part of a sustainable and just transition. However, this message is uncomfortable for many to reconcile. The nuances in skillsets within the energy industry are often not understood well by government, politicians, or environmental groups.

“For example, the same geoscientists and engineers who are working hard in the industry to ensure the UK’s indigenous supply of oil and gas and future energy security, are the very same who are applying their skills to getting the UK’s first CCUS projects off the ground. They are also the same people that are needed for hydrogen and gas storage.”

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On the other hand, the majority (55 per cent) of MPs see the declining number of applications for energy-related higher education courses as a concern, with 18-24-year-olds making up just 12 per cent of the total workforce.

As a result, a third (34 per cent) of officials believe the way the media and politicians talk about the transition to wind, solar, hydrogen and carbon capture deters young people in the UK from working or training in the energy industry.

“However, the increased negativity shown towards those areas of the energy industry associated with oil and gas is already starting to lead to a skills crisis in the UK. It is becoming harder to show young people that the energy industry is a viable and fulfilling future career,” concluded Schofield.

In addition, the survey underscores that there is no simple choice between oil and gas on the one hand and renewables on the other since both are needed to keep the lights on and grow the economy. By the mid-2030s, oil and gas will still provide for 50 per cent of the UK’s energy needs, says OEUK.