Coronavirus: 'Thousands' of North Sea oil and gas jobs under threat

North Sea platformImage source, Getty Images

The UK's oil and gas industry is warning that 30,000 jobs could be lost as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the low oil price.

A global oversupply of oil has pushed prices to their lowest level in 20 years.

In a survey of its members, Oil and Gas UK (OGUK) said many firms would struggle to survive.

It has called for the transition to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions to be at the heart of its recovery plan.

At its peak, a barrel of Brent Crude oil sold for about $120.

But in recent weeks, that has fallen as low as $16 with no real sign of it recovering.

The industry fears the problems will last much longer than the Covid-19 pandemic, and that has meant many workers are being laid off rather than furloughed.

The predicted job losses represent about one in five of the 151,000 people employed directly or indirectly by the sector.

Some job losses have already been announced with "many more" expected to be confirmed in the coming months.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Many North Sea workers are being laid off rather than furloughed

OGUK chief executive Deirdre Michie said: "With historic low oil and gas prices coming so soon after one of the most severe downturns our sector has experienced, these findings confirm an especially bleak outlook for the UK's oil and industry.

"If the UK is to maintain its supply of domestic energy, protect jobs and build the critical infrastructure it needs to transition to a net-zero future, ours is an industry worth fighting for."

The industry body has outlined a three-stage plan which it hopes will minimise the longer-term impact.

It calls for the addressing of the industry's immediate needs, followed by its industrial recovery and then an accelerated transition to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Who wins and who loses when oil prices fall?

By Dharshini David, Global trade correspondent

Image source, Getty Images

A slump in oil prices is normally a cause for celebration in gas-guzzling nations. The average American burns through 10 litres of oil or oil products per day in normal times.

But for oil producing countries - the "global petropolis" - such a drop in the cost of crude can spell disaster, and hardship for millions.

It's easy to see why oil is referred to as black gold. When the price was riding high, oil revenues filled the coffers of companies and governments in the countries that produce it. That kept people fed and public services flourishing.

But now, having oil can be a curse rather than a blessing.

But green groups say any government support for oil and gas has to come with strings attached.

Ryan Morrison, from Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "Any measures of support that seek to return the industry back to 'business as usual' from before coronavirus will be locking in another crisis further down the line without regard for the workers and communities that will face that the hardest.

"We've already seen the industry accused of treating its workforce like a tap that can be turned on and off and a continuation of this approach where workers are hit first by any potential trouble to the industry cannot continue."

About 30% of companies said they had been successful in securing funding as part of the government's Covid-19 packages.

A further 40% said they were still exploring the options.

Capital expenditure is expected to fall to about £3.5bn - which would be one of the lowest figures since the discovery of oil in the North Sea.

Drilling activity is expected to be down 50% on 2019, which pushes it to record low levels.