May 09 2023 at 07:00PM
May 2023 | Recap: Offshore Documentary Screening & Discussion - Sponsored by the PMI-SFBAC Sustainability Program
On April 19th, the PMI SF Bay Area Chapter Sustainability Program hosted a screening of “Offshore,” an independent documentary that explores the perspectives of several individuals working in the offshore oil and gas industry in the UK's North Sea. The film touches on the harsh conditions workers face in the industry, as well as what a transition into greener energies would mean for the workers and communities. As a new member of the PMI SFBAC “Green Team,” I was excited to help facilitate the event and also to learn from the film and the other attendees.
The event kicked off with oil and gas-themed trivia, hosted by the “Green Team’s” Doug Hahn. The tone was fun and light, but the facts contained in the answers to the questions were sobering. For example, we learned that there are ~160 offshore rigs located in the North Sea and there were 90 reported Oil Spills in the UK in 2021 alone. The trivia served as a reminder of our society’s dependence on oil and the damage this industry can have on ecological systems.
After the trivia and some announcements, we viewed the short documentary (the run time is approximately 20 minutes) together. The film touched on the environmental impact of offshore drilling, but it is primarily concerned with the workers. During the course of the film, the audience is introduced to several people who have worked offshore in the North Sea, both full-time and as contract workers. Through these interviews, the viewer is reminded that the working conditions are incredibly dangerous (and at times exploitative), but many people rely on these jobs to support their families. One introduced in the film shared a story about how he once reported a safety risk on an oil rig and was not requested back to work. Another young man expresses complicated feelings about offshore drilling; he recognizes the environmental toll of offshore drilling but also notes how reliant the UK is on oil, and worries that a shift away from offshore drilling operations without the correct support systems in place could cause communities to decline. The film suggests that a support system is needed to help transition workers into greener (and safer) jobs. The film didn’t give any tidy answers as to what that support system could look like, but these open questions led to a rich discussion.
After the screening, we broke into groups of 5-6 participants and dug into questions provided by Platform London & Friends of the Earth Scotland (Offshore was commissioned by Platform London And supported by Friends of the Earth Scotland). The questions encouraged us to think through what a “Just Transition” could look like, as it related to Offshore workers. The term “Just Transition” was new to me and most of the other people in my small group discussion, so it was interesting to jointly learn more about this concept, which involves “a vision-led, unifying and place-based set of principles, processes, and practices that build economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy.” Essentially, Just Transitions ask communities to consider how we can shift to greener energies in a way that is ethical and treats impacted workers with respect.
At the end of the thirty-minute discussion, we reconvened as a larger group to review an update on the situation in the North Sea (there have been multiple strikes in the area so far in 2023) as well as a report (which included a list of demands) that Platform & Friends of the Earth Scotland published after surveying and speaking with Offshore workers. The workers’ demands were categorized into three groups: 1. “Our Transition,” 2. “Our Rights” and 3. “Our Energy,” and included requests such as workers being included in transition planning and the implementation of effective whistleblowing procedures. In addition to the list of demands, the report included case studies that use direct quotes from workers, as well as survey results showing the percentage of workers surveyed that supported each demand. The event concluded with the group sharing reflections about the demands and the importance of involving the workers in creating them (and in having their voices reflected). For me, one of the main takeaways from the film and the discussion was to never lose sight of the fact that environmental issues are intertwined with the lives of people, and I will be keeping this lens in mind during future “Green Team” events and discussions.
Author Emily Evans