MPs and activists challenge claim North Sea oil and gas supports 200,000 jobs

Government has repeatedly used figure to justify more fossil fuel developments despite climate crisis

Are 200,000 jobs really supported by the oil and gas industry in the North Sea? Campaigners and MPs are questioning the longstanding government claim.

Ministers have repeatedly used the 200,000 jobs figure as justification for pushing ahead with more fossil fuel developments despite the escalating climate crisis and widespread opposition from scientists and energy experts.

But campaigners say the figure, which includes indirect employment and comes from the oil and gas industry, has not been scrutinised by the government. They point out that the most recent Office for National Statistics data suggests 27,600 people are directly employed.

The Green MP Caroline Lucas has submitted three parliamentary questions asking for clarification on how the 200,000 figure was calculated.

In response, the energy minister Graham Stuart said it came from the industry body Offshore Energies UK and referred to direct, indirect and induced jobs supported by the sector. He did not explain how the 200,000 figure was calculated.

Lucas said: “The government has been defending its dangerous plan to mandate annual oil and gas licences by claiming the sector supports 200,000 British jobs. But that figure comes directly from the industry itself and has not been independently verified.

“Rather than delivering a much-needed just transition for oil and gas workers, the government is deliberately cherrypicking its data in an increasingly desperate attempt to justify pumping yet more planet-heating fossil fuels in its reckless and grossly irresponsible climate culture war.”

The government’s decision to green light new developments in the North Sea including the controversial Rosebank oilfield has faced widespread opposition. Hundreds of climate scientists and academics and more than 200 organisations, from the Women’s Institute to Oxfam, have joined tens of thousands of people across the UK to oppose it.

The move also contradicts warnings from scientists about the impact of new fossil fuel developments on the climate, and repeated statements from the International Energy Agency that no new oil and gas exploration should take place if the world is to limit global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures.

The UK government said the industry figures include the wider economic benefits that flow from those directly employed by the oil and gas sector.

A spokesperson for the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero added: “This is an independent industry figure that takes into account the wider impact of the oil and gas industry on the economy. Offshore Energies UK has therefore been clear that backing domestic oil and gas does support around 200,000 jobs and this is a figure we have cited. The industry also generates billions in tax revenues to fund public services and to support with the cost of living and retains the skills and expertise needed for the green transition.”

Offshore Energy UK said its figures were provided by the data analysis firm Experian, which used ONS job figures and then tracked expenditure as it flowed through the economy to calculate direct, indirect and induced jobs. Experian confirmed this, and said it was a standard calculation that was widely used.

But critics said it was crucial there was government scrutiny of exactly what jobs and economic benefits more oil and gas production would bring compared with investing money elsewhere.

Tessa Khan, the executive director of the climate action organisation Uplift, said the situation was indicative of the government’s “hands off approach to the transition [away from fossil fuels] in general”.

She added: “Instead of getting across the detail and coming up with a coherent plan, this government has abdicated responsibility for making sure workers and communities aren’t left behind to the market and an industry that prioritises shareholder returns over investment in jobs.

“What’s urgently needed are politicians prepared to take a clear-eyed look at the sector and where it is headed and who will come up with a plan for delivering a managed and crucially fair transition for workers and communities.”

Jonathan Noronha-Gant, from the campaign group Global Witness, said: “It’s not at all surprising that the government is parroting industry figures about how many jobs the oil and industry creates in the UK. The Conservative party has long been one of the oil and gas industry’s biggest cheerleaders, taking its money and giving away thousands of drilling licenses.”

Cover photo: The 200,000 jobs figure is from the industry body Offshore Energies UK and refers to direct, indirect and induced jobs. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images