Unemployed fossil workers in Alberta are giving up hope as the fossil economy fails, or on the cusp of a clean energy boom that could put thousands of skilled tradespeople back to work—depending on which assessment crossed your desktop first in the last week.
For readers of the Financial Post, Claudia Cattaneo’s account of young energy professionals in Calgary who are “out of work and out of hope” points to a “real human tragedy” for up to 60,000 people who’ve lost their jobs.
“Even though oil prices are slowly rebounding, there is no expectation that jobs will recover in oil and gas for at least another couple of years. And even then, any recovery would be a tepid one,” she writes.
But “other sectors don’t want ousted employees from the oilpatch,” out of a possibly overblown fear that their new hires will go back to their previous positions when (or if) fossil prices recover. Cattaneo also charges that “the green jobs promised by politicians as part of their forced transition to cleaner energy to meet new climate change targets are scarce or not offered at all to those with oil and gas experience on their resumes.”
But two days after Cattaneo first raised that question, DeSmog Canada was out with a major part of the answer, in a post that leads with the same story of economic hardship: “a 31.5% drop in oil prices, 39% increase in unemployment and a quadrupling in the number of abandoned oil and gas wells.” Where Cattaneo sees continuing decline, DeSmog reports on the opportunity to “retrofit old oil and gas wells to capture geothermal energy, putting thousands of tradespeople back to work, attracting billions in investments, and producing baseload renewable power for the entire province.”
A 2013 study by the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association placed Alberta’s geothermal capacity as high as 8,800 megawatts, far more than its current coal generation, DeSmog notes. Fast forward three years, and “the market timing is better than it’s ever been,” said Terrapin Geothermics partner Sean Collins. “The economic forces are better than they’ve ever been and I think we’re poised for a true boom.”
To meet that potential, DeSmog correspondent James Wilt says the province will need a regulatory framework to enable geothermal energy production, better mapping to pinpoint geothermal hot spots, and retraining for oil and gas workers.
“If we actually started creating some geothermal power projects, our skills as tradespeople—as welders and steel fabricators and electricians and crane operators and pipefitters—are all directly transferable to the industry with very, very little retraining required,” Iron & Earth founder and Executive Director Lliam Hildebrand told DeSmog. “What we really need from the government is this type of research and development and innovation grants to help these manufacturers position themselves as providers for these kinds of manufacturing demands.”