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Fossils Could Replace Two of 10 Workers with Robots in a Decade, Save $7B Per Year in Wages

At least two out of 10 fossil workers around the world involved in drilling, operational support, or maintenance could be replaced by robots over the next decade as the industry sets out to save more than US$7 billion per year in the United States alone, according to the latest analysis by Rystad Energy.

 “That would translate into more than 100,000 in total jobs replaced in the U.S., for example,” Bloomberg reports.

“Even when the COVID-19 downturn is finally past us, operators will have to continue exploring new avenues for cost reductions,” wrote Rystad analyst Sumit Yadav.

The Rystad release said fossils’ efforts to automate their work force would still have to navigate regulatory barriers and opposition from trade unions. But the overall trend toward “de-manning”, as fossil executives like to call it, predates the pandemic by years, reflecting a preoccupation with cost-cutting that began when an era of crashing or unstable oil prices first kicked off in 2014.

The industry’s bigger challenge is the accelerating transition off fossil fuels. The Rystad report landed just a week before TD Economics warned that as many as 450,000 of the 600,000 people now employed directly or indirectly by the Canadian fossil industry could soon be looking for new jobs.

In mid-January, former Unifor economist Jim Stanford reported that payroll employment in fossil fuels fell by 33,000, or 17%, between 2014 and 2019. Over that time span, other sectors created 42 new jobs for each one the fossil industry offloaded, showing that “normal churn in the job market swamps changes in fossil fuel jobs.”

The industry dropped another 17,500 positions in the 12 months concluding last September due to cratering oil prices and the economic paralysis of the pandemic.

But “unlike other sectors,” said Stanford, director of the Vancouver-based Centre for Future Work, “few of those lost fossil fuel jobs will ever come back—even after health restrictions are eased.”